Oscar Wilde once described the place, we’re writing about this time, as a “savage beauty”. Once you’ve been there, you know what he’s talking about. We‘re talking about Connemara, a region in the west of County Galway. Connemara has so many faces. This gets visible especially when looking on the footage from various corners of this region (see below). From mars-like bog and heathland, which is interrupted by deep dark lakes, over twelve barren mountains with velvety brown peaks (Twelve Bens), to rugged coastline, lined by lonesome white (coral) beaches, there’s everything. Connemara has a lot to offer and is wildly romantic. Even though it’s not exactly the place where all the fun starts, it’s one of the most special corners of Ireland (as far as we can guess so far) and we always say:
„Anyone who hasn‘t seen Connemara,
hasn’t seen Ireland.“
So it’s worth driving a few hours to get to the most remote corners of this beautiful spot!
Come with us on a “little” trip to this paradise for outdoor enthusiasts and landscape photographers…
(Notice: The post got a bit longer – not suitable for people who are too lazy to read!)
The Gateway to the Irish World
Our first real visit of Connemara took place in April (again at random). Thankfully, it’s not that far to get there from Clare. In 2 to 2.5 hours we already were at our first destination, the gateway to Connemara and thus to the Gaeltacht region – Spiddal.
If anyone is wondering what Gaeltacht means, we’re kindly brightening you up: In areas like Connemara the main language is still Irish or Gaelic. Don’t worry, they speak English with tourists! Other Gaeltacht regions are located almost exclusively in the west of Ireland. The Irish language is also associated with old Irish traditions and ways of living that can be observed here more than in English-speaking parts of the country. At the Galway Film Fleadh, we were watching nine short films by West Irish-based directors about this very life in Gaeltacht regions, gaining a special insight. But more about this some other time!
After the car ride we fueled ourselves up with a delicious cappuccino in the small café of the Spiddal Craft & Design Studios. We drove a long, straight road through a martian red-and-brown landscape then – we felt almost like we were driving on the Route 66, but on a smaller scale – to a place called Cnoc Suain. We wanted to see a restored thatched house from the time before the Great Famine (mid-19th century) there to catch a glimpse of the life of that time in the hills of Connemara. Unfortunately, the driveway was closed, we were probably still too early. After all, the tourist season in Ireland starts in May at the earliest. Too bad, but the trip there and back was worth a visit. The unreal landscape caused us to take some photos and drone shots.
Along the Coast from Spiddal to Mace Head
We followed the winding coastal road from there. The landscape changed in a spectacular way now – the barren bog and heathland gradually became a rugged coastline. Finally, we came to a beach entirely consisting of shell and coral particles called Trá an Dóilín, also known as Coral Beach. We spent a while there admiring the ground, collecting shells and photographing particularly beautiful subjects. We were all alone on this beach, that cast a spell on us, so that we hardly wanted to leave, but there was so much more to see …
We followed the scenic road and made a short detour to one of the three small, flat, offshore islands called Lettermore, which can be reached via two stone bridges from the mainland.
From there we went back to the main road and up north to the wild promontory “Mace Head”. But first we had to err over many hilly, narrow paths through the area. Eventually we arrived at the “Atmospheric Research Station” of the University of Galway and stopped. Apparently there was no special viewpoint for the Mace Head. So we simply got out of here and took a few steps to a higher point to get a good view of the region. A network of low stone didges, running through the grazing land, decreases to the coast here. The area isn’t particularly densely populated except for a few cattle and other farm animals here and there.
Yellow, yellow, yellow, these are my Clothes
On the way to our next destination we met some shaggy donkeys and some black-headed and -legged Connemara sheep running in front of us on the road. The color yellow dominates the overall picture of the region at this time of the year. The fields are not very green yet, everything seems more brownish, but everywhere brightly glowing yellow flowers and shrubs, attract all the attention.
Finally we arrived at Roundstone, a quaint, typically Irish fishing village with a small harbor full of colorful boats. One can watch the lobster fishermen doing their daily business here in peace.
Just a few miles after Roundstone there are several small bays with picturesque white sandy beaches and turquoise waters. We made another stopover there before heading to our final destination for the day. Again we were the only visitors here and were able to admire the animals on the beach – a few birds and horses – and enjoy the sun, which showed up at least once now.
Spending the Night like Kings in Clifden
The weather might not be the best, but there is an advantage in coming to Ireland in April: the accommodations, which are unaffordable in the high season, can now be confidently afforded. That’s why we set up our camp in a castle this time. We stayed at the grand Abbeyglen Castle in Clifden for just € 80 including breakfast. We had a wonderful view of the “capital” of Connemara from our room, where we were welcomed with a glass of sparkling wine. After checking in, first we explored the castle grounds and then the streets of the inviting Victorian town on foot. Although Clifden is not very big, it attracts many tourists every year. We can definitely recommend a stopover there for 1 to 2 nights. In addition, it offers many good restaurants, which unfortunately aren’t too cheap. In the “Off the Square” we let the day end comfortably with a cozy fire and candlelight.
No Beach like any other
Freshly fortified after a restful night in the castle hotel and a good Irish breakfast, we made our way further north. Falk desperately wanted to fly to Omey Beach, which at low tide shows its gigantic proportions, and fly there with his drone. You cannot only walk here at low tide but also drive over the beach by car. Yes, there are even traffic signs everywhere, so you don’t lose your way! There is a small island connected to the mainland by the beach. Only about 20 people, who can’t come down from their island at high tide, are living on Omey Island. We haven’t seen anything like that before! That really impressed us. It was so funny when suddenly a tractor or a car drove over the blue sandy beaches here and there! But have a look yourself…
Old picture perfect Castles
We followed the Wild Atlantic Way further northeast and stopped next at a famous tourist attraction in Ireland. The Kylemore Abbey at Lough Pollaacapull is one of the most photographed buildings in Ireland and could not be missed on our trip through Connemara despite its overcrowding. On the spot a food market with regional delicacies, such as Oysters, as well as a television team were in progress. We saved the price of exaggerated € 13 per person for the former castle and the castle park and enjoyed the view from further away. By the way, Kylemore Abbey is said to have a tragic love (hi)story that can be read here.
One of our last stops was at another castle, being also located on a lake – Ballynahinch Castle near Recess. It houses a luxurious castle hotel and is a beautiful photo opportunity from a peninsula in the middle of the lake.
Then we slowly started to drive home. We dropped Connemara National Park for now and saved it for a warmer month. On the way back we drove past some impressive landscapes, e.g. Lough Inagh Valley. Especially the high-tree-lined island in the Derryclare Lake with the Twelve Bens in the background had a profound effect on us. We came over here again on further Connemara visits when we were luckier with the light, though. That’s why you have to wait for pictures of it. 😉
Incidentally, it was Friday, the 13th, and I completely slipped in the mud on the shore of the lake while trying to take a nice picture and landed on my back. Good that I had change clothes with me and that we went home anyway…
On that note an impressive trip to the “Wild West” of County Galway, that we won’t forget so soon, came to an end. One or two more visits to this corner of Ireland followed. So if you like Connemara as we do, keep your eyes open for more blog posts about it! 🙂