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Galway, Ireland

The Island of Inishmaan

Certain traditions prevail on the smallest and most secluded of the Aran Islands. 

Only about 200 people live on the Irish isle of Inishmaan’s 3.5 square miles, and most tourists to the Aran Islands visit its sister isles, Inishmore and Inisheer. The result is a quiet place where fishing is still the trade, the Irish language is still the vernacular, and certain ancient traditions prevail amid modern features like wifi and electric cars.

Early Christian monks sought seclusion on Inishmaan, and hundreds of years later, it remains a certain kind of wilderness. Away from the hubbub, visitors can take in the island’s winding trails, rolling green hills, towering cliffs, sandy beaches, and views of the Cliffs of Moher on the mainland. 

In The Aran Islands, Synge wrote of being there: “The sense of solitude was immense. I could not see or realise my own body, and I seemed to exist merely in my perception of the waves and of the crying birds, and of the smell of seaweed.” Today, visitors in search of a similar experience can take a short ferry ride from the mainland.

One of the most fascinating relics on the Aran Islands is the vast and sprawling network of hand-stacked limestone walls that weaves its way through the islands. The massive maze system has existed in some form for hundreds (perhaps even thousands) of years, and its construction continues to this day.

The barriers—some as tall as six feet—serve to divide plots and wrangle livestock, but they also facilitate a simpler task: to give the land’s abundant natural resource a purpose. The island’s earliest inhabitants needed to clear the fields for farming, and decided to turn the pesky and prevalent limestone rocks into productive building materials.

Aside from the incredible labyrinthine infrastructure, there are several notable destinations on the quiet isle of Inishmaan. A church contains stained glass windows created by Dublin artist Harry Clarke. There are stone forts like the circular Dún Chonchúir, archaeological sites, gravesites, and a small museum called Teach Synge—the restored cottage of playwright John Millington Synge, who was a frequent visitor to the island around the turn of the 20th century. You can even visit Synge’s favorite spot, a cliffside lookout that’s sheltered from the wind by (what else?) stacks of stone.

Know Before You Go

Boats to Inishmaan (and the rest of the Aran Islands) depart daily from Rossaveal in County Galway, and tickets can be booked online ahead of your visit. The island is also home to a handful of inns if you're looking for a longer stay.