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Connemara is a vast area of wilderness that hugs the coastline, creating coves and bays and even Ireland’s only fjord, Killary Harbour. Connemara is a stunning place where mountains peek over valleys carved by the ice age and lakes, rivers and streams are in abundance. The flora is made up of a bog landscape and forest which sits on granite and limestone rock. Connemara is vast and whilst a day trip is possible, it will be rushed and you’ll only be tipping the iceberg. Its best to split Connemara into two distinct day trips.
South Connemara and the Gaeltacht
The Connemara Coast Hotel is located in the Gaeltacht area of Connemara, so this part of the region is the easiest to access the day tripper. Beyond Spiddal, only 15 minutes drive from the hotel, you really are in the Gaeltacht where the spoken language is Irish. The promenade on Spiddal beach is a great place for a walk and if the weather is good, park yourself up for the day. Past Spiddal is the community area of Inverin where there are some more great beaches locally and as you continue along your journey you will come to an intersection towards Rossaveel which is the harbour to bring passengers to the Aran Islands. Carraroe is close by and the famous Coral Beach with its pristine waters are there to be enjoyed.
For walks and hikes, you can venture on towards the peninsula of Lettermullan with its stunning isolation and views of the Atlantic. There’s even a golf course nearby which is called Connemara Isles Golf Club. Rounding the peninsula, you can come back onto the R336 and head towards Screebe and this drive is really stunning as you see the mountains (the Twelve Bens) approach closer and closer. Near Screebe is a must stop. The Padraig Pearse Cultural Centre and Cottage is where the legendary rebel leader spent his summer months as a child and a teen and his love for the area and the language can be echoed in his writings. This really is an important landmark of Irish history where the young rebel spent happier times.
There are a number of shops and delis along the route so we would suggest prepare as you mean to go. For shopping, we wholly recommend our neighbours, Standun near Spiddal. This destination shopping experience has Aran sweaters as one of its signature items on sale but over its lifetime Standun has added men and women’s high fashion, kitchen and home ware, gift ware, art and seasonal goods to its shelves.
The heart of Connemara from Maam Cross to Clifden
From the Connemara Coast Hotel to Maam Cross in the heart of Connemara, you will take the R336 through the Connemara Gaeltacht. Maam Cross is literally a compass crossroads and has been a meeting point for 100’s of years. The weekly mart still pitches alongside the road with the Maamturk mountains majestically looking down. Peacockes Hotel at Maam Cross has a wonderful shop inside as well as a lovely cafeteria, rest rooms and plenty of parking including a petrol station. Heading west along the N59 you will come to Recess, a sleepy backwater overlooking lakes and bog. Joyces Craftshop of Recess lies centre stage and it truly is a wonderful shopping experience alongside a cosy pub and restaurant.
Beyond Recess, you have two choices, take the R344 to the north through the Inagh Valley or continue straight on the N59 to Clifden….there is no right or wrong answer. If choosing the R344 for the Inagh Valley, you will be welcomed by one of the most stunning drives in Ireland as you are sandwiched between the Maumturk Mountain range and the Twelve Bens to the west. Continue on through the valley where you veer right towards Leenane. The classic movie, The Field, was filmed here starring Richard Harris John Hurt and Tom Berenger and The Field Pub still resides overlooking Killary Harbour. Killary Harbour is actually a fjord and the only one in Ireland. Stunning scenery abounds and you can take the Seacruise Connemara Catamaran to journey up the harbour for a different perspective.
Continuing back onto the N59 heading for Clifden you will come across Kylemore Abbey, probably the most photographed building in Ireland. The Benedictine nuns have resided here for 100 years where an all-girls boarding school operated up until recently. Kylemore Abbey is an historic house with many antiquities and a vast array of trees and flora that is under the watchful eye of Kylemore Walled Garden attendants. An excellent shop and cafeteria is also available for visitors. Continuing on through the pretty village of Letterfrack, this is the entry point into Connemara National Park where you can enter the protected area and climb Diamond Hill which overlooks Kylemore Lough and Clifden to the south.
Clifden is a short sojourn down the road and this is where the real Connemara action happens. The capital of Connemara, Clifden is a lovely market town that offers an array of shops, pubs, restaurants and hotels to choose from. Not far from Clifden is the Sky Road which is a stunning drive, walk or cycle. Note that there is a lower and upper Sky Roads available. At Derrygimlagh just south of Clifden, there is a signature discovery point of the Wild Atlantic Way here where Alcock and Brown crash landed their bi-plane into the bog, the first non-stop transatlantic flight but also this is the site of the famed Marconi tower where the famous inventor had the first telephone calls routed via across the Atlantic.
Continuing on and about 15 minutes away is Ballyconneely, home to the famous links golf course, Connemara Links and some amazing beaches surround the area. On wards to Roundstone, a pit stop at Dogs Bay and Gurteen Bay which back onto each other, has to be part of the day. The turquoise waters will astound you and the fine grain sand, as pristine as you will see anywhere. Roundstone is a busy seaside village with some lovely pubs and restaurants, a local favourite being O’Dowds’ who serve up famous chowder and pour the best of beverages.