Most of the Shannon Region islands have an incredible history from the Aran Islands to Holy Island. They are only slightly offshore and access is fairly easy by ferry or boat. Organised transport to these islands is available daily during the summer season.
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The Aran Islands
The Gaelic speaking Aran islands of Inisheer (meaning ‘eastern island’), Inismaan (meaning ‘middle island’) and Inismore (meaning ‘big island’) lie 45km south west of Galway and about eight kilometres from the nearest point to the Clare shore, almost directly westwards from the Cliffs of Moher. Inis Thoir is the smallest and the one nearest to the mainland, Inis Meáin, the least developed, and Inis Mór the largest and most developed.
Geologically speaking the islands are an extension of the Burren region in County Clare, a lunar like landscape famed for its rare flowers. Archaeologically they are rich in remains. Their pre-industrial society was celebrated in classic works of print such as John M. Synge's 1907 The Aran Islands and film (Robert Flaherty’s 1934 Man of Aran, famous for breath-taking sea scenes) have brought the islands world-wide attention. Licensed ferries travel from the Clare coast. The Doolin Ferry is the shortest crossing point to the islands. The journey takes less than 30 minutes and there are several sailings daily. Tel. 065 74455.
Inis Cathaigh (meaning ‘the island of Cata’, a monster, or the island of battles), a small island at the mouth of the Shannon estuary was a 6th century monastic settlement of St Senan. On the island are the ruins of seven churches, a 30 metre high Round Tower (unique as it has its doorway at ground level), a holy well, inscribed graveslabs, an ogham stone, a deserted village, and on the southern tip of the island, still guarding the entrance to the estuary, a formidable gun battery fort. The lighthouse has been recently automated. Scattery was raided many times by the Vikings before it became a Viking colony in the tenth century. A 34 seater ferry service from Kilrush Creek Marina operates daily (subject to demand, not always someone there) from April to October for the fifteen minute crossing to Scattery. The same ferry service also operates bottle-nosed Dolphin-watching in the estuary on 2-3 hour boat trips. (interpretative centre Tel+ 0 65 9052114)
The Holy Island of Inis Cealtra (meaning 'island of Cealtrach') on Lough Derg is easy to access from Mountshannon in east Clare, being only about 2 kms offshore (somewhat further from the marina). The monastic settlement is attributed to 7th century St Caimin. It was in use as a major religious site until the late middle ages, but continued as an important place of pilgrimage until recent times. It is still in use as a burial ground and is notable for its monastic remains: churches, graveslabs, earthworks and Round Tower. One of Ireland's leading archaeologists, Professor Liam de Paor, excavated extensively on the island during the 1970s.
The East Clare Heritage Centre at nearby St Cronan's, Tuamgraney provides information and booklets on the island. It also operates on demand, June to September, using an eight seater, boat trips and guided tours. The crossing takes only ten minutes with a half hour for the island tour. (Tel 0 61 921351 to arrange trips).
There are many other islands on Lough Derg some private and virtually inaccessible except for the smallest of craft. It is important to seek local knowledge before any exploration is attempted. Lough Derg is a large lake and can be dangerous in windy weather.
The Shannon Estuary
As the Shannon Estuary is tidal and racy great care is needed and small craft are not encouraged to stray too far from sheltered inlets. A large tributary of the Shannon, the Fergus flows from mid Clare into a wide shallow estuary dotted with islands. The most interesting of these is again a former monastic site, Canon Island. Here Donal Mór Ó Brian, King of Thomond founded an abbey in the late 12th century. Other islands are Corcory, Coney, Fynish, and Deer or Innismore.
The island is near Ballylongford at the Kerry mouth of the estuary and is approached by both land and sea. It shows traces of settlement from prehistoric times, with a major occupation phase as a monastic site (like Iniscealtra or Scattery).
A Holy Island
The island is two miles north east of Roscrea and was drained two hundred years ago, so a boat is no longer required to visit. Monaincha, Móin na hInse was once an inland Sceilg Michael and Munster's most famous place of pilgrimage and known to medieval Europeans as Inis na mBeo, the island of the living, the 31st Wonder of the World.
Without having to leave the mainland, visitors can explore King’s Island in Limerick City, to see where the first five centuries of the city took shape. Medieval history unfolds as historical remains, including King John’s castle, St. Mary’s Cathedral and The Treaty Stone, each tell a story of a historical past. The River Shannon and its tributary, the Abbey River, formed the Island, named for the Angevin King John of England, France, Scotland and Ireland (1199-1216). Here were early Christian settlements from the 5th Century- the time of St. Patrick and the city’s patron saint, St Munchin.
The Vikings who made Limerick their base in the 9th and 10th centuries, were dislodged eventually by the O’ Briens, Kings of Thomond and Munster. Then the Normans came and shortly afterwards established a garrison and from there the medieval city. The walled city of the “English Town” on the Island and its neighbour, “Irish Town” on the southern side of the Abbey River grew and prospered through the following centuries up to the middle of the 1700s.
Information courtesy Shannon tourism development