Visiting Ireland’s Eye: The Ferry, It’s History + What To Do On The Island

getting to ireland's eye
Photos via Shutterstock

A visit to Ireland’s Eye is arguably one of the most unique things to do in Dublin.

Although Ireland’s Eye is only 54 acres in size (its ‘summit’ can be reached in 20-minutes), a trip here is well-worth doing.

The trip to the island treats you to stunning views of Ireland’s coastline and, if you get onto the island, there’s a lovely ramble you can head off on.

Below, you’ll find info on the various Ireland’s Eye ferry providers to what to see on the island when you arrive (not all tours land on the island!).

Some quick need-to-knows before you visit Ireland’s Eye

So, getting to Ireland’s Eye requires a little bit of planning. Below, you’ll find some handy info that’ll get you up to speed quickly.

1. Location

Ireland’s Eye is located about 1 mile (1.6 km) off the coast of Dublin and it can be easily reached by ferry from Howth in only 15 minutes.

2. The Ireland’s Eye ferry

There are several Ireland’s Eye ferry providers (Ireland’s Eye Ferries, Dublin Bay Cruises and Island Ferry), each of which offer daily tours that you can book onto. The boats depart from Howth Harbour and reach the island in a few minutes.

3. Tour types

It’s important to note that only some of the Ireland’s Eye ferry providers allow you to leave the boat and visit the island. Some tours are ‘Eco Tours’ which just take you around the island. More on this below.

4. Plenty to see and do

Despite being so small there’s plenty to see and do on Ireland’s Eye! If you’re an animal lover, this is the perfect destination for you. A colony of grey seals inhabit the island along with several species of seabirds such as gannets and guillemots. Ireland’s Eye is also home to a spectacular beach with crystal-blue water as well as ancient buildings such as the Martello Tower and the ruins of Cill Mac Neasáin church. 

About Ireland’s Eye

Ireland's Eye ferry
Photo by Peter Krocka (Shutterstock)

Ireland’s Eye is only 54 acres in size and its summit can be reached with a 20-minute-walk. In ancient times the island was called Eria’s Island, however, the name was soon changed into ‘Erin’, an abbreviation of ‘Éireann’, the Irish word for Ireland.

When the Vikings arrived, they replaced the word ‘island’ with ‘ey’, their Norse equivalent. Lastly, the Irish replaced ‘ey’ with ‘eye’ giving it its final name ‘Ireland’s Eye’.

History

The first recorded building on the island dates back to the 8th century when the church of Cill Mac Neasáin was established by three monks. During their stay on the island, the three monks wrote a manuscript of immense value: the Garland of Howth.

The manuscript contains the monks’ copy of the four Gospels and it’s now open to the public in Trinity College. Unfortunately, in the 9th century, the Vikings conquered Ireland’s Eye and destroyed most of Cill Mac Neasáin church. Despite this, Cill Mac Neasáin maintained its religious function till the 13th century. 

Murder on the island

Ireland’s Eye was also the setting of a terrible murder. In September 1852, the body of Maria Kirwan was found on its shore.

She had visited the island with her husband, William Burke Kirwan, who claimed that she had drowned while swimming.

It soon emerged that William Burke Kirwan was having an affair. In fact, he had a second home with a mistress and 8 (yes, 8!) kids. Kirwan was found guilty and duly sentenced.

There are three different ways of getting to Ireland’s Eye

getting to ireland's eye
Photo by Peter Krocka (Shutterstock)

If you want to visit the island, you’ll need to take one of the Ireland’s Eye ferry tours, and (currently) there are three different providers.

Note: some providers offer ‘Eco Tours’ (i.e. you’ll sail around the island) while others allow you to land on the island itself.

1. Ireland’s Eye Ferries

Ireland’s Eye Ferries will take you on a beautiful boat tour around Ireland’s Eye. You see one of the island’s most spectacular features, ‘The Stack’, where various seabirds such as razorbills, gulls and guillemots live.

You will also see Martello Tower and, if you’re lucky, the colony of grey seals living near the island. The tour also includes a live commentary about the wildlife of the island.

The tour sets off from Howth Harbour (West Pier) and lasts one hour. The tour costs €20 for adults, €10 for teens and €5 for children under 12-year-old of age. 

2. Island Ferries

Captains Mark and Greg will guide you through a boat tour of Ireland’s Eye where you will be able to observe the many species of seabirds that inhabit the island.

This guided tour also gives you the opportunity to land on the island where you will be able to explore the island at your own pace.

Boats return to Howth every hour with the last one leaving at 18:00 (check times in advance). The tour is 45 minutes but if you land on the island allow a minimum of one hour.

Boats depart from the West Pier at Howth Harbour. An adult ticket will cost you €20 while a kids ticket is €10. Family discounts are also available. 

3. Dublin Bay Cruises

Our final tour is with Dublin Bay Cruises, who offer a number of different boat tours around Dublin. Their Ireland’s Eye ferry tour lasts one hour and sails around the island.

You can enjoy a coffee or, if you like, a glass of wine while sailing around the island and soaking up the views.

The cruise departs from the West Pier, in Howth Harbour opposite to AQUA restaurant. Tickets cost €25 and kids under 3 can board free of charge.

Things to do on Ireland’s Eye

There are plenty of things to do on Ireland’s Eye for those of you looking for more unique things to do in Dublin.

Below, you’ll find info on the historical sites, the walks, the Martello Tower and what to look out for while you’re there.

1. A walk around the island

things to do on ireland's eye
Photos via Shutterstock

There’s a fine walk around the island. The route is about 1.5 miles (2.5 km) and, at a very leisurely pace, will take you about two hours.

The ferry will leave you close to Martello Tower. From here you can head south towards the main beach on the island. Keep walking towards the rocks in front of you and then turn left, heading east, until you’ll find a deep cleft in the rocks.

This fissure, known as ‘Long Hole’, is where the body of Maria Kirwin was found in 1852. Follow the cliffs towards the north of the island while keeping an eye on your left where you will find the ruins of Cill Mac Neasáin.

The northeast corner of the island is home to a colony of gannets and here you will find plenty of birds. Head towards the west and climb to the summit of the island from where you will have a great view of your surroundings. From here you will see your starting point, Martello Tower, only a few meters away.  

2. Gannet colony

gannets on ireland's eye
Photos via Shutterstock

If you’re into bird watching then make sure to check the colony of gannets inhabiting the northeast corner of Ireland’s Eye. The gannet is an incredible bird with magnificent colours.

This bird can reach a speed of 100 km per hour while fishing and its wingspan can be up to two meters in size. This corner of the island is also inhabited by other species of birds such as auks and cormorants.

Here you will find plenty of places to enjoy a picnic while observing the many birds flying, hunting and strolling around. 

3. The Martello Tower

martello tower on Ireland's eye
Photo by VVlasovs (Shutterstock)

Unlike Cill Mac Neasáin, Martello Tower can still be admired in all its splendor. This structure dates back to 1803 when the Duke of York decided to build a tower on the northwest side of the island.

Its function was to oppose an invasion from Napoleon. Other two towers, built for the same purpose, can be found on the mainland in Howth.

FAQs about the Ireland’s Eye ferry

We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from ‘How much does the Ireland’s Eye ferry cost?’ to ‘Is Ireland’s Eye really worth visiting?’.

In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.

How do you get to Ireland’s eye?

You take one of the Ireland’s Eye ferry tours that leave from Howth Harbour. Note: not all tours allow you to get onto the island.

Can you land on Ireland’s Eye?

Yes. However, you need to check before you book an Ireland’s Eye ferry tour, as some only sail around the Island.

Cristina fell in love with Ireland's breath-taking landscapes, quirky folklore and traditional music while studying in Limerick. Many years later, her love for all things Irish is just as strong.

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