The blog is on an island-hopping adventure right now. In Part I of our trip around Ireland’s treasured islands, we went from beaches to the Burren, ancient monasteries to modern luxury. But we’re not on dry land yet.
Part II is here, and our first stop is Ireland’s West Coast…
Clare Island, County Mayo
Remember readers, these islands have been around a lot longer than we have, and have witnessed a catwalk of characters parade their coasts over the millennia. Clare Island is a great example and it still shows the evidence of its inhabitants from 5,000 years ago. There’s a megalithic tomb, Bronze Age cooking sites, and most curious of all, the hideaway of a legendary 16th century pirate queen Grace O’Malley. This tough cookie commanded a fleet of twenty ships, and even gave birth at sea. Her original stronghold is now a derelict fort on a hill overlooking the harbour, and her tomb lies in a medieval abbey.
Nowadays, though, the island is the territory of yoga-queens who come in their tranquility-seeking droves to the Clare Island Retreat Centre for yoga, cooking and meditation courses.
Sherkin Island, County Cork
Sherkin Island lies southwest of Cork’s coast in my new favourite place name, Roaringwater Bay. Take a walk on the beach, do some dolphin- or seal-spotting, or take in a Fine Arts Degree Course – you can’t say Sherkin doesn’t give you options. If you don’t have the time for a course, or the inclination to wait, brush or pen in hand, for the island to inspire you, you can also pick up some actual artists’ work. The residents of this arty utopia live off their art, whether it’s craft, silk scarves, knitwear, paintings, leather goods, jewellery, photography or writing. Prepare to walk into the Island Craft shop and want to come away with, well, everything.
Garinish (Ilnacullin) Island, County Cork
In the sheltered harbour of Glengarriff in Bantry Bay lies a very special garden island, cherished by horticulturists and lovers of trees, flowers and shrubs everywhere. A creative partnership between the island owner and an architect over 70 years ago led us to the 15 hectares of lush, sub-tropical and exquisitely designed gardens that incorporate woodland pathways, a colonnaded Italian Garden, a Clock Tower and a Grecian Temple. The riot of colour and varied foliage is courtesy of exotic plants, shrubs, trees and flowers from around the world. If you feel like lingering here for inspiration you’ll be in good company – George Bernard Shaw was so enchanted with the island, he wrote much of his play Saint Joan here.
And what could be more perfect than a garden island paradise? A garden island paradise with tearooms. Take a sip and relax…
Blasket Islands, County Kerry
The Blasket Islands are Ireland’s most westerly islands, together making a secluded, sandstone monument to emigration since the last islanders left for the mainland in 1953. The natural isolation nurtured a rich Irish language tradition, which the islanders recorded and evolved into a unique body of literature about island life. More of their stories and island history can be brushed up on at the Great Blasket Heritage Centre. Although now uninhabited, the islands are open to visitors who come for the extraordinary clear waters off the white-sand beach of Trá Bán, challenging hilly terrain that’s perfect for walkers and its pre-historic remains. You may even catch a thrill on the ferry with a glimpse of a passing basking shark, whale or dolphin.
Belle Island, County Fermanagh
By now, all this island-hopping has made me hungry. So I consider my last stop pretty inspired. Belle Island floating in Upper Lough Erne in County Fermanagh ticks all the boxes for a weary, famished island hopper. There’s Belle Isle Castle to rest my exhausted bones princess-style, plenty of fishing for those who love being able to sit still and ‘do’ something at the same time, and the perfect place to quench my cravings – Belle Isle Cookery School. After becoming light-headed from the kitchen-bound aromas, Liz and her team promise to teach me how to recreate the delicious-smelling meals at home. Maybe tomorrow. Right now, I plan to lie by the lake, prop up my rod, shield my eyes with a hat and go ‘fishing’ while actually doing nothing at all.
Missed Part 1? Read the first part of our guide to the best of Ireland’s Islands.
You can find out more about every one of our islands on the dedicated website of Ireland’s Islands.