Bordered by the Atlantic and set within a particularly scenic corner of County Galway, the region is famous for its wild terrain and soft colors. Rust-colored bogs are dotted with polished grey-blue lakes; old dry-stone walls are threaded over hills; and coral beaches, sandy bays and little harbors are edged by an ever-changing ocean. The name Connemara (Conamara) translates as ‘Inlets of the Sea’ and the roads along the peninsula’s filigreed shoreline bear this out as they wind around the coves of this breathtaking stretch of Ireland’s jagged west coast.
At times it can feel like another world, weather beaten and rocky. Connemara is a place of legend, folklore and profound beauty and it’s no surprise that artists and photographers, poets and playwrights have all found inspiration here.
Connemara is not just about the landscape, though – it’s also about the Irish language, which is cherished by the friendly locals. It’s about the charm of towns and villages such as Leenane, Roundstone, Clifden and Letterfrack. It’s about the ponies, the music, the pure flavors of local food.
Your tour will start at the gateway to Connemara with a day and night in Galway City. A balmy, bohemian city with a passion for traditional music and art in general. The spirit of Ireland’s west coast beats through the bustling streets, from mellow old pubs boasting turf and cozy corners, to shops selling Claddagh rings, Aran sweaters and bog-oak carvings.
Shop Street, Galway City
Cong, Co. Mayo
The second day of the tour will begin with a trip to the pretty village of Cong in County Mayo, where the 1952 Oscar-winning movie, The Quiet Man, starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara, was filmed. Although not technically in Connemara, it is stunningly beautiful and worth a short look around.
Next the tour will enter Connemara, passing through Maam and on to the village of Leenane. Situated at the head of Killary harbour, Ireland’s only deepwater Fjord, it nestles under the Maamtrasna and Maamturk mountains. This area is reknowned for it’s adventure activities, with hiking, kayaking, abseiling and many other activities available. These can be added on to your tour if you so wish.
Kayaking on a Fjord
From Leenane the tour will head south towards the heart of Connemara. Driving past the beautiful scenery of the Wild Atlantic Way, you will arrive at one of Ireland’s most stunning buildings, Kylemore Abbey. In 1852 financier, Mitchell Henry and his wife, Margaret Vaughan, were on honeymoon in Connemara. The couple remarked how beautiful the area is, and how wonderful it would be to live there. Thirteen years later a stunning castle retreat, overlooking a glassy Connemara lake, was constructed. Romance was soon to turn to tragedy however when Margaret died of a fever and left Mitchell heartbroken. Overnight, Kylemore Abbey had turned from a monument of love to a reminder of the woman he had lost. As the tale goes, since Margaret’s death, it is said that every seven years a white horse can be seen rising from the waters of the lake at Kylemore Abbey before racing off into the mist.
Our next stop is Connemara National Park and the village of Letterfrack. The National Park spans 2000 dramatic hectares of bog, mountains, heath and woodlands.
The park encloses a number of the Twelve Bens, including Bencullagh, Benbrack and Benbaun. The heart of the park is Gleann Mór (Big Glen), through which the River Polladirk flows. There’s fine walking up the glen and over the surrounding mountains along with short self-guided walks. The views from Diamond Hill over Clew Bay and the surrounding countryside are breathtaking.
Diamond Hill, Connemara National Park
From Letterfrack the tour will move on to Clifden, where you will rest for the night. Clifden is renowned for its many restaurants to suit every taste and budget. The town offers a range of stylish restaurants and coffee shops – many of them award winners. The lively bars provide nightly traditional and modern music sessions throughout the year.
The following day, the tour will take the ferry across to Inishbofin Island. “The Enchanted Island”, and indeed the island is enchanted, not just by the panoramic blessings of its setting, but also by thousands of years of mythology folklore and faith, which have shaped the lives of its people. Inishbofin is home to “Dún Gráinne”, the remains of a fort used by the legendary Pirate Queen, Grace O’Malley. It is also home to a second Celtic fort which dates all the way back to 1000 B.C. The island is believed to have been continuously inhabited for up to 10,000 years. There are stunning beaches with crystal clear water if you feel like braving the chilly Atlantic waters.
The tour will return to Clifden for the night.
The final day of the tour brings you through the picture postcard villages of Ballyconneely and Roundstone, where we will stop for some refreshments and photo opportunities.
From Roundstone the tour goes east, hugging the winding road of the jagged coastline arriving at a subregion of Connemara called “An Gaeltacht”. Here, the Irish language (Gaeilge) is the everyday spoken language of the people who live and work here . People here switch from Irish (Gaeilge) to English and vice-versa with ease and their English is peppered with Gaeilge phrases. Here is a treasure house of all that is best in rich Irish heritage, culture and folklore where people still sing and dance in the old traditional manner.
Roundstone, Co. Galway
Carraroe, An Gaeltacht
The last leg of the tour will take you back to Galway City, passing through the town of Spiddal and the seaside Galway suburb of Salthill.
One of the most beautiful places I have been to, and the fresh seafood and live music everywhere we went was just awesome.