There’s no health-and-safety style barrier – nothing at all, in fact, but your own common sense – between visitors and the margin of the vertiginous limestone cliffs.
Tourists with a better head for heights are clambering among the surviving stone walls of the Bronze Age fort, posing for photographs, windswept and squinting against the sun, with their feet dangling into the void.
The concentric crescent walls of Dún Aengus have been crumbling into the Atlantic for more than two thousand years, as the Aran Islands – just off Ireland’s west coast – are blasted by whatever the ocean throws at them.
With nothing between here and the US but endless kilometres of open water, the scenery is characterised by exposed grassland beneath dramatic skies.
Today, though, the breeze is light and only thin wisps of distant cloud scatter the blue. It’s the perfect weather to explore, whether that be on foot, by pony and trap or in one of the many tourist buses that jostle for business at the ferry terminal in Kilronan.
We’ve opted for bike hire, and cycling along the narrow meandering lanes proves an idyllic way to take in the coast – broken by sandy bays and a rocky outcrop that’s home to a seal colony. Inland bleak farmland hugs the backbone of
the island, crisscrossed by drystone walls and dotted with sleepy villages, all overlooked by an eerie, deserted lighthouse.
Back on the mainland, Galway City offers an interesting counterpoint to the atmospheric, laid-back islands. Atmospheric and laid-back in an entirely different way, the city bursts with a youthful glee that somehow manages
to sit harmoniously with the cobbled streets and quaint, colourful shop fronts.
From the street performers of Eyre Square to the plethora of welcoming pubs lining Quay Street, there’s a lively throb to central Galway that penetrates the soul.
Whether you like your Guinness poured slow and drunk slower, surrounded by idle Irish chatter, or served to the tune of rollicking folk music amid a high-spirited student crowd, you’ll find craic in Galway that suits your taste.
And there’s nothing bonkers about that.
» Claire Goodall travelled with Shamrocker (+353 1672 7651). The seven-day All Ireland Rocker tour is £279
Highlights of Western Ireland
The Burren: Limestone Country
The Aran Islands are the final outcrop of the limestone pavement covering a large swathe of western Ireland. Known as the Burren, this desolate landscape features a patchwork of rocky slabs scored by narrow fissures.
Ennis: A musical city
If Irish cities get under your skin, Ennis is an itch you’ll want to scratch. Smaller than Galway but with a similar happy-go-lucky vibe, Ennis is home to a legion of pubs where you can listen
to traditional Irish folk music while sipping on a pint of the black stuff.
Connemara: Charmingly Irish
The rusty bogs, lonely mountains and wild valleys of Connemara epitomise Irish scenery at its best. Whether you hug the coast or explore the trails of the national park, it’s worth spending a few days letting the region’s timeless beauty sink into the consciousness.