Connemara isn’t a town, county or province. It is a cultural region in County Galway Ireland. The most common interpretation of its boundaries is that the region is contained within Lough Corrib to the south-east, and surrounded by the waters of Galway Bay, the Atlantic Ocean and Killary Fjord to the west and north.
Some would add that Connemara is also a state of mind. That might sound ever so exaggerated but if you know Connemara, or get to know Connemara I’m sure you’ll agree. In this feature, Ger Leddin looks at ten of Connemara’s most beautiful sites; sites you really should see in this magical, mystical and very beautiful part of the Emerald Isle.
10. Killary Fjord
Ireland isn’t known for its fjords, in fact, Killary is the only true fjord on the Island.
Extending from the Atlantic Ocean, ten miles inland to the Aasleagh Falls near the tiny village — immortalised in the film The Field — of Leenane, the fjord is protected by the islands at its mouth and the mountains of Mweelrea on the north and Mamturk and the Twelve Bens to the south.
This natural protection from the wildness of the Atlantic, along with the spectacular depth of the fjord makes Killary a unique area of not only flora and fauna, but also helped to form a truly spectacular landscape. A short drive along the southern side of the fjord, starting at Leenane, will provide an amazing kaleidoscope of colour as the landscape changes as you near the coast and some of the best beaches Ireland has to offer.
9. Letterkesh Beach
If you’re looking for unspoiled and remote stretches of soft white sands and calm water, then the beaches of Letterkesh are just what you need. Situated just to the south of the mouth of Killary Fjord and accessed by narrow and sand-dusted tracks; Letterkesh beach is simply amazing.
Again protected from the sea by a series of small islands and rock outcrops, the calm waters take on a turquoise hue ideal for swimming. To walk or lie on the sands and take in the views which stretch out to Inishboffin to the west and Mweelrea to the north is an experience not to be forgotten. Don’t expect to find too many others on this beach, you won’t; the remoteness precludes too many visitors, but if you are looking for a beach that offers peace and quiet, and spectacular scenery, well you’ve found it.
8. Kylemore Abbey
Kylemore Abbey was built in the late 1800’s by Mitchell Henry MP as a gift for, and love token to his wife Margaret. Today it is an exclusive boarding school run by the Benedictine order, but open to the public all-year round so that visitors may enjoy its splendour.
And splendid a visit to Kylemore truly is. Take in a walk around the lake, visit the Victorian walled gardens and then stroll through the woodlands back to the Abbey itself, where you can enter and marvel at the period architecture. An afternoon spent in Kylemore is a step back in time.
7. Derrigimlagh Bog
Not only has Connemara a vastness of scenic beauty spots, but it also, because of its location at the edge of Europe, has a notable history connected to modern day travel and communication. It was here on the 15th of June 1919, that John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown made landfall after completing the first ever trans-Atlantic flight. Alcock and Browne aren’t the only claims to fame that this vast area of bogland has. Only two-miles down the road you’ll find the remains of an old Marconi radio station that once operated from here, sending early trans-Atlantic messages from 1907 until its closure in 1922.
Derrugimlag Bog is one of the oldest in Ireland, about four-thousand years old in fact. While a stroll through the bogland would be quite arduous, don’t let this worry you; there is a viewing platform — marked by an aeroplane tail fin — from where the magnificent views can be enjoyed.
6. Connemara National Park
Located close to Kylemore Abbey, in the village of Letterfrack, you will find the entrance to the Connemara National Park. Now owned and managed by the state, much of the park once formed part of the Kylemore estate. Humans have lived on and around this park for the past 4,000 years and the park boasts megalithic tombs dating from this period. The first ice-age played a major part in determining the landscape that exists today, a landscape which influences the plant life and vegetation of today’s park.
The purple moor grass which grows abundantly on the mountain slopes and the vast expanses of pure bogland make the views from the park breathtaking. To wander through this national park, taking time to listen to the birdsongs of species native to Ireland such as woodcock, snipe, starling, song thrush and mistle thrush, and to marvel at the mountain vistas is to spend time well.
5. Glengowla Mines
Not all of Connemara’s sight-seeing need be over ground: a wonderful day out can be achieved with a visit to Glengowla mines, located just outside the village of Oughterard. These mines date back to 1851 when the main mining centred on silver and lead, while quantities of Connemara marble, gold, dolerite and quartz were also mined.
The mines today are no longer being worked commercially but instead, a visitor experience and heritage centre are operated on the site. Guided tours of the mines are conducted regularly, and the visitor can marvel at the underground mineral deposits and crystals as they shimmer in the lights.
4. Omey Island
Omey Island located near Claddaghduff is a tidal Island, a short walk from the mainland but only accessible around low tide. A beautiful sandy grass Island with majestic views out over the Atlantic to the larger Island beyond; however when you do decide to visit the island be sure to check tide tables and seek local knowledge before setting out.
On your walk around the Island lookout for the ruins of Teampaill Féichín, a medieval church built on a 7th-century Christian settlement which lies on the north coast. St Féichín’s church was covered in sand until 1981 and it is surrounded by the remains of a semi-sunken village that was wiped out during the Famine. Now largely uninhabited a walk around the Island will allow you to enjoy nature, it’s scenery and a rare solitude that can only be found here. Well worth the visit.
3. The Renvyle Peninsula
Whether you’re looking for the best in seafood or a great Irish pub alive with music, or simply the most stunning beaches, the Renvyle Peninsula can offer these and more.
A drive around the peninsula will showcase some of the spectacular scenery the views out towards the islands are simply breathtaking.
When you’ve finished relaxing on the magnificent beaches of this area, take a break and try a different form of relaxation in either the of the villages of Tully or Tullycross you won’t be disappointed by the welcome, the craic, or the very best of locally caught seafood.
2. Connemara by the sea
Due to the presence of the many islands off the coast, the waters of Connemara remain relatively protected from the ravishes of the Atlantic, particularly in and around Killary Fjord. For the water sports enthusiast, Connemara is Heaven. Canoeing, scuba diving, windsurfing, snorkelling can all be practised here in safety and with ease.
The area around the mouth of the fjord is an underwater paradise. Here a simple snorkel, fins, and mask will open up a world inhabited by all the various marine life you could hope to find in these shallow rocky inlets. Lobster, scallops, sea anemones, sea urchins, shrimps and crabs can be observed close up in tidal rock pools as they go about there business in the vast array of marine plant life.
Inishboffin lies eleven kilometres off the coast of Connemara. A small island only six kilometres in length and four wide; but its remoteness and unspoilt beauty make it a definite ‘must visit’ for anyone visiting Connemara. Yes, it has the beautiful beaches, the signposted walks and the friendly, welcoming people that populate Connemara. But additionally, Inishboffin has a uniqueness that lets it stand out.
Boffin, as it is known locally, has been inhabited for at least six thousand years, but the over-usage of present-day technical advances have been deliberately avoided by the Islanders attitude of “if you don’t really need it, why bother?” Yes, you will see the one car here as it is used to ferry the visitor’s luggage from the ferry to the island’s one hotel, but that’s all you’ll see.
On Boffin you have the pristine beaches, hill walking, wonderful flora and fauna and the abundance of Irish music, good food, drink and craic that you would expect. But you also have the unique remoteness that makes it special. There’s a different pace of life on Boffin, an easy pace, enjoy it.