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Notice: Constant ABSPATH already defined in /var/www/production/wp/wp-load.php on line 22 Connemara | Galway and Mayo Guide | Rough Guides
Comprising all of Galway to the west of the city, Connemara is a ravishingly diverse tract of land. Cut off from the rest of the county by the sweep of Lough Corrib, the lie of the land at first looks simple, with two statuesque mountain ranges, the Maam Turks (Mám Tuirc, the “boar pass”) and the Twelve Bens (or sometimes Twelve Pins; Na Beanna Beola, the “Peaks of Beola”, a mythical giant), bordered by the deep fjord of Killary Harbour to the north. The coast, however, is full of jinks and tricks, a maze of little islands, winding roads, bogs and hills, where it can be hard to tell small loughs from sea inlets. All around the littoral are quiet, white-sand beaches that are great for swimming.
Around 28km from Galway on the N59, OUGHTERARD is a busy little town, at the start of the Western Way, with plenty of varied attractions in the surrounding area to keep you occupied. Its main asset, however, is not immediately obvious from the long main street: behind the trees to the north of town lies the great expanse of Lough Corrib, a paradise for angling or for just messing about in boats, studded with hundreds of tree-clad islets (365 of them, one for each day of the year, if you believe the locals). May is the busiest time for fishing, when the mayflies hatch from the lake bed.
CLIFDEN, the English-speaking capital of Connemara, is a popular, animated service town for both tourists and locals, enhanced by a spectacular setting: it perches on a steep, verdant hillside, where the lofty, grey spires of the Catholic and Anglican churches compete for attention, while on its western side the land plunges abruptly down to the deeply indented harbour. Several stately townhouses sprinkle the three major streets – Main Street, the continuation of the Galway road culminating in Market Square, with Bridge Street and Market Street branching off it at either end and meeting to form a rough triangle (the one-way system runs clockwise from Bridge to Market to Main streets). By basing yourself in one of the town’s fine accommodation options, you’ll be able to explore the varied attractions of coast and mountain hereabouts – especially if you have your own car or are prepared to hire a bike – and return to sample the often lively nightlife.
INISHBOFIN continues the diversity of the Connemara landscape into the sea, though in a gentler, miniature format. Just 5km wide, the island encompasses cliffs and the rocky outcrops known as The Stags on its western side, tranquil, reedy Lough Boffin, the haunt of swans, at its centre, and several sandy beaches, but rises only to 90m at its highest point, Cnoc Mór, which is carpeted by a springy layer of grass. This all makes for gentle, low-key exploration, complemented by a choice of good accommodation and plenty of traditional music, featuring the island’s own renowned ceilidh band.
Connemara offers a fantastic variety of walking, including mountains over 700 metres – though remember the nearest rescue team is in Galway. A good map and guidebook for serious walkers is The Mountains of Connemara, available from local bookshops and tourist offices, with a 1:50,000 scale map derived from aerial photography and fieldwork by Tim Robinson, and an excellent guide to eighteen walks of varying length and difficulty by Joss Lynam. The Ordnance Survey has recently resurveyed the area, producing their own maps at 1:50,000.
A good introduction to the Maam Turks, with fantastic views of the Twelve Bens across Lough Inagh, would be the ascent of Cnoc na hUilleann and Binn Bhriocáin from the Inagh Valley back road north of Recess, on a three- to four-hour circuit described in The Mountains of Connemara (part of it on the Western Way). Also described are the classic Twelve Bens walk, the seven-hour Gleann Chóchan Horseshoe, starting from the Ben Lettery youth hostel and bagging six of the peaks; and the tough, high-level Maam Turks Walk, which traverses the range from north of Maam Cross to Leenane – it can be done in one very long day, but most people will want to do it in two, staying down in the Inagh Valley.
Mountains of Connemara also covers the waymarked Western Way, which runs for 50km from Oughterard to Leenane. This varied, low-level trail starts as a pleasant, sometimes boggy walk beside Lough Corrib, before crossing over from the village of Maam into the dramatic Inagh Valley, which runs between the Bens and the Turks. The walk can be done in two long days, with an overnight near Maam, or in the Inagh Valley.
Worthy short walks include the ascent of Errisbeg and other routes near Roundstone as described, the sky road from Clifden, a circuit of Inishbofin, the excellent trails at Connemara National Park and the climb up Tully Hill.