Ireland has over 80 islands but only 20 of which are inhabited. Arranmore (Slí Árainn Mhór) is remote, rugged and sparsely populated; however, the population swells during summer. Many agree this is one of the best islands in Ireland
Soak up the coastal beauty on the 13km (8 mile) island walk that becomes less inhabited as the landscape changes. Witness the Wild Atlantic Way, a raw, rugged and exposed coastline where the sea crashes turbulently against the shore with some ferocity. Stop at one of the cosy local pubs, chat with friendly locals and enjoy home-cooked food.
Travel Essentials – One of the best islands in Ireland
Directions | Duration | Distance | Difficulty
Start point: Burtonport Ferry.
Finish point: Burtonport Ferry.
Ferry cost: €15 Adult return.
Directions: Arranmore Island loop walk.
Duration: 5-6 hours.
Distance: 13km (8 mile).
Difficulty: Easy to moderate.
Notes: The island’s western part is remote, with poor phone signal.
Quick facts on Arranmore Island
- An estimated population is 470.
- The largest inhabited island of County Donegal.
- The Arranmore Lighthouse light range is 50km (31.06 mile).
- Smugglers is the only nightclub on the island.
Arranmore Island – Points of interest
- Arranmore Ferry.
- The Only Plaice.
- St. Crone’s Church.
- Trá Athphort – Aphort Strand.
- Loch Eas Eascaigh and Loch na Míne.
- Early’s Bar.
1. Arranmore Ferry
At Burtonport Pier, two ferry services operate to Arranmore, the blue ferry and red ferry. The sailing time is 15 minutes for the 5km (3.1 mile) crossing, with a capacity for 10 vehicles and several foot passengers. On return to the mainland, I had no transport back to Dungloe, so I asked some of the motorists onboard, and one of the van drivers kindly gave me a lift.
2. The Only Plaice
This large yellow double-decker bus, The Only Plaice, comes into view as the ferry approaches Arranmore. It is a conversion retaining the original upstairs seating and now serves fresh fish and traditional Irish breakfasts. The food is wholesome and tasty. As the first customer on this particular Sunday, Louise and her fantastic team treated me to a lovely Irish breakfast with tea and toast, setting me up for the day ahead. Be sure to stop here and try the food.
3. St. Crone’s Church
Facing away from the bus, the road forks to the right, leading to Arranmore Lighthouse, and the left, passing Phil Bans store, the island’s most prominent convenience store. Deliveries come in from the mainland weekly, where locals pick them up. Walking uphill and then to the left, the road leads Tráigh an Chaiseal beach.
Next to the beach is St. Crone’s Church, built in 1908. Mass occurs daily at 10.30 with confessions at the weekend.
4. Trá Athphort – Aphort Strand
Along the road, with the rugged coastline of Wild Atlantic Way to the left, Trá Athphort appears over the brow of a short, sharp hill. The sweeping arc of the beach, carved from the shore with almost geometric precision, is impressive. While it may be true, local legend says that ghosts from shipping accidents of the past are sometimes visible on the beach.
The road descends, veering to the right then climbing gradually in a zig-zag formation until arriving at the Aphort Viewing Point. Undoubtedly, the picnic table provides the perfect vantage point across Cladaghahan Bay.
5. Loch Eas Eascaigh and Loch na Míne
Continuing on the twisting road from Aphort Viewing Point, the terrain instantly becomes more rugged, with virtually no houses in this part of the island. Also noticeable is the sudden loss of a mobile phone signal. With this in mind, ensure adequate preparation.
Set back from the road are the remains of farming plant machinery, like ghosts on the landscape, left to rust by exposure to the harsh elements.
Following the loop near Frenchman’s Hill, two lochs, Loch Eas Eascaigh and Loch na Míne, come into view. The two lakes form a symmetry visible from a bench set back from the road. Without a doubt, this is a good spot to take a break.
The walk continues by a descending road leading back to the ferry pier, passing several buildings that have fallen into a state of disrepair. As can be seen, upon restoration, these would make perfect first or holiday homes.
6. Early’s Bar
This lively, traditional Irish bar is where to go before spending the night at Smugglers, the island’s only nightclub. The front section has a large, roaring log fire providing a warm and welcome break from the harsh weather. At the rear of the bar is a separate function room. Plenty of famous Irish acts have graced this stage.
The small town of Dungloe is ideal for exploring County of Donegal and Arranmore Island. Donegal’s highest peak, Errigal, at 751m (2,461ft) is located nearby.
In Dungloe, try The River House, a small hotel and hostel close to the centre of town. Jack, an ex-professional footballer, and the team make perfect hosts to ensure that your stay as enjoyable as possible.
The verdict – is it one of the best islands in Ireland?
The island has a welcoming feel, and in 2019, islanders wrote to the United States and Australia, asking people if they would consider living here. According to locals, there was a lot of interest, and a handful of people emigrated. Perfect for walkers, the remoteness may be enticing for some and a population of less than 500. For most of the walk, there was not another person in sight.
To conclude, Arranmore is an island where people know each other on first-name terms. An elderly lady, sensing I might be lost walking in the pouring rain, drove past me, spun her car around and stopped to offer me a lift. She dropped me off outside Early’s bar with the simple instruction: “Tell them Janet brought you here. They’ll know who it is.” After being born on Arranmore, she has lived here ever since. On the whole, Arranmore could well be one of the best islands in Ireland.
Cabin Bags Only rating: 7.5/10
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