The evolution of Doolin Pier- a bittersweet occasion

New Pier in Doolin

Most would say that there isn’t a much better way to celebrate our 45th year of sailing from Doolin to the Aran Islands. Tomorrow, Friday, June 19th will see the Official opening of the highly anticipated and brand new Doolin Pier.  To mark this tremendous occasion Cathaoirleach John Crowe and Chief Executive of Clare County Council Tom Coughlan along with the Minister for the Public Expenditure & Reform, Brendan Howlin will be in attendance for the opening ceremonies.  A day to be celebrated indeed.


At 12:00 pm the ‘ropes’ will be cut and there will be a multi-denominational blessing of the Pier, a tradition dating back thousands of years.  After the unveiling of a Plaque commemorating the day, the Pier will be officially open for use.

Old photo of Doolin Pier in 1984

This day will be yet another significant milestone in the history of the people of the Aran Islands, the greater Doolin community, and our business as The Doolin Ferry Co. Surely a fantastic day for all you may say, but for us…this will be a bittersweet occasion.  For this day will also usher forward a transformation of a particular way of life that has been in our family for three generations.  The original experience that one could have only had in the early days of visiting the Aran Islands from Doolin will be kept in treasured memories.

Founder of ferries from Doolin

Bill O’Brien was the trailblazer in establishing the Doolin to Aran ferry route along the Wild Atlantic Way in 1970 as a result of a simple request from a tourist who casually asked him about how they might get to the Aran Islands. Bill replied – I’ll take you…and the rest is history.

Up to this point in 1970, fishing was in decline and tourism hadn’t quite taken off in Ireland.  All was about to change and Bill was ready to roll with those changes as numbers flocked to Doolin and to the Cliffs of Moher. In 1973 Ireland joined the European Union and opened its market to Europe.  Our natural resources consisted of agriculture and tourism yet our products and service industry was very underdeveloped.  With the help of EU funds and government support the Irish economy opened itself up to the world and moved from second class to first world economy status.

Upgraded ferry service in Doolin

For better or worse the early days of visiting Aran are quite different from what you may expect now.  What’s the departure time- whenever you’re ready.  When will we return- whenever you’re ready.  The boats (and Bill really) certainly were not using the timetable you’ll find on our website today. He preferred to run on Irish Time and indeed Island Time.

Michelle Rocca launches the Doolin Ferry Company boat with Bill O'Brien

Today over 1 million people per year now visit the Cliffs of Moher, many of whom stay in Doolin to enjoy the famous music makers of Co. Clare or take a walk in the Burren or indeed a boat trip to the Aran Islands.  This service is so vital to the economy of Doolin and equally so to the Aran Islands – in particular Inis Oírr. Daily on the pier the mix of languages and cultures makes this a very special international market place!  Seafaring families from the islands and the West Clare coast are employed by THE Doolin Ferry Co.  Using their generational knowledge and instinct to navigate these familiar waters.  All our crew are native Irish speakers and as well as being qualified master sea captains are also trained in eco tourism principles, Seabird and Marine life monitoring and commentary so that the visitor gets the most from this magnificent environment – where the true boss is nature.

Humble Beginnings

Present day has seen a dramatic change from our humble beginnings.  From now on when a visitor from Germany, France or Australia strolls into our office on Doolin Pier looking for the man with a big black beard who took him out to Aran in 1970 something (in something that resembled a currach) we will be sure to listen carefully to this story.  A recently launched collection of Doolin memories is a great tribute to remembering our past  THE DOOLIN BOOK.

From mighty sea storm damage, various competitors, new piers to a new generation- The Doolin Ferry Co. has appreciated all the Atlantic has given it through rough times and smooth sailing alike.  In closing the launch of the New Pier tomorrow will be a bittersweet day for us here at The Doolin Ferry Co., for Bill O’Brien, his family and all those in Doolin who have gotten to be a part of a unique (and very Irish indeed) experience over the last 45 years of voyaging to Aran.  Tomorrow we will remember our past and we will very much look forward to our future.

Slán go fóill.