The Aran Islands lie at the mouth of Galway 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. Inis Mór, 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 Inis Mór one can see a rare drowned landscape buried beneath the sand in the intertidal zone. 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 Dún Aengus, a 3000 year old 14 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 Palaeolithic 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 Inis Mór 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 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.