When the ferryman pulls away from the pier and the salty spray of the sea hits your face, the feeling of release from the mainland is deeply pleasurable. Your island awaits. Whether for a day trip or a holiday, the lure of the islands is as magnetic as ever.
Here are six of our lesser-visited islands. So get out that map and get booking.
Great Saltee, Co Wexford
It’s late in the season to catch the wonderful spectacle of the puffin colony on Great Saltee, but this island on the southeast coast is a birdwatchers’ paradise. It is one of the most important gannetries in the country with hundreds of breeding pairs of gannets. You can also observe guillemots, razorbills, and fulmars on the main billing.
If birdwatching isn’t your thing, Great Saltee is still a lovely spot for a day out for a stroll around this unpopulated island. Unpopulated, save for the family of the late king, Neale, whose family still own the only house on the island.
Long Island, Co Cork
Almost 5km from east to west, Inisfada, is long in comparison to its neighbouring islands, but not really long at all. It is a beautiful island for long, lazy walks where at this time of year masses of wildflower topple from the ditches. It has a population of around 15 people but no services. So bring your own picnic.
In Connie Kelleher’s just published book called The Alliance of Pirates, there is mention of buried treasure on Long Island. You never know your luck.
Bull Rock, Co Cork
For a simply jaw-dropping experience the likes of which can hardly be found in many other places, book yourself a trip with Paul O’Shea of Dursey Boat Trips for a trip to the Bull Rock at the tip of the Beara Peninsula. Hang on to your hat, as the RIB skipper scoots across the ocean to the mighty monolith of the Bull Rock which is the daddy of the rustic trio, the Bull, Cow and Calf.
Landing on the Bull is not permitted, but who needs to land when you can cruise through the natural sea tunnel the length of the island? Just up above, the colour of the rock, are the remnants of the old lighthouse keeper’s quarters - an eerie counterpart to the modern lighthouse on the top. With Dursey Island just around the peninsular tip, this is a trip and a half.
Beginish, Co Kerry
Make up your own superlatives for this one. As historic as they come, this now unpopulated island was once a thriving community of fisherman, but time and tide … There is a stunning beach of white crystalline sands where you may fancy a dip. There is a lovely walk among the sand-dunes as you look back towards Valentia Island and the village of Knights Town.
Oh, and at the tip of the island there happens to be Ireland’s only recognised Viking house discovered on an island. Mostly unexcavated, the complex features houses of very unusual design. A stone over the door of one house bore the inscription: ‘Lir Erected This Stone + Munuikil Carved the Runes’. This stone was moved to the Fitzgerald Park Museum in Cork City for safekeeping.
Entrust yourself to the capable care of the Curtin brothers as your guides. The trip will take in Ireland’s smallest monastery on the nearby Church Island. And that too, is a sight to behold.
Scattery Island, Co Clare
Another historic island, Scattery lies just off the town of Kilrush where the mighty River Shannon meets the Atlantic. This was the stronghold of St Senan and there are 11 churches in various states of repair to be seen there. A robust round tower is central to the complex and would have been useful for spotting Viking raiders of whom there was no shortage as the island was attacked many times.
Scattery had a sizeable population and the houses of the former inhabitants are still fairly intact. There is no suitable beach for swimming but there is a wonderful walk all around the island’s circumference where you will also encounter an impressive lighthouse.
Inishkea South, Co Mayo
Oliver Goldsmith’s famous poem, ‘The Deserted Village’ could have been written for Inishkea South. It was once a thriving island which serviced the Norwegian whaling industry but the cessation of that industry led to a gradual decline in the island’s population. The ruins of the people’s houses are still there but are up to their waists in sand. There is a beautiful, safe beach for swimming.
It is a large island and provides plenty of scope for exploring. Its neighbour, Inishkea North is only divided from the South by a narrow channel, but is inaccessible. Apparently, there was no love lost between North and South.