Only a 30 minutes sea voyage from the fishing village of Cleggan off the NW Connemara Coast, Inishbofin is the largest of a small archipelago of islands and is famed for its magnificent scenery, relaxed lifestyle and traditional music. With a population of 180, this beautiful island, five miles long by two miles wide, has a superb natural harbour guarded by a 17th century Cromwellian fortress.
To the west, lie the now abandoned islands of Inishark and Inis Gort. All three islands have been settled since at least the Bronze Age and contain some of the best surviving Bronze Age landscapes on the western sea-board. First mentioned by the Venerable Bede in the early 8th century as a refuge for Northumbrian Monks it was raided by the Vikings in 795 and long retained strong associations with Anglo-Saxon England. Located on the border between the two powerful Gaelic maritime lordships of the O’Malleys and the O’Flaherties, Inishbofin has a turbulent history it was the last Gaelic stronghold to fall to Cromwell and subsequently had strong links with 17th century France and 18th century America. In the 18th century the island was a byword for local smugglers and wreckers. Its fragmented coastline boasts dramatic sea cliffs and sea caves and is home to a rich variety of marine life. The walking is easy to moderate along small roads, open bogs and mountains.
The Aran Islands
The Aran islands lie at the mouth of Gaway Bay off the south Connemara Coast and are among the most beautiful islands on Europe’s west coast. The most vibrant of the Irish islands, they are still largely Gaelic speaking and rely heavily on fishing, small scale farming and tourism. Inishmore, the largest of the three islands, is over nine miles long and is cliff bound along its entire southern coast.
The islands have been settled for at least the last 6,000 years and are ribbed by a filigree network of stone walls, some of which date back to prehistoric times. Scattered across the island are a series of “fairy mounds”. Revealed by excavation as Bronze Age roundhouses, these sites have been protected to the present day by the belief that they are associated with the síogí or fairies. On the eastern end of Inishmore one can see a rare drowned landscape buried beneath the sand in the intertidal zone and the skyline is crowned by spectacular forts and an array of very beautifully sited early monastic sites. The most famous site on the island is undoubtedly the recently excavated Dun Aengus, a 3,000 year old fourteen acre cliff-edge fortress surrounded by the best-preserved example of Chevaux-de-Frise in European archaeology and also the site of the discovery of a Paleolithic hand axe (c.300,000 years old).
The island is famously associated with St Enda, one of the giants of early Irish monasticism, although his main monastery was largely demolished during the Elizabethan and later Cromwellian conquest of the island. The monastic period on Aran is also visible at Clochan na Carraige, where the largest surviving monastic stone clochán or beehive hut can be seen. Among the more unusual relics of this age are the remains of two purported stone-boats which are said to have conveyed the Saint and his companions on their marine journeys. Below the remains of the English fort at Killeany, survey work has revealed traces of the early harbour and fragments of the demolished monastery.