Located on the farthest reaches of County Galway, the land known as Connemara is filled with history, mystery, and some of the most stunning scenery in Ireland. Bordered on the south and west by the Atlantic Ocean, Connemara is a popular portion of the Wild Atlantic Way and a perfect destination for your driving tour of Ireland.
Must See Connemara
Connemara means “of the sea” in Irish, but you’ll find the terra firma to be just as intriguing.
10) Discover Modern History in a Bog
Irish bogs are famous for revealing ancient history, but Derrigimlagh bog, just 4 km south of Clifden offers history of a more recent era. The first transatlantic radio station, or Marconi station, in the world was located here, opening in 1907. Not far away is a monument marking the landing spot of the first non-stop flight across the Atlantic Ocean made by John Alcock & Arthur Whitten Brown.
9) Admire Brigit’s Garden
Just off the N59, at the ‘gateway to Connemara,’ Brigit’s Garden is a natural playground for adults and kids. Four main gardens represent the Celtic fire festivals, while a nature trail leads through fields of wildflowers, woodlands, and lakeshore. A few hours of exploring gardens, trails, crannog, and stone chambers will have you ready for tea at the delectable Garden Café.
8) Take Home Some Connemara Marble
Considered the national gemstone of Ireland, Connemara Marble is found only in the 12 Bens Mountains in the Connemara region of County Galway. Though you can find souvenirs across the country, take a few minutes to stop at the Connemara Marble Visitors Centre in Moycullen where you’ll see the largest display of Connemara Marble in Ireland and watch skilled artisans create the beautiful items you’ll find in the attached shop.
7) Ride a Connemara Pony
Originating in the wilds of Connemara, the Connemara Pony is a hardy breed known for their athleticism and ability to adapt to varied terrain. A handful of equestrian centres in Connemara offer tourists the opportunity to experience a trek on a Connemara Pony through the rugged landscape.
6) Buy a Bodhran
Just south of the village of Roundstone, within the walls of an old Franciscan Monastery, you will find Roundstone Musical Instruments. Watch Malachy Kearns, Ireland’s only full-time Bodhran maker, as he creates this clever instrument of wood, goatskin, and glue. Don’t be surprised by impromptu songs or music performances- this is a complete music shop, as well!
5) Drive the Sky Road
At first the road doesn’t seem intimidating. Then you begin to climb hills that seem like they can only drop off the edge of Ireland. Though road construction has widened some of the narrow, white-knuckle portions of the road, the astounding views and narrow verges still make for a breathtaking drive.
4) Explore Connemara National Park
Covering nearly 3,000 hectares of mountains, bogs, meadows, and woodlands, Connemara National Park offers diverse opportunities of exploration. Stop in the Visitor Centre to understand a bit of the area’s history before beginning one of the four Diamond Hill Walks where you may encounter a herd of Connemara Ponies, megalithic tombs, the Toban Mweelin well, and stretches of the Old Galway Road. After your hike, restore yourself with a visit to the Tea Rooms.
3) Absorb Live Trad Music in one of Clifden’s Pubs
The center of Clifden is ringed with pubs, each within steps of the next. Pick up a copy of
What’s On Connemara
to find start times or just wander through town with an ear cocked for music. You never know who you might find playing in one of the pubs!
2) Visit Dan O’Hara’s Farm
There is real history in those Irish ballads, and few are more heart wrenching than that of Dan O’Hara. Stand in the cottage of Dan O’Hara and try not to shed a tear as Martin Walsh shares the tragic tale before you lift a dram of poitín in remembrance. The farmstead is only part of the Connemara Heritage and History Centre where you can explore a reconstructed crannog and ring fort, or walk through more recent Irish history in the artifacts room.
1) Immerse Yourself in the Grounds of Kylemore Abbey
Quite possibly the most photographed castle in Ireland, Kylemore Abbey was purchased by a community of nuns of the Benedictine Order in 1920. The history of Kylemore – in its forms as home, school, and abbey- can be found in the 5 restored rooms that make up the self-guided tour inside the Abbey. But it is the grounds that are most spectacular. Follow the lakeside walk to the small Gothic Chapel and the hidden mausoleum before venturing back past the castle on your way to the incredible Victorian Walled Garden.
Plus One for Luck:
Just outside the village of Recess, across the road from Joyce’s Craft Shop, sits the Connemara Giant. This bit of modern Irish mythology, built in 1999, is said to bless those who touch his hand with the knowledge of his ancient tribe. But, which hand do you touch?
Not even his creator knows!
The town of Clifden – the ‘unofficial capital of Connemara’ – makes a terrific base for this portion of your Ireland driving tour. While you’ll find plenty of B&Bs in the area, two favorites are Ocean Villa B&B on the Sky Road and Kingstown House B&B in the center of town within walking distance of the pubs.
Do you have any favorite Connemara stops that we may have missed on this list? Let us know in the comments!