North Connemara: Ireland’s Wild, Wild West

If you enjoy the great outdoors and adventure, North Connemara is a place you really need to go. Accessible through Galway on the West coast of Ireland, North Connemara is covered in sweeping hills, a fjord, various waterways, and bogs. The weather in this area, at least in the winter, can be a bit unpredictable. While you can have quite a lot of fun there in the winter, be prepared for snow, freezing rain, sleet, fog, gale force winds, and sunshine all in the span of an hour. They tell me the weather in summertime is a bit better.

What to do:

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Wild Atlantic Way

The Wild Atlantic Way is basically the Pacific Coast Highway of Ireland. It winds its way from Donegal in the north, down the west coast to Cork in the south. It’s goes through a wide variety of terrain in various cities and towns, besides just Connemara. Best for families and roadtrippers. It’s a good way to get a well-rounded view of Ireland. Just remember that they drive on the left side of the road.

WikiCommons/ Sarah Gallagher

WikiCommons/ Sarah Gallagher

Hike

There are so many places to hike and hillwalk all throughout the region ranging from very easy walks up hills (duh) and across boglands to more advanced ascents like the Twelve Bens, Mweelrea. A few good easy trails include Connemara Loop, Diamond Hill, Famine Trail, Cleggan Seaside, and Omey Walk.

WikiCommons/ Olaf K

WikiCommons/ Olaf K

Horseback Riding

This area is known for its hardy Connemara pony, believed to have descended from Viking horse breeds (VIKINGS), which, unlike the Vikings, have a “mannerly” disposition, makng them perfect for long rides in the Connemara terrain. For horse riding lovers this is the place to be. You will have a great horse, good for all experience levels, and the sights are unparalleled. If you happen to be the sporting type, Dartfield Equestrian Centre in Loughrea also offers an afternoon of fox hunting where you can pretend you’re an old-timey lord of the land while chasing after your hounds.

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Killary Sheep Farm

I’ve written about this place a few times before and I’m going to keep writing about it until I see that you all have been here. Book in advance on your own or take the Connemara tour with Irish Day Tours (November through March) and check out an awesome sheep dog demonstration and learn about turf cutting. If you’re feeling really brave try your hand at it. It’s not as easy as it looks.

WikiCommons/ Irish Defense Forces

WikiCommons/ Irish Defense Forces

Killary Adventure Center

For those adventurous spirits who like a little more structure you can stay at Killary Adventure Center and have a few days of planned outdoor activities with transport and everything included. They range from docile hill walking, zip lines, and kayaking to rock climbing Connemara crags and wake boarding. There really is something for everyone.

640px-Dumhach_Beach_Drow69

WikiCommons/ Drow69

Take the Ferry to Inishbofin

There are plenty of tours that will take you to the picturesque Aran Islands, but if you want to avoid the crowds of tourists, try getting a ferry from Cleggan to Inishbofin instead. There you can see the sites on foot, horseback, or bike. Visit a spa for some marine themed relaxation or be adventurous and go diving in clear waters.

photo Old Monastery Hostel

photo Old Monastery Hostel

Where to Stay:

The obvious place to base yourself is Clifden or even a little farther in Galway, but I am telling you to ignore the obvious and go low-key and stay in Leenane or Letterfrack. Leenane has a lot of places to stay with easy access to the fjord, but they are only open during the high season. Letterfrack, however, is located between Clifden and Leenane and is a good midway point to everything. I would recommend staying at either the Letterfrack Lodge, which has both regular, private rooms and dorm style rooms and free breakfast, or the Old Monastery Hostel. Stephen over at the Old Monastery has made one of most adorable and interesting hostels I’ve seen. It feels like you’re walking in to a collection of open bohemian art studios. The style is bright, eclectic, and reflects small marks made by previous visitors. The common room, with its peat fire, will make you feel like sitting down to create some beautiful art work of your own. The hostel boasts a morning breakfast with fresh, homemade breads for its guests.

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