Ireland Island Series: The Beasts of the East

We’re picking up from where we left off on the North coast of our Ireland Island Series and kicking off this second edition with some absolute beasts from the East. You know, those beauties that are nice and accessible for Dubliners, rich enough for the history buffs, hipster enough for the hikers and of course, full of buzzards for all you bird freaks. It really wouldn’t be the same without you, so thanks for tagging along. Expect rugged rocks, sweeping ocean views and lots of really tiny islands containing an impressive amount of wildlife. Here are our pick of the top Ireland islands off the East coast.

1. The Saltee Islands, County Wexford 

Saltee Island

There is something incredibly intoxicating and mystical about the Saltee Islands. With its echoing whispers of Neolithic footsteps, ruthless pirates, soldiering Vikings, hermits and traces of religious settlements still scattered about the island… Nowadays, these islands are inhabited only by birds, with the larger of the two Saltees possibly being the best-known bird sanctuary in Ireland. The smaller of the Saltee islands is no longer accessible – but expect to sight rare puffins, gannets and razorbills on your journey to the larger one. They’ve got some seal colonies too.   

Hikes:  We wouldn’t exactly call it a hike, but if you were really counting on getting a strenuous walk in that day you could perhaps walk around the island twice? There is no official trail, but it takes about an hour and a half to walk around the Island. 

Things to do: 

  • Visit the bird sanctuary 
  • Whale and dolphin watching at certain times of the year.
  • Visit the throne of Prince Michael the First of the Saltees: The Saltees had a self-proclaimed prince once. His name was Michael the First. You can find out all about his colourful life here but whether you care or not you should visit his throne and flag-staff. They’re real pretty.
  • Treat yourself to a delicious fish and chips from the famous Saltee Chipper when you return to the mainland.

How to get there: During the summer months, a number of charter boats run scheduled day-trips to the Saltees from Kilmore Quay, approximately a 40-minutes drive Wexford town. Access is infrequent during the winter seasons, depending on holidays and weather. Contact Decland Bates on or +353 87 252 9736 to book. 

2. Sherkin Island, County Cork

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Right. I’m here to do Sherkin’s PR better than they do. Because seriously, since when is being the “most accessible” a good selling point? So here goes. Not so tucked away, just off the South East coast of Ireland, Ireland’s most accessible island lies in wait with its gentle hills of wild grass, inviting coasts and an arty community numbering at roughly 100. It’s got whales, it’s got dolphins, regattas, old friaries (well, only one) and a locally-maintained lighthouse. Now how’s that for a PR boost?

Hikes:  There are several glorious hikes available to you on Sherkin island, all offering picturesque scenery and ample opportunities to spot wildlife. 

  • The Horseshoe Loop – Hurruh! Only a half-circle! This grassy loop is the shortest of the four, is roughly around 2km. This trail also leads onto the red and blue trails. 
  • Sherkin 3 Yellow is 3km return and will take you approximately 1 hour to complete. Enjoy harbour views and secluded pebble beaches. 
  • Sherkin 5 Blue is 5km and will take you approximately 2 hours. It is another opportunity to enjoy secluded beaches, most of which are perfect for swimming, and sea views. 

Things to do:

  • Embark on a Fastnet Sunset Tours or Aquadvenures for the trip of a lifetime and see if you can spot the numerous whale and dolphins that call the Sherkin home. Other possible sightings include seals, basking sharks and even humpbacks.
  • Visit the quaint lighthouse, the ancestral home of the O’Driscoll clan whose castle lies just above the pier.
  • Sherkin is known for its very arty community so why not try out the Sherkin Artist Trail? Many of the local artists have open galleries which are dotted throughout the island and are open from June to September. Drop in and view the creativity the island inspires. 

How to get there: The ferry from Baltimore on Sheep’s Head to Sherkin only takes 10 minutes (wow, I guess Sherkin really is accessible). Check the timetable here.

3. Dalkey Island, County Dublin

Dalkey Islands

Now, this is one for the history buffs and lazy Dubliners. Just a stone’s throw away from Dublin, Dalkey Island is believed to have been an important pilgrimage location for centuries, suggested by its prominence on early maps and records that suggest people believed its holy wells cured scurvy. Recent tests have actually proved this, showing the wells to have high levels of vitamin C, a known cure. The island, now uninhabited, is home to a large seal colony and shows signs of once being a Viking slave base.

Hikes: No official hike routes known, the island is quite small… but you could lap around a few times?

Things to do:

  • Visit the ruins of St. Begnet’s Church, believed to date from the 9th-10th century. Close to the church is also bullaun stone which may have been used as a pagan altar before it was ‘Christianised’ in the 7th century.
  • The Martello Tower is a defensive fort that was built as one of many across the British Empire in the 19th century, during the time of the French Revolutionary Wars onwards.  
  • The Holy Wells, one on the Western shoreline is known locally as the “Scurvy Well” and is located within a surrounding stone structure.

How to get there:  Book a ride with Dublin Bay Cruises or take a boat ride with the truly beloved Ken the Ferryman and learn all about the island’s history and fun facts. The ride from Colimore costs €8 for adults and €5 for children, which is already cheaper than most ferry rides.

4. Bull Island, County Dublin

Bull Island, DublinOkay here’s another one for lazy Dubliners who want to do something nice but don’t want to plan too much… or move too much. This island is so close to Dublin that most of it is still under the jurisdiction of Dublin City Council.

Hikes: Recreational trails throughout the nature reserve

Things to do:

  • Dollymount Strand Beach – this beach runs the entire length of the island and is the relatively recent result of human activity in the area. It is a popular recreational and walking area.
  • National Bird Sanctuary – Surprise surprise, another bird sanctuary. Check out all the beautiful birds who call Bull Island home.
  • Biosphere Reserve – biosphere reserves are areas of terrestrial and coastal/marine ecosystems, designated to encourage and conserve biodiversity.

How to get there: The island is connected to the mainland by the Bull Bridge (take that Sherkin – they have a BRIDGE – talk about easy access). You can even get the Dart to this one.


Leora Mansoor
Leora Mansoor

Leora is a freelance journalist who is currently working for Babylon Radio, covering all things current and cultural

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