Ireland Island Series: The Best of the North

Fancy a trip away from the mainland? Somewhere where the grass is probably greener and the sea can be seen at all times? Well look no further – for your research I mean – because we’ve done that for you. The islands themselves are probably not actually within your scope of vision right now…. And if they are…. Get off your phone, ey? Here is Part One of our Ireland Island Series: The North.

1. Rathlin Island, County Antrim

3654891308 afb51122f8 cAlright then, let’s kick this off with one for all the bird freaks and history buffs out there. This prehistoric rock is home to more birds than people, with only 125 islanders to the thirty species of birds, numbering in their thousands, including puffins, razorbills and guillemots. The colourful history of this island includes being the site of the first Viking raid in Ireland in 795 (soo embarrassing) and where Robert the Bruce, King of Scots, once sought sanctuary after being defeated by the English and saw the legendary spider (so don’t go in there, we all know that spiders don’t die).

  • Hikes: If you like dramatic landscapes, vertiginous cliffs and ocean views, Rathlin boasts of several stunning hiking trails. Find out more here.
  • Things to do: 
    • Visit Bruce’s Cave, beneath the East Lighthouse.
    • Scale the upside-down lighthouse (yup, you read that right) 
    • Get yourself down to the West Light Seabird Centre and observe all those birds I was telling you about

2. Tory Island, County Donegal

Tory island Now, strictly speaking, this one is the most North Westerly island off of Ireland but we are categorising it as a North Ireland island because the islands off the Wild Atlantic Way kind of hog up the whole West Coast. Tory Island is the most remote Ireland island and is like a magnet to all those broody creative types who like a good mope in the name of inspiration. 

  • Hikes:  If you like going round in circles this is the perfect walk for you. The Tory Loop (don’t worry, it’s not as scary as it sounds) starts and finishes at the island’s ferry pier. This relatively easy walk is about 11.5km and should take about 3.5 hours. Access more info here.
  • Things to do:  
    • Climb to the top of Dún Bhaloir (Balor’s Fort) and join all the melancholy musicians gazing out across the tempestuous Atlantic, wondering why the sea is so blue. Located on the eastern side of Tory Island, it is the highest part of the island and shrouded in legend and folklore.  
    • If you like old bits of rock an Chros Tau (The Tau Cross) is an ancient cross carved from a single piece of stone that dates back to the 12th century. Legend has it that the island’s fishermen pray here before heading out to sea. Its T-shaped form suggests the possibility of seafaring exchanges with early Coptic Christians from Egypt. So that’s pretty cool.
    • An Cloigtheach Bell Tower is the only surviving part of the ancient monastery that was founded in Tory in the 6th century and dominated island life until it was plundered and destroyed by English troops in 1595.
  • How to get there: Ferries depart daily from the Magheroarty between April and October, and five times a week throughout the rest of the year. This service does not ferry cars, but the island is small enough to get around by foot. 

3. Inistrahull, County Donegal

InishtrahullInishtrahull, meaning “island of the hollow beach” is an uninhabited island that was once a thriving fishing community that was evacuated in 1929… guess you can say it’s been dead in the water for a long time. Can I say that? I probably can’t say that. No, but on a serious note, it’s teeming with wildlife and is a protected area full of lots of rare birds and bobs of grey seals. On a clear day, you may even spy a minke whale or two.  

  • Hikes:  No official hikes known
  • Things to do: 
    • Scuba-dive off the Port Mór and check out the hundreds of shipwrecks off its shores. 
    • Visit the most northerly landfall of Ireland, the Tor Beg rock.
    • Visit Ireland’s northernmost lighthouse which, with the light on Tory Island, forms one of the two main landfall lights for ships rounding the north coast of Ireland. It is also solar-panelled!
  • How to get there: Access to the island is limited by the dangerous tides and currents around Malin Head and the island itself (hark the shipwrecks) and also due to restrictions enforced by the National Parks and Wildlife Service. If you like a challenge: I challenge you to do the research and let me know how it goes.

4. Arranmore, County Donegal

Arranmore Island

Here’s another island off the mainland county of Donegal. It is the largest inhabited island off the county and should be of particular interest to you if you would like to really experience traditional island life. With Gaelic traditions still thriving, seabirds still birding and the Atlantic sea still roaring, this is the perfect place to visit in your Ireland islands adventure. 

  • Hikes: Another loop hike for you. Apparently the Irish like circles. Trek the Arranmore Island Loop which starts and finishes at the ferry port. For those of moderate ability (so not me), the route length is 14km and will take you roughly 4-5 hours. 
  • Things to do: 
    • Go rock climbing over the wild Atlantic. This is one for those with a keen taste for adventure (so not me again). Book your experience through Iain Miller on +353 (0)87 758 4810 or find out more here.
    • Warm your feet at an open hearth fire and indulge in some live traditional music in one of Arranmore’s lively pubs. Maybe don’t take your shoes off though if you went on that hike. 
    • Arranmore is perfect for those who love outdoor activities. Try activities such as diving, sea angling, sailing, kayaking and more.
  • How to Get there:  Ferry services from Burtonport on the mainland offer regular crossings to and from the island, you can even bring your car if you wish.

So there you have it, your first dose of the Ireland’s islands series. You’re welcome, and do let us know about your experiences!

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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