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Scientists Planning Permanent Research Station on Aran Islands

4th December 2022
The Aran island research station  - plans are being made for a permanent station on Inis Meáín
The Aran island research station - plans are being made for a permanent station on Inis Meáín

Scientists from Ireland and Europe plan to establish a permanent research station on the Aran islands dedicated to ocean science forecasting and climate change.

The Aran Islands International Research Station (AIRS) may be located on Inis Meáin where a solar-powered installation funded by the European Research Council has been operating since 2021.

The “Highwave” installation has been providing invaluable data on local wave conditions and their effects on coastal erosion and future global warming trends, according to Prof Frederic Dias and senior research engineer Arnaud Disant who initiated the project.

Dias is attached to the University College Dublin (UCD) and Ecole Normale Supérieure Paris Saclay (ENSPS), and Disant, also of UCD, designed and managed it in a cabin on top of a cliff on Inis Meáin.

They have been liaising with the Aran Island Energy Co-op (CFOAT) and the island co-op, Comhlacht Forbartha Inis Meáin.

Scientists who attended the recent conference on the Aran island research station to R front Pat Faherty (Research Station Technician UCD), Prof Michel Campillo (Université Grenoble Alpes), Arnaud Disant (Research Station Engineer UCD), Prof Frederic Dias (ENS Paris Saclay), Prof Murray Hitzman (CEO iCRAG) Dr Brian Ward (NUIG) (L to R back) Dr Salem Gharbia (ATU), Dr Maeve Boland (iCRAG) and Dr Alexis Merigaud (IFP Energies Nouvelles)Scientists who attended the recent conference on the Aran island research station to R front Pat Faherty (Research Station Technician UCD), Prof Michel Campillo (Université Grenoble Alpes), Arnaud Disant (Research Station Engineer UCD), Prof Frederic Dias (ENS Paris Saclay), Prof Murray Hitzman (CEO iCRAG) Dr Brian Ward (NUIG) (L to R back) Dr Salem Gharbia (ATU), Dr Maeve Boland (iCRAG) and Dr Alexis Merigaud (IFP Energies Nouvelles)

Dara Ó Maoildhia of the Aran Island Energy Co-op said the research so far is very exciting.

The “Highwave” station on Inis Meáín had picked up signals from the volcanic eruption of the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai volcano on 15th January 2022 on Tonga, he said.

The eruption triggered tsunami waves of up to 15 metres, and was the largest recorded since the eruption of Krakatoa in 1883.

“ Highwave has been gathering geological, meteorological and oceanographic data – for example, measuring the force of the waves against the cliffs, how much it would take to hurl a 20-tonne boulder from the sea up onto the island,” he said.

Scientists from all over Ireland and Europe discussed the results of “Highwave”, and the plans to establish a permanent station on Inis Meáín when they met -or attempted to meet- on the island late last month.

Ó Maoildhia said that weather conditions trapped some of the scientists, and prevented others from travelling, but discussions were held over Zoom.

Ironically, “studying such extreme weather and its effect on the Irish coast and climate change was exactly why we were there,” the scientists from Ireland, France, Italy, USA, Norway, Uruguay and the Netherlands said in a statement.

Prof Orla Feely, UCD Vice President for Research, Innovation and Impact, and Prof Philippe Maitre, Vice-President, Research Strategy from ENS-Paris, represented the two founding institutions of AIRS.

The scientists agreed that Inis Meáin is “uniquely placed for such a permanent research station”.

They said it would “open major new perspectives for Irish and European research, not only in wave and storm science, but also on a variety of other areas such as geology, agronomy, botany, climate change, archaeology, and renewable energies”.

“This unique location provides unparalleled access to study ocean storms and weather systems, areas of research of critical importance as the world struggles to understand and adapt to climate change,” they said.

The recent conference had “provided a timely forum for leading international scientists to meet with members of the local community to discuss how to best serve ocean and climate science, and to consider how the research station could be adapted into a more permanent facility”, they said in a statement.

The local community was represented by CFOAT, Comhlacht Forbartha Inis Meáin, and Coláiste Naomh Eoin,

There was a “clear consensus on the need for a permanent research station on the Aran Islands, and UCD and ENS will work together in pursuit of this”, the joint statement said.

Lorna Siggins

About The Author

Lorna Siggins

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Lorna Siggins is a print and radio reporter, and a former Irish Times western correspondent. She is the author of Search and Rescue: True stories of Irish Air-Sea Rescues and the Loss of R116 (2022); Everest Callling (1994) on the first Irish Everest expedition; Mayday! Mayday! (2004); and Once Upon a Time in the West: the Corrib gas controversy (2010). She is also co-producer with Sarah Blake of the Doc on One "Miracle in Galway Bay" which recently won a Celtic Media Award

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Ireland's offshore islands

Around 30 of Ireland's offshore islands are inhabited and hold a wealth of cultural heritage.

A central Government objective is to ensure that sustainable vibrant communities continue to live on the islands.

Irish offshore islands FAQs

Technically, it is Ireland itself, as the third largest island in Europe.

Ireland is surrounded by approximately 80 islands of significant size, of which only about 20 are inhabited.

Achill island is the largest of the Irish isles with a coastline of almost 80 miles and has a population of 2,569.

The smallest inhabited offshore island is Inishfree, off Donegal.

The total voting population in the Republic's inhabited islands is just over 2,600 people, according to the Department of Housing.

Starting with west Cork, and giving voting register numbers as of 2020, here you go - Bere island (177), Cape Clear island (131),Dursey island (6), Hare island (29), Whiddy island (26), Long island, Schull (16), Sherkin island (95). The Galway islands are Inis Mór (675), Inis Meáin (148), Inis Oírr (210), Inishbofin (183). The Donegal islands are Arranmore (513), Gola (30), Inishboffin (63), Inishfree (4), Tory (140). The Mayo islands, apart from Achill which is connected by a bridge, are Clare island (116), Inishbiggle (25) and Inishturk (52).

No, the Gaeltacht islands are the Donegal islands, three of the four Galway islands (Inishbofin, like Clifden, is English-speaking primarily), and Cape Clear or Oileán Chléire in west Cork.

Lack of a pier was one of the main factors in the evacuation of a number of islands, the best known being the Blasket islands off Kerry, which were evacuated in November 1953. There are now three cottages available to rent on the Great Blasket island.

In the early 20th century, scholars visited the Great Blasket to learn Irish and to collect folklore and they encouraged the islanders to record their life stories in their native tongue. The three best known island books are An tOileánach (The Islandman) by Tomás Ó Criomhthain, Peig by Peig Sayers, and Fiche Blian ag Fás (Twenty Years A-Growing) by Muiris Ó Súilleabháin. Former taoiseach Charles J Haughey also kept a residence on his island, Inishvickillaune, which is one of the smaller and less accessible Blasket islands.

Charles J Haughey, as above, or late Beatle musician, John Lennon. Lennon bought Dorinish island in Clew Bay, south Mayo, in 1967 for a reported £1,700 sterling. Vendor was Westport Harbour Board which had used it for marine pilots. Lennon reportedly planned to spend his retirement there, and The Guardian newspaper quoted local estate agent Andrew Crowley as saying he was "besotted with the place by all accounts". He did lodge a planning application for a house, but never built on the 19 acres. He offered it to Sid Rawle, founder of the Digger Action Movement and known as the "King of the Hippies". Rawle and 30 others lived there until 1972 when their tents were burned by an oil lamp. Lennon and Yoko Ono visited it once more before his death in 1980. Ono sold the island for £30,000 in 1984, and it is widely reported that she donated the proceeds of the sale to an Irish orphanage


Yes, Rathlin island, off Co Antrim's Causeway Coast, is Ireland's most northerly inhabited island. As a special area of conservation, it is home to tens of thousands of sea birds, including puffins, kittiwakes, razorbills and guillemots. It is known for its Rathlin golden hare. It is almost famous for the fact that Robert the Bruce, King of Scots, retreated after being defeated by the English at Perth and hid in a sea cave where he was so inspired by a spider's tenacity that he returned to defeat his enemy.

No. The Aran islands have a regular ferry and plane service, with ferries from Ros-a-Mhíl, south Connemara all year round and from Doolin, Co Clare in the tourist season. The plane service flies from Indreabhán to all three islands. Inishbofin is connected by ferry from Cleggan, Co Galway, while Clare island and Inishturk are connected from Roonagh pier, outside Louisburgh. The Donegal islands of Arranmore and Tory island also have ferry services, as has Bere island, Cape Clear and Sherkin off Cork. How are the island transport services financed? The Government subsidises transport services to and from the islands. The Irish Coast Guard carries out medical evacuations, as to the RNLI lifeboats. Former Fianna Fáíl minister Éamon Ó Cuív is widely credited with improving transport services to and from offshore islands, earning his department the nickname "Craggy island".

Craggy Island is an bleak, isolated community located of the west coast, inhabited by Irish, a Chinese community and one Maori. Three priests and housekeeper Mrs Doyle live in a parochial house There is a pub, a very small golf course, a McDonald's fast food restaurant and a Chinatown... Actually, that is all fiction. Craggy island is a figment of the imagination of the Father Ted series writers Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews, for the highly successful Channel 4 television series, and the Georgian style parochial house on the "island" is actually Glenquin House in Co Clare.

Yes, that is of the Plassey, a freighter which was washed up on Inis Oírr in bad weather in 1960.

There are some small privately owned islands,and islands like Inishlyre in Co Mayo with only a small number of residents providing their own transport. Several Connemara islands such as Turbot and Inishturk South have a growing summer population, with some residents extending their stay during Covid-19. Turbot island off Eyrephort is one such example – the island, which was first spotted by Alcock and Brown as they approached Ireland during their epic transatlantic flight in 1919, was evacuated in 1978, four years after three of its fishermen drowned on the way home from watching an All Ireland final in Clifden. However, it is slowly being repopulated

Responsibility for the islands was taking over by the Department of Rural and Community Development . It was previously with the Gaeltacht section in the Department of Media, Tourism, Arts, Culture, Sport and the Gaeltacht.

It is a periodic bone of contention, as Ireland does not have the same approach to its islands as Norway, which believes in right of access. However, many improvements were made during Fianna Fáíl Galway West TD Éamon Ó Cuív's time as minister. The Irish Island Federation, Comdháil Oileáin na hÉireann, represents island issues at national and international level.

The 12 offshore islands with registered voters have long argued that having to cast their vote early puts them at a disadvantage – especially as improved transport links mean that ballot boxes can be transported to the mainland in most weather conditions, bar the winter months. Legislation allowing them to vote on the same day as the rest of the State wasn't passed in time for the February 2020 general election.

Yes, but check tide tables ! Omey island off north Connemara is accessible at low tide and also runs a summer race meeting on the strand. In Sligo, 14 pillars mark the way to Coney island – one of several islands bearing this name off the Irish coast.

Cape Clear or Oileán Chléire is the country's most southerly inhabited island, eight miles off the west Cork coast, and within sight of the Fastnet Rock lighthouse, also known as the "teardrop of Ireland".
Skellig Michael off the Kerry coast, which has a monastic site dating from the 6th century. It is accessible by boat – prebooking essential – from Portmagee, Co Kerry. However, due to Covid-19 restrictions, it was not open to visitors in 2020.
All islands have bird life, but puffins and gannets and kittiwakes are synonymous with Skellig Michael and Little Skellig. Rathlin island off Antrim and Cape Clear off west Cork have bird observatories. The Saltee islands off the Wexford coast are privately owned by the O'Neill family, but day visitors are permitted access to the Great Saltee during certain hours. The Saltees have gannets, gulls, puffins and Manx shearwaters.
Vikings used Dublin as a European slaving capital, and one of their bases was on Dalkey island, which can be viewed from Killiney's Vico road. Boat trips available from Coliemore harbour in Dalkey. Birdwatch Ireland has set up nestboxes here for roseate terns. Keep an eye out also for feral goats.
Plenty! There are regular boat trips in summer to Inchagoill island on Lough Corrib, while the best known Irish inshore island might be the lake isle of Innisfree on Sligo's Lough Gill, immortalised by WB Yeats in his poem of the same name. Roscommon's Lough Key has several islands, the most prominent being the privately-owned Castle Island. Trinity island is more accessible to the public - it was once occupied by Cistercian monks from Boyle Abbey.

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