Ireland is arguably one of the most beautiful countries in the world, with its rugged, mountainous countryside and wild coastline allowing visitors to take a break from their hectic modern lives and truly reconnect with nature.
If this is among the reasons you may be looking into booking a stay at our excellent holiday cottages in Ireland, you may be interested to know that there are also several stunning remote islands off the coast of the mainland that can be reached via boat on convenient and reasonably priced day trips.
Here are our top five choices for islands you should be sure to visit as part of your next Irish holiday if you love the idea of really getting away from it all and enjoying some completely unspoilt scenery:
One of the best-known and most dramatic of Ireland’s remote islands is Skellig Michael, the larger of the two Skellig Islands. This fascinating location is just over seven miles off the coast of County Kerry in the south-west of Ireland, but those who have spent any time there will tell you that it feels as if it could be thousands of miles – and years – away from modern civilisation.
Given the often-treacherous sailing conditions that need to be negotiated to reach the island, as well as its rocky and extremely steep terrain, it is hard to believe that any communities could ever have thrived there. Nevertheless, Skellig Michael was home to an active, continuously occupied monastery for hundreds of years, until the late 12th or early 13th century. Much of the monastery’s remains are still in excellent condition today, which led to them being declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.
Recently also used as a filming location for the 2015 Star Wars film The Force Awakens, Skellig Michael is a hugely rewarding place to visit. Tours of the island take place between May and October and are offered by several operators, such as Casey’s Skellig Michael Trips.
Nine miles off the coast of County Donegal in Ireland’s north-west corner, Tory Island is officially the country’s most remote populated island. Despite its isolated setting, Tory currently has 144 residents and benefits from having good transport links to the mainland, with passenger ferries running five days per week (every day during the summer).
Irish is still the main language spoken on the island, with most locals only using English to speak with overseas visitors, and the sense of tradition that this purveys is complemented by the range of historic landmarks that can be explored across Tory.
Like Skellig Michael, the island also boasts the remains of an ancient monastery, with its impressive bell tower (circa 6th-7th century) being its best-preserved structure. Other unique highlights day-trippers should look out for include a torpedo that was washed up and defused during World War II and the ‘Wishing Stone’ (according to legend, anyone who manages to step onto this hard-to-reach rock is granted a wish).
Eight miles from County Cork, Cape Clear Island is the southernmost populated part of Ireland and is home to over 100 people. Easily reachable via two ferry services, the island is - like all those on our list - a haven for anyone interested in history or wildlife.
Cape Clear’s relatively mild climate makes it arguably the best place in the country to enjoy birdwatching, with some regularly-spotted species including guillemots, cormorants and storm petrels. Even more exciting for some will be the chance to see whales, leatherback turtles, dolphins and even basking sharks – all are seen in the waters surrounding the island every year.
In terms of its historic places of interest, a few of Cape Clear Island’s must-see landmarks include:
Although privately owned since the 1940s, it is still possible to take a day trip to Great Saltee, the larger of the two Saltee Islands. Just a few miles south of County Wexford, this island is perhaps the most scenic of all those on our list – you will walk across a carpet of bluebells and other wildflowers as you make your way along the dramatic cliffs, gazing down at the idyllic, crystal-clear water below as you go.
As is the case with Cape Clear Island, Great Saltee is a brilliant place for birdwatching, with gannets, puffins and Manx shearwaters being among the more commonly-spotted birds you can look forward to seeing. The island is also a breeding site for grey seals (around 20 are born there each year), and dozens can be spotted in and around the water during the autumn months.
Despite its proximity to the mainland, this island is, in some ways, among the most remote that you can visit from Ireland. Its privately-owned status means that there are no public amenities to speak of, so you will need to take any essentials with you when making a trip. The upside, of course, is that this means Great Saltee is completely unspoilt and virtually unrivalled in the levels of tranquillity it offers.
Our final choice is possibly the most fascinating of all the locations on our list. The largest of the six principal Blasket Islands, Great Blasket was once a thriving fishing community and, at its peak, home to more than 160 people. Life on the windswept, mountainous island was always tough, however, and the Irish government eventually arranged the evacuation of its remaining residents in 1953.
Accessible via boat trips that depart daily from the nearby Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry, the island can be fully explored on a tour that lasts around six hours. Whilst, like all the islands we have discussed, Great Blasket is a fantastic place to see a variety of plant and marine life, what is perhaps even more interesting is getting up close to the remains of the primitive cottages which the former islanders used to call home; upon arrival, day-trippers will be better able to picture the difficult yet peaceful lives that were led by Blasket’s hardy residents, whose number included several renowned authors, such as Tomas O’Crohan and Maurice O’Sullivan.
You can find out more about the ferry service that goes to and from Great Blasket by clicking here.