Located just off the coast of Galway are the Aran Islands, one of Ireland’s most famous and treasured places. These unspoiled islands attract thousands of tourists each year in search of the Ireland that many thought was lost long ago.
Despite their small size, there is so much to see and do on the Aran Islands that fitting everything in to a single trip can be quite tricky. If you find yourself on a short stay on the Aran Islands, here are five ‘must sees’ that you should try your very best to take in:
1.The Irish Language
Whilst the Irish (Gaeilge) language is not technically something that you generally ‘see’ with your eyes, we felt it too wonderful a feature of the Aran Islands to leave out! While English is generally the predominant language spoken across the nation of Ireland, there are still several places (known as ‘Gaeltachts’) that still consider Irish to be the primary language.
The Aran Islands boasts a higher percentage of fluent Irish speakers per capita than anywhere else in Ireland (and therefore the world!). But worry not, the people of the Aran Islands are perfectly comfortable when it comes to speaking English too, so visitors will have no problem communicating with the natives. It is highly recommended that you pick up an Irish phrase book when you visit the Aran Islands and try out a ‘cupla focail’ (Irish for ‘a couple of words’). Irish is a unique and beautiful language and the local Irish people will only be delighted to give you a few pointers on how to improve your Gaeilge!
2. Dún Aonghasa World Heritage Site
Arguably the most spectacular man-made sight on the Aran Islands is the Dún Aonghasa World Heritage Site which is located on the southern cliff-face of Inis Mór. The remains of this spectacular Bronze Age era structure stretch out across 14 acres. Evidence unearthed in the area in the 1990s suggests that people inhabited the Dún Aonghasa area much further back than once thought, perhaps even before 1,500 BC, making it one of the oldest known human dwellings in Ireland.
The exact reasons for Dún Aonghasa’s location are something of a mystery, with archaeologists speculating that it may have held some sort of spiritual significance. As Dún Aonghasa is a protected site, it is recommended that visitors embark upon a guided tour from a local professional to ensure that no damage to the precious site is incurred. Guided tours generally only cost the small sum of €2 per person, with all profits made contributing to the upkeep and ongoing research related to this amazing site.
3. The Worm Hole
Located just south of Dún Aonghasa is perhaps the most amazing of all of the Aran Island’s naturally formed geographical structures. ‘The Worm Hole’ is a bizarre, perfectly formed rectangular plunge pool which must be seen to be believed. Publicity garnered from the now world famous Red Bull Cliff Diving series brings many brave tourists to the Worm Hole each year – they dive right in and enjoy a cool dip. Are you brave enough to join them?
As it is only 15 minutes’ walk (at a strolling pace) away from Dún Aonghasa along a beautifully serene walkway which is clearly signposted, visitors can ‘hit two birds with the one stone’ and see both of these amazing attractions in a short space of time – perfect for day trips!
4. Basking Sharks
Of all the animals of Aran, the most majestic of them does not technically live on any of the islands, but in the water around them. The basking shark (or Cetorhinus maximus as scientists who specialist in sea life like to call it) is one of the largest animals in the sea. At lengths of up to 10 meters, the basking shark is the second biggest fish of all (only the whale shark is bigger).
Despite its enormous size, the basking shark is a gentle giant and poses no danger to humans. Instead of eating meat, the basking shark is a peaceful filter-feeder and is only interested in plankton. They can be seen cruising right at the surface of the water when they are hungry and don’t seem to be bothered by people in boats. They will often swim within yards of boats but never directly collide with them, making them easy for tourists to take photos of.
There’s lots more to learn about this amazing animal on its Wikipedia page.
5. Aran Sweaters
If there is one iconic sight that represents the Aran Islands more than anything else, it must be the Aran Sweater (sometimes known as the Aran Jumper). In fact, some would argue that Aran Sweaters are even more famous than the Aran Islands themselves, with them becoming popular across the globe after being worn by famous celebrities like Alexa Chung and Grace Kelly.
Aran Sweaters were first worn by Aran fishermen. They were created to offer protection from the harsh weather conditions found in the Atlantic Ocean off the west coast of Ireland. Durable, hard-wearing, warm and even waterproof, the Aran Sweater was the perfect practical companion for any fisherman. The fashion was only a secondary concern to them!
To learn even more about the Aran Islands’ most famous garment, check out these 9 surprising facts about Aran Sweaters.