Ten best: Island daytrips
Ditch the mainland and sail away to one of our secluded off-shore gems. From Sherkin to the Skelligs, Pól O Conghaile shares the secrets of his favourite island jaunts.
Inishturk, Co Mayo
Want a daytrip that doubles as a detox? Inishturk will sort you, and then some.
The 'Island of the Wild Boar' is another world; an outpost off the Mayo coast aflutter with wild birds, crammed with archaeological treasures (check out the Napoleonic signal tower) and boasting two, fine, looped walks at Lough Coolaknick and Mountain Common.
If the weather's agreeable, take a dip off Tranaun or Curran -- stress-free sandy beaches.
Details: Clare Island Ferry (098 23737; www.clareislandferry.com) sails year-round from Roonagh Quay. Sailings take 15 minutes. See also inishturkisland.com.
Rathlin is Northern Ireland's only inhabited offshore island. Boasting big, basalt cliffs, squabbling parliaments of seabirds and centuries of smuggler lore, this was also the spot where Robert the Bruce holed up in a cave after his defeat by the English in 1306.
Despite the wildness, however, Rathlin is just a 20-minute ferry sojourn across the Sea of Moyle. Walking, cycling, birdwatching and wreck-diving are all possible here, and the music might tempt you to miss the ferry home.
Details: Rathlin Island Ferries (048 2076 9299; rathlinballycastleferry.com) leaves from Ballycastle year round. Sailing s take 20 or 45 minutes, depending on the boat
Inishbofin has been visited for centuries (ancient chapels and holy wells are the hallmarks of an early Christian settlement), and for good reason.
The island is a great sailing base, and boasts super walks, pretty beaches and a spectacular spread of birds.
Most famous is its traditional music scene -- this, after all, is an island with its own céilí band, and several residents have released their own CDs.
If you like a tune, you'll love Inishbofin (and you may want to think about spending the night).
Details: Inishbofin Island Discovery (095 45819; inishbofinislanddiscovery.com) sails yeardound from Cleggan in 30 minutes. See also inishbofin.com.
Sherkin, Co Cork
There’s no stress on Sherkin. That’s our take on this artsy oasis, anyway — a place lying in the wilds of Roaringwater Bay and yet just 10 minutes from Baltimore.
Sherkin is the ancestral hub of the O’Driscoll clan (their ivy-clad castle lies above the pier), but it’s also home to a modern arts community (unique among Irish islands, it offers a BA in Visual Arts). You’ll find work by the island’s many artists and designers at the Island Crafts Centre in Baltimore.
Details: Sherkin Ferry (028 20218; sherkinisland.eu/ferry) sails daily from Baltimore, yearround. Sailings take 10 to 12 minutes. See also sherkinisland.eu
Skellig Michael, Co Kerry
Skellig Michael hit the news recently when archaeologist Michael Gibbons found steps on the island that suggest it hosted settlements pre-dating its famous beehive huts, oratories, chapel and stone crosses.
It's another layer of mystery for this monkish shard of rock, punching out of the Atlantic some 13km off the Kerry coast.
Keep your eye out, too, for the seabird colonies swarming about the rocky outcrops flanking this Unesco World Heritage Site -- Little Skellig and Puffin Island.
Details: Several ferry services operate boat trips from Portmagee, Valentia, Renard Point, Baile an Sceilg and Doire Fhionáin. Sailings are weather-permitting, typically lasting from 10am to 3pm. If the weather is bad, visit the Skellig Experience (skelligexperience.com).
Tory, Co Donegal
Living 12km off Bloody Foreland, Tory islanders still talk of "travelling to Ireland". Their home is just 40 minutes by ferry from Magheroarty, however, bringing this Gaeltacht getaway well within the reach of day-trippers.
Highlights? The dazzling landscape has inspired a school of artists (check out the exhibitions at Dixon's Gallery), and outdoorsy folk can enjoy angling, dolphin watching or hiking a stretch of the Donegal Way. This idiosyncratic island even has its own king, or Rí Thoraí.
Details: Turasmara Teo (074 953-1340; toryislandferry.com) sails from Bunbeg and Magheroarty, year round. Sailings take one hour 30 minutes, and 50 minutes, respectively. See also oileanthorai.com.
Clare, Co Mayo
Clare was home to Grace O'Malley, the pirate queen, but it's a much more peaceful proposition today.
If you're a walker, the Fawnglass and Knocknaveen loops plug into an island heritage that includes Bronze Age cooking sites and the Cistercian Abbey ruins. Even if you're not, the 461-metre peak of Knockmore is worth scaling for its views of Croagh Patrick and the sensational sweep of Clew Bay.
The island even boasts its own yoga retreat centre.
Details: Clare Island Ferry Co (098 23737; clareislandferry.com) and O'Malley Ferry Services (098 25045; omalleyferries.com) sail all year from Roonagh. Sailings take 15 minutes. See also clareisland.info.
Bere, Co Cork
It may be a small island, but Bere has been at the centre of some pretty big events.
Its Martello towers date from the Napoleonic wars; several American ships based here during the First World War met their fate at Pearl Harbour and, following the Anglo-Irish Treaty, the island became one of three Irish ports retained by the UK.
The result is unique, almost like an open-air museum, and a looped walk takes in most of the historical hits. The marina is open to visiting sailors, too.
Details: Bere Island Ferries (086 242-3140; bereislandferries.com) departs all year from Castletownbere, 2km away on Beara Peninsula. Sailings take 10 minutes. See also bereisland.net.
Dursey, Co Cork
Lying across a narrow sound off the tip of the Beara Peninsula, it's hard to imagine a wilder escape than Dursey.
But despite its remoteness, the island is best-known for a unique little piece of technology -- the cable car that carries six people at a time (or less, if the passengers include a cow) from the mainland. Visitors can then continue along a stretch of the Beara Way -- though be sure to bring provisions, as there are no facilities.
Details: Ireland's only cable car departs daily all year from Ballaghboy -- at the tip of the Beara Peninsula. The trip takes ten minutes and costs €4/€1. See also bearatourism.com.
Inis Mór, Co Galway
Visitors can bike or hike their way around the island over the course of one day or several.
The big sites are Dún Aonghusa (with its 300-foot cliffs) and the Blue Flag beach at Cill Mhuirbhigh, but don't forget the Seven Churches and, of course, the karstic landscape itself -- threaded with its web of dry-stone walls.
Afterwards, you can devour local lobster, take a jarvey ride or learn the art of basket making.
Details: Aer Arann Islands (091 593034; aerarannislands.ie) flies from Connemara Airport at Inverin. Ferries sail year round from Ros a' Mhíl (091 568903; aranislandferries.com) and from April to October from Doolin (065 707-4455; doolinferries.com). See also aranislands.ie.