20th March, 2019
‘There are no strangers here; only friends you haven’t met yet’
William Butler Yeats
As we recently took a trip to Connemara we thought we would share some of our thoughts and highlights -
Connemara is a region on the west coast of Ireland, with coastline that is part of The Wild Atlantic Way. The closest airport is at Westport, or alternatively Shannon. Dublin is approximately 3 ½ hours to the east. When we were there in February the weather was sunny and glorious and the climate is generally mild and breezy but a little prone to rain – it is not called the Emerald Isle for nothing! The landscape is stunning – rugged with the lowland areas criss crossed with streams, and mountains that rise up from the landscape almost as if they had been strategically placed! The roads are quiet and perfect for a cycling holiday – very few cars but a lot of sheep!
In the heart of the region is Killary Fjord (the only fjord in Ireland), which forms a natural border between Counties Galway and Mayo. Here you will find some of the most dramatic scenery in Ireland as Mweelrea the highest mountain in Connacht (one of the five ancient kingdoms of Ireland) rises from the north shore, and on the south side you can see the Maumturk Mountains and the Twelve Bens.
The Famine Trail
Take an exciting RHIB ride along the fjord past mussel beds and salmon farms, then walk back along the south shore ‘Famine Trail’. The first part of the trail is rocky but then opens to some easier walking past abandoned homesteads and on towards a sheep farm where you may be lucky enough to see a sheepdog demonstration or feed some lambs before continuing on to the village of Leenaune at the head of the fjord.
Connemara National Park
Connemara National Park is a protected area with four trails up Diamond Hill – depending on how energetic you feel! The hill gets its name from the resistant quartzite which forms the top of the mountain and sparkles in the right light. The park also contains evidence of human settlement 4000 years ago as well as ruined houses, old sheep pens and other evidence of a greater population and more extensive use of these lands in times past before the Irish Potato Famine of the late 1840s. On the way back down you can reward yourself with a stop in the Tea Rooms or in Letterfrack perhaps a pint of Guinness in Veldons Bar.
One of the most lovely spots in the area is Kylemore Abbey. Originally the site of a hunting lodge, the 15,000 acre estate was bought by English Doctor and Industrialist Mitchell Henry as a gift for his beloved wife and he began to build the beautiful fairytale castle. At this time over one third of the population of Connemara was lost due to starvation, fever and emigration and the remaining tenants were concerned about their futures following a long and troubled history with England. However Mitchell Henry created much needed employment, paying high wages and improving housing for his tenants and other facilities including a school for local children. Sadly Margaret Henry died in 1874 on a holiday to Egypt and the property had a chequered history until it became the monastic home of the Benedictine nuns in 1920.
A visit to the coast would not be complete without a trip to the beach and there are some breathtaking beaches along this stretch possibly the most lovely of which is Glassilaun. Reached by a narrow road which keeps it a hidden gem, the huge horseshoe of sand is bounded by rock pools with views of the mountains in the distance.
We feature some very special hotels on our Jolly Around Connemara cycling holiday and one of our favourites is Ballynahinch Castle with the Owenmore River on one side and the Twelve Bens on the other. Built in 1754 on the site of a former castle, Ballynahinch has had several famous owners including Richard Martin (Humanity Dick) founder of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and His Highness Kumar Shri Ranjitsinhji, otherwise known as the famous cricketer Ranji – much loved in the local area and commemorated in the Ranji Bar at the Hotel.
We are also planning a walking holiday as this area has so much to offer, and if you would like us to tailormake an itinerary for you – let us know firstname.lastname@example.org