Map and Itinerary:
The Erin Way:
Day 1: Ennis
Route Map & Itinerary:
We recommend you begin and end your journey in Ennis, an easy 20 minute cab drive from the Shannon airport.
We consider Ennis to be the jewel of this isle, the ideal working Irish town and the perfect place to rest and regroup just after getting off a long flight. You will be surprised by all the activity in the small towns and villages you will see on this trip and Ennis is no exception.
Ennis appears to have been designed by Walt Disney and resembles the Main Street at Disney World. The streets of Ennis are narrower then some American driveways, gently curve through the town and are lined with original 18th and 19th century store fronts. Many of the shops, pubs and hotels are painted bright pink, yellow and blue, and in the summer are dripping with gigantic flower baskets.
Your recommended hotel, the Old Ground, has a perfect location for the “3 S’s” or “ sleeping, shopping and sipping.” Inevitably, after a long flight across the ocean, some of your group will be raring to go, eager to shop or pub crawl while some of your party will need to crash in a bed. The Old Ground has a perfect location to meet everyone’s needs, sited at the end of main street, literally steps from everything. Yet the location, complete with a lovely courtyard and private parking lot, is quiet with the exception of the church bells that ring on the hour. The Old Ground Hotel is an 18th century ivy-clad Manor House Hotel and has recently been renovated. The beds and linens are the best you will see in this price range in this area of Ireland. The staff, as you will find in most if not all of western Ireland, is helpful and polite.
Things to see while in Ennis include: directly across the street from your hotel is a century old pub called Fawls where you can enjoy a pint in your first “snug.” (a private drinking room with it’s own window to the bar tender for discreet ordering) Fawls, we were told, has the only snug left in Ennis and is worth seeing. There is a small ruins at the end of town that is easy to access. The shops and pubs in Ennis will be unique to Americans and so interesting you will forget you haven’t had any sleep yet...but the best thing to do after you have cruised through all the shops is to sit on the steps near the base of the tall column in the town square which supports the Daniel O’Connell statue and people watch.
We found the best dinner in Ennis is the fish and chips at Brogan’s, a tidy yellow pub just steps from your hotel. Good music, along with good craic, can be found at Cruise’s just down the street or at Brogan’s. J.D.’s at 15 Merchant Square, is a wonderful spot for early morning coffee or breakfast after you have just gotten off the plane.
Day 2: Ennis to Glengariff
On our way to the Atlantic Coast, we will head towards Limmerick and then on to the village of Adare, one of the most photographed villages in Ireland. As you enter Adare, you cross over the picturesque stone Village Bridge and you will see the dramatic ruins of Desmond Castle along the banks of the River Maigue. Desmond Castle, originates from the 13th century and is thought to be one of the best examples of feudal architecture left in Ireland. On the main street in Adare you will find the Holy Trinity Abbey which is open for visitors and next to it a very helpful tourist information center within the Adare Heritage Center.
The wonderful Adare thatched roof cottages are right on the main road as you drive through town and are an outstanding photo opportunity. However, don’t miss the peaceful 18th c. style Village Town Park right down the street that has preserved the worn stones in the meandering river the women used to wash their clothes on. It is well worth stopping in Adare just to view the park.
As you enter Adare, you will see the grand gates to Adare Manor, one of the most magnificent 19th century Manor Homes in Ireland. If the gates are open, drive through the stunning verdant grounds slowly observing some absolutely beautiful park lawns complete with manicured gardens and a lazy river. Adare Manor, itself, has magnificent architecture including: turrets, gargoyles, 52 chimneys, and 365 leaded glass windows. On the top near the roofline appears trim which upon closer observation actually is tall letters that spell out, “Except the Lord build the house, the labour is but lost that built it.”
Then we will be travelling cross country to Gougane Barra. Here you will start experiencing the absolute stunning, wild and noise-free beauty of Ireland...a photo opportunity at every bend. Gougane Barra is a charming old stone chapel on an island in the middle of a beautiful, serene mountain lake. The day we were there it was so quiet all you could here was the running water of waterfalls in the distance. Here, also, you will begin to inhale the refreshing, clear mountain air western Ireland is famous for and which is, as someone told us, “cleansed by the winds of the Atlantic Ocean.”
Adjacent to Gougane Barra is the Forrest Park. A small fee is needed to enter. It is one of the most beautiful and tranquil forests to be seen anywhere. The loop through the park takes minutes if you don’t get out and is well worth seeing. However, if you are a wanderer or a hiker, allow extra time to explore this exceptional site. NOTE: We could not find a sign to get into Gougane Barra so follow the small sign that points to the Gougane Barra Hotel which is on the same lake.
Next, travel to Glengariff, located on an inlet of the beautiful, blue Bantry Bay. And, if you are a gardener, leave time in your itinerary to explore Garnish Island located a very short distance from shore. This 37 acre island garden was once privately owned but was donated to the Irish people in the 1950’s and is described as a gardeners’ paradise. (Check on the time schedule as every time we try to visit Garnish Island it is closed.)
In Glengariff we stayed at the Eccles Hotel, one of the oldest hotels in Ireland, and located across the street from a cove of Bantry Bay. Glengariff is known as the gateway to the Beara Peninsula, so the location is perfect for a great start in the morning. This small town, in the summer and weather permitting, has lively pubs on the main street with outdoor patio seating for lunch. Main street is a short walk from the hotel.
Day 3: Glengariff to Kenmare
The next day you will drive out onto the Beara Peninsula, following the main road right out of Glengariff in a westerly fashion which makes a loop around the peninsula. This is a quiet and serene drive and a perfect place for driving at your own pace. This relaxed atmosphere will give you a chance to catch your breath if you are feeling jet-lagged. Just by following the main artery and side roads you will see spectacular untouched scenery: beautiful mountains peaks, misty blue-black peninsulas off in the distance that appear to be floating in the Atlantic, gorgeous coves with crashing waves, serene lakes (there are over 300), craggy high cliffs towering above thundering surf, interesting ruins and serene slopes dotted with white cottages.
If you are an explorer, the Beara is the perfect place to drive off the main road and see what is around the corner or through the vale. Anytime you see a sign for “strand” which means beach, take it as their strands tend to be spectacular especially on clear days and you may often find yourself alone on a beautiful white sand beach. One of the best is near Garnish Point...we believe called Garnish Strand.
The Beara has not yet become overrun with mainstream tourists and you will be delighted by all that remains of Ireland’s original character here. Things to see on the Beara include:
Garnish Point and Dursey Island:
Garnish Point boasts, we believe, the only cable car ride in Ireland. The cable car is a small box that was built, we heard, for 3 people and 1 cow. A sign at the ticket booth announces something like “Cattle and Sheep Come Before Tourists.” The rickety car swings and sways over some of the most treacherous waters we saw in Ireland and then lands on a luscious green rock of an Island called Dursey. Dursey is a big draw for hikers and apparently sheep. Check the Information Center (i) in Glengariff to see when the cable car runs. Once we were there and it was closed. Then, another time, it only went out in the morning and came back in the afternoon which may not work for your schedule. At any rate, it is well worth your while to drive out to Garnish Point and see it.
reached by a ferry that is located several miles east of Castletownbere. The ferry in the summer runs back and forth every several hours. Bere Island is a hot spot for hikers.
Two of the most delightful towns are: Castletownbere
, home of the famous “McCarthy’s Bar” (a hilarious book written by Pete McCarthy) and Eyeries
, one of Ireland’s most picture postcard villages with cottages and shops painted vivid colors.
We feel the highlight of the Beara Penninsula is Healy Pass
(road runs in a north/south fashion from Lauragh to Adrigole) and especially Glanmore Lake valley which some call Paradise Valley. In good weather, the view standing up on the mountain edge looking down the steep valley towards the deep blue lake with the misty Atlantic ocean in the background is a sight most people never forget. If you drove out to the Beara and only saw this one view, it would be worth it.
We recommend you stay that night in Kenmare. It is a charming town and is the best location for the next day’s travel. Try the Landsdowne Arms Hotel, located right at the top of one of the main streets. The Lansdowne Arms was built in 1790 as a private residence but has since been remodeled into a small, pleasant Victorian design hotel. NOTE: We were in Kenmare at the beginning of July and NOTHING was open after about 5:30. We had to have dinner at a Chinese restaurant which was actually very good.
Day 4: Kenmare to Dingle Town
We recommend driving the Gap of Dunloe early in the morning to avoid the traffic which will include walkers, bikers and charming horse drawn carts with Irish drivers. The narrow road you will eventually take meanders though the mountains and the Gap and ends up at Kate Kearney’s cottage, a delightful place to stop, have coffee and reflect on the beauty you have just seen.
The day we travelled the Gap of Dunloe was one of those spectacular Irish days when the countryside has just misted over and the sun comes out bouncing thousands of diamond lights off the lush green cliffs. Four photographers were in the car and none of us could capture the beauty, it was like trying to take a close up of luxurious green velvet. We never understood the term “40 shades of green” until we drove through the Gap of Dunloe.
This drive is one of the finest examples of serene natural scenery that is untouched available anywhere in Ireland. In the summer, you will find yourself followed by fast moving streams with rushing rapids and waterfalls. Take the time to stop whenever you can to view the abandoned stone cottages, beautiful misty lakes, exquisite mountains and cliffs and well-photographed stone bridges.
Next, as you head towards the Dingle Peninsula you should be prepare to stop at least 5 times before reaching Dingle Town.
Your first stop is the shortcut from Inch to Camp. Look for a small sign pointing up the mountainside just after you pass a pink colored gas station/convenience store called BENSONS. Take a right here until a short distance up the road when it plateaus on the mountain top. Stop here and in both directions you will see ocean: the beach at Inch on Dingle Bay to the south and to the north Tralee Bay. On a clear day...this is spectacular. The green mountain tops and the meadows lush with natural flowers here will certainly cause you to pause. If you take the road further note that it gets a little scary as you travel downward but eventually you will want to turn around and come back.
As you continue westerly towards the Dingle you will not be able to miss the Inch Beach on your left, a 3 miles stretch of silver sand at the mouth of Dingle Bay. This beach was used in the film “Ryans Daughter” and you may recognize it. You will most likely want to allow time to walk this beach.
Several miles from the Inch Beach you will take a short, but very well worth while meandering drive up the mountain to the miniscule village of Annascaul, known as the home of Tom Crean. Tom Crean was born and raised in Annacaul and upon returning from his 3 expeditions to the South Pole in the early 1900’s opened up his own pub, the South Pole. Go into the South Pole Pub and ask the bartender to show you the “blizzard”, then have a pint or better yet have your lunch there in front of the fireplace. Enjoy.
Up the street is another famous pub called Dan Foley’s which you may recognize from being on a poster of famous Irish pubs. It was closed and for sale the last time we drove by. The South Pole is also on this poster.
Across the street from the South Pole is a statue of Tom Crean and his sled dog puppies. The grounds surrounding the South Pole are idyllic and include a crystal clear stream with banks lined with native flowers. The stream flows right under an old stone bridge and standing there watching the water...you might be fooled into thinking that this surely must be the most peaceful place in the whole area. You would think that if you hadn’t yet seen Tom Crean’s grave in a crypt he built himself not far away along the mountainside.
If you are into graveyards whatever you do...do not miss this one. The graveyard is in the parish Ballynacourty, has no sign and you almost drive by it even when you are looking for it. Ask someone in town how to find it. The graveyard is rocky and difficult to navigate in. The ancient graves are all above ground and are so old the sides of the graves have caved in over the years. Tom Crean’s large cement crypt is in a hollow in a corner with a view of the mountains. He has been lying there for over 60 years...in one of the most peaceful places on earth.
Lake Annascaul is a further bit up the road …the same main road you take to the graveyard and in fact the road ends at the Lake. If you have ever had the opportunity to visit Norway this scene may remind you of that country. Park you car beside the mountain lake and if you wish continue on the path up the mountain...a perfect place for an afternoon’s hike.
As you continue on the main road to Dingle Town you will encounter gorgeous wide views of the Atlantic and jagged islands. Soon you will see the ruins of an old fort on your left and ancient beehive dwellings on your right. Both these stops are worthwhile visiting (a small fee) and the scenery is beautiful. There are dramatic cliff views hanging over the Atlantic from the fort and expansive ocean views from the centuries old beehive dwellings are fantastic.
Dingle Town is a quaint seaport village and is the perfect place to stay to start your discovery of the Dingle Peninsula. We stay at the Dingle Bay Hotel, again because of its central location...on the wharf, near great pubs, shopping and even a super market. Dingle is our favorite town on The Erin Way. The architecture is whimsical, the nightlife eventful and the shopping is great. Be sure you are aware there is more then one main street in Dingle Town. There are reputed to be somewhere between 40-50 pubs out on the Dingle.
Day 5: Dingle Town on the Dingle Peninsula
Highlights of the Dingle Penninsula include:
The Slea Head Drive:
This is a loop that begins and ends in Dingle Town. If you do just one thing on the Dingle Peninsula, this is clearly it. The Slea Head Drive just may be the most beautiful drive in the world, especially if you are lucky enough to enjoy good weather. Years ago, people living on the Dingle had small cardboard signs near their front gates with, “Ryan’s Daughter Expert” written on them in pencil, since so many scenes from that movie were filmed there. Most people we take out to the Dingle Peninsula will tell us right on the spot and for years after that the Dingle Peninsula is the most beautiful and dramatic place they have ever been. Try staying two nights as sometimes it totally fogs over and you can’t see anything for hours. Two nights should allow you time to see everything.
The most westerly beach in Europe and certainly, on a good day, one of the most dramatic and breathtaking. This beach was used in the Ryan’s Daughter film. A parking lot exists above the beach. Go in the early morning or late afternoon if you want to be alone. It is a stunning site…this is not something you want to miss. You can walk around on top but then do walk down to the beach and take your camera.
The best preserved early Christian church in Ireland built between the 7th and 8th century. Despite being built without mortar by the method called corbelling it is in almost perfect condition...withstanding the weather and elements for 1300 years.
Ryan’s Daughter School House Ruins:
The ruins of the schoolhouse used in this movie are perched at the edge of a cliff at the edge of the ocean and the sunsets here are spectacular. It is difficult to find this site and you can only see it from the road after you have passed it. It is located on the Slea Head Drive just outside of Kruger’s Pub, billed as the most westerly pub in Europe. Stop and ask for directions if you must. There are no signs or turn off spots and you will have to walk a couple of short blocks and the unmarked trail to it is somewhat rough but it is worth it. The view of the Sleeping Giant is perfect here.
The launching spot for the Blasket Islands. Even if you don’t take this trip don’t miss walking down to the pier just for the view of the islands alone.
This is a 12th century Romanesque ruins which has a very interesting grave yard with ancient graves as well as some current ones and also includes an ancient ogham stone with a sun dial. Nearby is the restored ruins of St.Brendan’s house, where the medieval clergy is reported to have lived.
Funghi the Dolphin:
Take a boat ride in the bay to search for Dingle’s famous dolphin.
Some of the best pubs in Ireland are located in Dingle Town. Check our list of favorites to learn more.
Day 6: Dingle Peninsula to Lahinch - FAVORITES
Exit Dingle Town through Connor Pass which is magnificent if the clouds stay away...a view from every angle. As you pass through you will notice a white statue of the Crucifixion and a turn out to park your car. If you feel up to it there is a small serene lake called Peddlers Lake at the top of the steep slope also with great views. The climb up there is short but quite challenging.
Time allowing you may also want to see Brandon’s Point & Brandon Bay: There is a parking lot/lookout spot at on the top and the trip is an easy one. In good weather, Brandon’s bay below is a popular surf boarding location.
Next you will travel to Tralee and then on to Tarbert for the ferry ride across the Shannon River. In the summer, the ferry travels every half hour. You simply roll your car aboard and stroll around the deck during the ½ hour trip. The Shannon river is wide here and usually is a pleasant journey. You land at Kilmer. Follow the road to Kilrush, a very interesting and lively town with a great town center, and then on to Kilkee.
Kilkee is a delightful resort town and has developed on a large horseshoe shaped bay on the Atlantic Ocean surrounded by wharf, sidewalks and shops. It is interesting to observe, but the most exciting thing about Kilkee is its own best kept secret: its steep cliffs along the Atlantic Ocean.
There are 2 ways to access these magnificent cliffs: 1) by a well defined footpath 2) by a narrow road that hugs the edge of the cliffs.
The cliffs are directly south of the open bay at Kilkee. Follow the Sky Road that is adjacent to the main road that hugs the bay. It will take you up to a coffee shop with a parking lot where you can ditch your car and take an easy path up one of the cliffs. You can’t tell this when you are below, but the foot path brings you to a part of the cliffs that juts out and from that spot you can see what seems like forever up and down the coast. This site is breathtaking.
When the footpath ends you may want to continue on the grass beside the road for some extremely exhilerating scenery.
If you decide to drive the cliff road be aware that there are no guard rails between your car and the edge which appear to drop a bazillion feet. The views of the Atlantic, the irregular coastline and the crashing waves here are dramatic to say the least. There is one place to park, walk around and look over the edge if you dare. Eventually, this road leaves the edge and you simply turn around and drive back the way you came. If you do have edge phobia and make it all the way around, this trip could cure you. Actually, when we visit the Cliffs of Kilkee, part of our party always walks the road and part rides in the car. Many of our groups say that they enjoyed the Cliffs of Kilkee more then the Cliffs of Moher.
Try staying in Lahinch this night. Lahinch is a wonderful small town with a great main street and an enjoyable promenade along the wide sweep of ocean right in the village. Lahinch Golf Course is one of the most famous links golf courses in the world and located on the edge of the down town...in fact the golf course just melts into the city limits. Golfers can be seen walking down the sidewalk in golf gear with their clubs over their shoulder. Lahinch has great restaurants, shops and pubs. In Lahinch, a favorite pastime of the locals and tourists alike is to walk the
promenade at night and watch the sunset over the serene waters.
The hotel we stay at, the Atlantic Hotel, is small, 200+ years old, has multiple out-of-control steps, and a staircase too narrow for some Americans that seems to tilt slightly to the left or is it the right? The Atlantic Hotel is lively largely due to the fact that the bar in the lobby is usually over-flowing with jolly, red-cheeked golfers from all over the world, dressed in matching jackets that sport emblems that don’t match and teasing each other about chip shots, hooks and handicaps. Anyway, the location is perfect!!! Right in the middle of town so we can walk everywhere !!! There are several fine pubs right on the same street as the hotel that are great for dinner. Try the quaint pub that is in an old stone house across the street from the Atlantic Hotel. We heard one of the most famous Irish tenors in western Ireland sing O Danny Boy there.
Day 7: Lahinch to Clifden, Connemara
After we leave Lahinch, the first stop we will make is at the Cliffs of Moher. The views at the Cliffs of Moher are magnificent but have recently been somewhat limited by new fencing and landscaping. The gift shop is one of the best in Ireland (but can be really crowded) and has a wonderful selection of CD’s, hats, sweaters and other gifts. Be aware that there might be hundreds of people at the Cliffs of Moher and possibly dozens of tour buses so it is always good to go early in the morning or later in the day. After you have seen the Kilkee Cliffs, the Cliffs of Moher may disappoint you. But if you don’t go...you might always wonder about it since the place is so famous. NOTE: You have to pay to see the Cliffs of Moher.
Just north of the Cliffs of Moher is the charming town of Doolin, well-known not only for its dramatic bay with crashing waters but also for its famous pub music. There are 3 well-known pubs to be noted there: Gus O’Connors, McDermott’s and McGanns. Gus O’Connors serves terrific food and is a great place to meet people from all over the world as well as the locals. Ireland On My Mind feels Gus O’Connors has the best Irish Stew in Ireland.
Now we will continue north and skirt Galway, heading towards Moore Hall, Ballintubber Abbey and Ashford Castle.
If you are into haunted mansions, you might want to visit Moore Hall although certainly you will need to stop and ask directions to find it. Moore Hall was built in the 1700’s and burned in 1923 during the Irish Civil War. The shell of the mansion remains tucked eerily into a thick, dark forest that has grown up around it. You almost don’t see it until you stumble on it. A small parking lot across from Lough Carra is the only indication that something exists about 2 or 3 blocks into the woods on a well worn path. If you do seek out Moore Hall, note the tumbling down stone wall on the left of the path that is overgrown with ivy.
One of the most fascinating Abbeys in Ireland is located in Ballintubber. The Ballintubber Abbey is beautiful not because of its rich décor but because of its clean simplicity. The sanctuary is designed in the shape of a cross and it does have volume ceilings, yet the building will impress you with its minimalism This Abbey has been the parish church for its local community for close to 800 years and has survived the repeated near devastation of wars and fires. When St.Patrick brought Christianity to Ireland, it is reported he started an earlier church there in 441 A.D. with some of the ruins still visible. The Abbey is located adjacent to an ancient pilgrims’ path and is surrounded by pristine manicured gardens and a well-kept graveyard. Recently, we witnessed a beautiful wedding at Ballintubber Abbey. Later that day, we saw the wedding party having their pictures taken on the grounds at Ashford Castle.
Ashford Castle is located in the town of Cong on the banks of the absolutely gorgeous Lough Corrib. This castle was once the estate of the Guiness family and today is renowned as possibly Ireland’s most magnificent and luxurious castle hotel. The grounds of Ashford were used for many of the scenes in The Quiet Man, starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara. Sweeping park lawns, beautiful gardens with flowers the size of cabbages, a meandering river and dense medieval forests surround Ashford. Tours of some of the castles by unannounced tourists are not usually encouraged but it is worth a stop to see the site of Ashford itself and you can stroll the extensive grounds. There are terrific boat trips leaving here almost daily that everyone can enjoy.
If you decide to stay in Connemara allow a good two hours to get over to that beautiful region from Cong.
For your three night stay in Connemara you might try staying in the Quay House in Clifden located directly on a serene bay and approximately 2 blocks from the city center, well within walking distance. The Quay House (pronounced Key House) is a B & B hotel operated by the Foyle’s, members of a well known hotelier family in Connemara. This 3 story stone structure was originally built for the harbor master 200 years ago and is the oldest house in Clifden. It is furnished with period furnishings, family portraits and sports blazing fireplaces. Breakfast is served in a charming conservatory. The Quay House won the 2006 Guesthouse Award for Ireland. NOTE: Clifden is a popular vacation destination and it is hard to book rooms there unless you try months in advance. From here, you can easily drive anywhere in Connemara and be back in time for dinner.
Day 8 & 9 in Connemara
We suggest you spend the next two full days in Connemara. To many of you, especially if you treasure being tranquil, this will not be enough.
Connemara is surrounded by mountains, the most famous being the 12 Bens or the 12 Pins. The mountain ranges in this region change color from minute to minute displaying constant variations of blues and purples. Often, the whole horizon seems to be awash in brilliant color. On occasion, after it rains and the sun comes out, the most unusual multicolor illuminations appear overhead...not unlike Northern Lights and seem to hang in the air above you. It won’t surprise you that we have seen dozens of rainbows in this region in a matter of hours.
Here, the roads along The Erin Way travel for miles on the edge of the ocean, skirting beautiful bays dotted with thick concrete piers loaded with sail boats, wooden trollers and small fishing boats. The area is famous for its hookers, sail boats with tall dark red sails. The site of those dark sails, which appear black in certain lights, sliding across the sapphire water on Cashel Bay is utterly awesome. They say that if you see a hooker, you will have good luck. So enjoy! if you do spot one...it doesn’t happen everyday.
Connemara is blessed with undeveloped reflective blue lakes surrounded by tall pines, streams trickling down the mountainside, swift moving rivers, beautiful waterfalls and dramatic mountain top views of the ocean. The larger towns are bustling especially in the summer and filled with terrific restaurants and shops. A number of the oldest and most lively pubs on The Erin Way are found in the smallest of Connemara villages. (See FAVORITES
Some of the most beautiful and lush Irish landscapes found anywhere in Ireland are located in Connemara but it also has, nestled between the mountains, several ancient completely treeless bogs, table top flat, that stretch out in front of you for miles. At first the sight of such stark and bleak landscape peppered with giant rock formations, thick windswept grass and meandering sheep can be unsettling but after awhile the barren beauty starts to mesmerize you. “The bog is good for you’ we have been told in Connemara. It has something to do with the soft water...we haven’t figured it out yet exactly. But, do be aware that if you get out of your car and venture out into a bog you could lose your shoe or your life. Better to just snap a few photos and be on with it. How curious to experience such landscape that on the one hand screams of an odd sort of wild-hair craziness but on the other hand exudes stillness and tranquility.
We have heard more Gaelic spoken and seen more spontaneous Irish dancing here then in other area. Many famous Irish musicians come from this general region. Connemara is a mecca and vacation spot for artists, journalists and musicians from all over. One of the most delightful aspects of Connemara is observing the Connemara ponies, sheep, and furry, brown donkeys as they cross the country lanes or as in the case of the ponies and donkeys...stick their heads into your car. Also, some of the best walking trails in Ireland are located here in these serene mountains.
Driving around in the mountains on country lanes in Connemara is one of our favorite pastimes. The mountainsides and valleys are scattered with charming Irish farms, cottages and gardens and the wee villages which might consist of 2-5 structures are amongst the most charming in all of Ireland. In parts of Connemara you travel on narrow, winding often unmarked roads lined with stone walls that crisscross the countryside like a million zippers and you have almost no idea where you are going unless you have a map. There is a small hotel here located back up in the mountains that years ago on its advertisements declared, “there are no signs to our property...you just have to find it.”
Here are some of the most charming towns in Connemara:
Looking down on the town of Clifden with its tall church steeples, colorful shops and verdant landscaping lined by a beautiful bay, you would think you were staring at a painting or a postcard from the 1950’s. Clifden is known as the “capital” of Connemara and doesn’t disappoint if you are into a bustling atmosphere with terrific shopping and abundant good restaurants and pubs. If you want a day or a half-day off from touring, Clifden is a great place to walk around, shop, and eat . If you have time...stop and have coffee and a scone at Lowry’s NOTE: Clifden has a dentist which is not always easy to find in Connemara.
This is a charming town and has a definite Old World feel. (Don’t miss the grocery store that is on main street and up a short flight of stairs from the sidewalk) The town is built in a line along a cliff overlooking a gorgeous blue bay with the most beautiful mountain range in the background. The lively wharf in the bay keeps busy with local fisherman and the occasional sailboats or hookers. Roundstone is a popular holiday spot in the summer for people from all over Ireland. It is well known as a mecca for arts and crafts but its real draw is the absolutely remarkable beauty of the surrounding mountains and the sea scapes on the coast roads to and from Roundstone. This town becomes a favorite to most people who visit it once.
Leenane is a wee traditional Irish village which appears to have changed little the last 100 years. It is located at the head of the Killary, Ireland’s only fjord, and seems to be tucked back into the mountainside. The Killary is 8-10 miles inland from the sea with the mountains rising steeply on either side. The areas on both sides of the fjord might be described as one of the most breathtaking scenes to enjoy in all of Ireland especially at sundown and for the half hour after. The drive from Tully Cross to Lettergesh to Leenane, as well as coming from the other direction ( the drive from the Westport area past Delphi Lodge and Ashleigh Falls to Leenane) are two of the most beautiful drives in all of Ireland. Note: Scenes from “The Field” were filmed here.
This is one of the most fascinating towns in Ireland. Westport, located on Clew Bay, was a planned city...designed in the 1700’s by the famous architect James Wyatt. The design is still visible and workable. The result is an absolutely picture perfect town with tree-lined streets that flow out from octogons or town squares over arched stone bridge covered with flowers. A lazy river meanders through town and is bordered by a pretty boulevard called the Mall. Westport has a very cosmopolitan feeling if you are interested in recharging. The shopping here is great. There is a good assortment of hotels and restaurants and many pubs with exceptional music. If you ever stay there, try the Wyatt Hotel. The location is perfect and the hotel is pleasant and well maintained. Technically Westport is not in Connemara but near enough to travel there easily.
Highlights of Connemara:
Kylemore Abbey is one of the most photographed buildings in Ireland. It is a 19th century neo-classical castle that is sited dramatically at the foot of a mountain, on a small lake, in the remote part of Connemara.
This luxury castle hotel has a view from the front gardens you won’t want to miss. It is set on a private 450 acre estate surrounded by deep woods, terraced grounds, gardens and a beautiful rushing river. If you can’t afford to stay there, try having lunch in the bar in front of the roaring fire.
Although Delphi Lodge is not open for tours it is located in an exceptionally beautiful area. The Lodge sits at the foot of one of the tallest mountains in Ireland and at the edge of a serene lake. It is located on the Famine Track or Famine Trail not too far from Ashleigh Falls.
If you drive from Leenane to Westport, you will be driving through the Doo Lough Valley and you will run right into the Falls which are on both sides of the road. Connemara ponies graze freely along the water’s edge. In late June the flowers blooming along the river are spectacular.
The Famine Trail or Famine Track:
This road depicts and is dedicated to the thousands of Irish peasants who lost their lives in the years of starvation 1845-49. The trail runs through Doo Lough Valley and will display for you some great dramatic and gorgeous scenery and at times you will think you are in Montana. Take this trail from Leenane to Westport.
The Killary & The Killary Boat Ride:
The Killary is the only fjord in Ireland. Not only is the fjord itself magnificent but the area around it which includes mountains, deep valleys, rushing rivers and streams is exceptional for those who enjoy hiking, driving mountain and lakeside lanes and photography. This is a can’t miss area. Boat rides are available up the Killary depending on the season.
The Beaches north of Tully Cross near Lettergesh and Gowlaun:
This is one of the best kept secrets of western Ireland, one we are almost reluctant to mention for fear of ruining the surprise. Silver strand beaches just outside of Tully Cross are among the most beautiful in western Ireland. We heard that some filming of “The Quiet Man” was completed on one of these beaches. Often, you may find yourself alone here. Also, the road from Tully Cross to Lettergesh and then eventually on to Leenane with several turn offs along the way is magnificent, stretches along waterways and is framed by glorious mountain scapes in the back ground. Don’t miss Scuba West and East, the Little Killary and Lough Fee. If you happen into the Little Killary Harbor don’t forget to look for the church that is at the top of the hill facing out towards the ocean and accessed by narrow stone steps.
The Bog Road:
Let’s just say that this 6-7 mile road is an ecological escapade. Some of you will be struck by the stark beauty seen here and some of you will think you have landed on the moon. Travels from near Toombela to near Ballinaboy...south and parallel to the N59.
a small restored cottage on a teeny lake once used by Padraig Pearse (1879-1916) who was a leader in the 1916 Uprising which he paid for with his life. This 3 room cottage gives you a great idea of what the original thatched roof cottages were like. Check hours before you go. Small fee but well worth it.
This area, which is marked clearly on a Michelin Map, can only be described as idyllic...a perfect place to take a relaxing drive with no intent whatsoever then to be blown away by the scenery and to daydream what it must have been like to live in 1850. Our favorite Joyce Country Road is the mountain road that travels from the Sweater Shop on the R336 just west of Maum to Lough Nafooey and then on the Sky Road and Lough Mask. Heaven! (See if you can spot the steering wheel cemented into a stone wall along this road).
The Clifden Sky Road:
The Clifden Sky Road Loop is a circular drive that takes you gently up the mountain and will offer some spectacular views of surrounding islands and the Atlantic Ocean. If you are crunched for time, take the Upper Road. If you have time, take both the Upper and the Lower.
The Connemara Loop:
If you only have a short time in Connemara consider driving this road for a good overview of the area. Check with the hotel you are staying to secure the map. The road covers terrific lake views and mountain and valley roads.
Today you will drive the half day trip back to the Shannon area and overnight near the Shannon Airport. If you want to see something on the way back or are in need of a little stimulation, you might try Galway which is a pretty but very modern town with all the amenities of a city including traffic jams. Another suggestion would be to stop off at Toor Ballylee near Gort which was Yeats' home for many years. The grounds surrounding the Tower where he lived and the cottage are beautifully preserved. Follow a well worn but unmarked dirt path along the river and through a beautiful woods until you get to the old Mill and the ruins of a stone cottage with the most wonderful fireplace mantel still intact. Perfect spot for reflection or a picnic. You might want to stay in Ennis again or another choice would be the Bunratty Castle Hotel near Bunratty Castle which is an easy 12-15 minute drive to the airport. This hotel has recently been remodeled and is near two great pubs, the famous Durty Nelly's and the Creamery as well as several shops. Check hours regarding touring Bunratty Castle.
Ireland On My Mind