Beyond Ireland’s tourist hotspots, discover the enchanting islands of the Emerald Isle

It’s no secret that the Emerald Isle is rich in beauty – but what about the small islands that surround it?

As tourists flock to the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin and the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare, the Irish Isles can offer an off-the-beaten-track getaway for travelers wanting to learn more about the country’s culture away from the crowds. .

There are around 80 significant islands off the coast of Ireland, and hundreds more nestled in the country’s lakes, some home to tiny modern populations and others dotted with ancient ruins.

These fascinating outcrops include Dublin’s Lambay Island, where you’ll find a curious host of wallabies; Skellig Micheal in County Kerry, famous as the filming location for two Star Wars films, and Spike Island off County Cork, nicknamed ‘Irish Alcatraz’, where visitors can tour the cells of an ancient jail.

‘Mysterious ocean islands, lakeside paradises and secluded natural sanctuaries: the Irish islands are a world apart…a visit to an island offers something special: a glimpse of a different life, a chance to hike amazing hiking trails, sample super-fresh seafood and meet some of the friendliest people around,” says Ireland.com.

Most of the islands are only a short ferry ride from the mainland, while others are accessible via bridges and even by cable car. Scroll down to see MailOnline Travel’s selection of the country’s stunning must-see islands. Great Blasket Island, Co Kerry, is one of the six main islands of the Blasket Archipelago. The outcrop, which is 6.4 km long and 0.8 km wide, claims the title of the most westerly point in Europe. According to rucsacs.com, the Blasket Islands had been “inhabited for many centuries, probably since the Iron Age” and Great Blasket had “a population of around 160 during World War I, but this rapidly declined and the island was finally abandoned in 1953.’ Today Great Blasket is a popular destination for day-trippers, including a white sand beach called Tra Ban (above), which translates to ‘White Strand’ , hiking trails and abundant wildlife, from basking sharks to puffins.Visitors can explore the island’s abandoned fishing village and stay in cottages that have been restored and turned into living accommodation.Manuel S wrote a review on TripAdvisor after visiting Great Blasket in 2019: “Silence, donkeys, seals and cliffs. Every minute feels like an hour. The perfect place to breathe and be happy!” To get there, a ferry service from the mainland runs on a seasonal basis from Ce Dhun Chaoin (Dunquin Pier), Dingle Marina and Ventry Pier

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Another is Spike Island, Co Cork, nicknamed “Irish Alcatraz” – has a fascinating and dark history, which has included “monks and monasteries, rioters and redcoats, captains and convicts and sinners and saints “, notes the island’s website. The island’s star-shaped fortress, Fort Mitchel, dates back to 1804 and was once the largest prison in the world, holding up to 2,300 prisoners. It ceased to operate as a prison in 2004, with convicts being replaced by day trippers. The island was voted Europe’s top tourist attraction at the World Travel Awards in 2017, with visitors able to explore the convict cemetery, original 19th-century prison cells and village houses on the island, including some date back to the 1700s. Liam M, who visited the island in May, wrote in a Tripadvisor review that three hours of exploring its history “flew away” and was “a great experience for the whole family. family”. Spike Island can be reached by ferry from the town of Cobh, the last stopover of the Titanic in 1912.

Tory Island, Co Donegal is located just over seven miles (12 km) off the northwest coast of County Donegal, is ‘the furthest of the inhabited islands in Ireland’. He says this estrangement has led to the preservation of many traditions and customs, including the appointment of a “King of the Island”. The title was last claimed by Patsy Dan Rodgers, who died in 2018 at the age of 74, but no one has reigned since. Attractions in the rugged outcrop include a T-shaped cross known as the Cross of Tau, the ruins of the 6th century monastery of St. Colmcille, a lighthouse and the fort of Dun Bhaloir. Visit between March and September and you may spot nesting puffins on the coast, the tourist board adds. Tory Island can be reached via a passenger ferry that departs from Magheroarty Pier on the mainland, the journey taking around 45 minutes.

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Rathlin Island in County Antrim is an ‘L’ shaped island measuring 9.6km long and 1.6km wide off the northeast coast of Ireland. According to the island’s website, Rathlin, home to around 140 people, was ‘probably the first Irish island to be inhabited’ and the first settlers are thought to have arrived there between 6000BC and 5000BC from from Scotland. Venture to the island for a tour of its famous “upside-down” lighthouse – the beacon sits at the base of the building, rather than the top, to cut through low fog. The island is also home to a huge colony of seabirds – you can see puffins during the early summer months. Over the years, famous visitors have included Robert the Bruce, who took refuge on the island in 1306 during his fight for the Scottish crown, and Sir Richard Branson, who in 1987 crashed off the coast during his record crossing of the Atlantic in a hot air balloon. For those wishing to follow in their footsteps, Rathlin can be reached via a ferry service which operates from Ballycastle in County Antrim, the journey taking around 25 minutes.


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