There’s a childlike giddiness that I always feel as we approach the ferry at Burtonport and wait to be transported in time and distance to Arranmore Island. Time, because there’s a quality of life on the island that reminds me of a kinder more laid back approach to life.

On the journey across I eagerly watch the sea for a glimpse of dolphins who frequently accompany the visitors across while shaggy cormorants and gannets deep dive to forage for fish.

The crossing only takes about 20 minutes but when you land you immediately feel far removed from the daily grind as you wind your way through a small settlement of places to eat and drink.

Here you will also find the Arranmore Modem; a high-speed broadband hub for those who just can’t leave the grind behind totally. Here you can pay for a hot desk should you need to work while visiting but let’s hope that you can completely break away and enjoy what this small island has to offer.

Just around the corner is another new initiative – an outdoor shoreline amphitheatre for visiting and home-grown entertainers.

The island is approximately 8 square miles and is the largest of the islands that sit off the West coast of Donegal and with a population of less than 500, there’s lots of room to explore without feeling you’re a trapped tourist.

Once disembarking from the ferry and travelling south along the East coast of the island you’ll see gentle hills with a patchwork of stone walls separating one field from the next and you’ll marvel, as I have, at the sheer magnitude of building these walls without the benefit of modern technology.

Peppered throughout these fields are whitewashed homes and outhouses and sheep that roam freely alongside occasional hens that share their space. The beaches are clean and sandy and border translucent blue seas that are very inviting to those who love to sea swim in safe waters.

Most of the population of Arranmore lives on the East coast and it becomes evident why this is as you travel around to the West coast.

It couldn’t be more different. Gentle hills swap places with working turf bogs and then dramatic rugged cliffs that can take your breath away. Up here at certain times of the year, you’ll see sheep defy gravity as they munch their way along the cliff edge while bog cotton is carried on a breeze out to sea. The roads along this coastline can be challenging but always worth the trip so don’t be put off.

As you travel along the North coast the scenes of the mainland are spectacular and there are lots of little hidden spots you can explore safely. Like the rest of the island, there are places for you to picnic or simply just sit and wonder at the gift of nature.

This part of the island is abundant in colour during spring and summer with wild primroses, bluebells, honeysuckle, montbretia and fuchsia to name only a few. There’s no order to where they grow; no manicured hedgerows just simply seeds that have blown in the wind and landed where they will.

There’s a beautiful and poignant backstory to this island; one of endurance and perseverance dating back centuries but also of modern-day islanders using their resources to make sure this home of theirs survives going forward.

Arranmore Island is a destination that won’t disappoint with stunning scenery, lively music and craic, friendly islanders (except for the occasional goat or ram), and good eateries. What’s not to love about this place?

Every time I leave the island it’s with a heavy heart and a desire to return as quickly as I can. I’m pretty sure you’ll feel the same way.

Things To Do

Tour the island with a registered tour guide.
Contact Denis
T: +353 (0) 87 3162146

Sailing, Kayak Tours, Paddleboarding and Bike hire daily between 1st April and 1st September.
T: +353 74 9520024

Sea Safari & Heritage Tours
Contact Jim Muldowney
T: +353 (0) 86 3300516

The Arranmore Loop begins and ends at the ferry port: this 14+ km signposted hike is of moderate difficulty.

Places of Interest

Lighthouse & Steps
The original lighthouse was built in 1798 but was replaced with the current one in 1859. It is situated in the northwest of the island atop dramatic rugged cliffs. Nearby are the 151 lighthouse steps which were used to deliver supplies to the lighthouse before the road was built. Great care is required while visiting both the lighthouse and the steps.

Beaver Island Monument
During the Great Hunger, many people fled Ireland and settled in America. This monument is dedicated to the link between Arranmore and those who settled on Beaver Island on the shores of the Great Lakes of the USA.

The Old Graveyard
Situated in the south of the island the land was given to the islanders in 1725 to bury their dead following the tragic drowning of nine people on their way to a funeral on the mainland. A new graveyard replaced it in 1893.

Photos by: Pat Cook

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