One of Ireland’s finest literary minds, Oscar Wilde, once described the region of Connemara as a land of ‘savage beauty’ – and anyone who has been fortunate enough to spend time here recently will know that this still describes it perfectly.
Holidays in Connemara will allow you to explore this remote yet much-loved area of County Galway and all its rugged, dramatic and seemingly endless scenery at your own pace. To give you a head start on the planning front prior to your visit, we have picked out six of our favourite local natural highlights – there were plenty to choose from! – which we reckon need to make it onto your itinerary.
Inishbofin, around seven miles off the coast of Connemara, is the absolute epitome of the kind of small island you might expect to find off the Irish mainland: isolated, sparsely populated, unspoilt and incredibly beautiful, it represents natural Ireland at its very best.
Despite being less than two miles wide and just three-and-a-half miles long, Inishbofin is home to an unbelievable range of natural attractions. In Summer, the waters that lap the island’s several beaches are so crystal-clear that they are redolent of a Caribbean paradise, although standing on the windswept clifftops (especially those that overlook Doonmore Cove on the west coast) to watch the sunset will provide a bracing reminder of where you really are!
Walkers have three looped routes to choose from if they really want to explore Inishbofin’s landscape (as well as the remaining remnants of its medieval heritage), with each trail offering the opportunity to discover some of the island’s many points of interest. Whichever way you walk, you should be able to see a stunning array of wildflowers, birds, and perhaps even a few members of the two seal colonies that call Inishbofin home.
Somewhat easier to access than Inishbofin, Omey Island – adjacent to the village of Claddaghduff – can be walked to at low tide. Home to around 400 people in the mid-19th-century, Omey is now completely unpopulated, meaning visitors can truly appreciate the island’s starkness, silence and uniquely raw beauty.
Grassy and flat, this island has a very different look and feel to it than some of Ireland’s most popular offshore visitor spots, but it is this difference that makes Omey such a must-see. Rather than pretty wildflowers and rolling mountains, you will instead be greeted by a rocky landscape that is slightly challenging for walkers but is still utterly visually captivating.
As well as its extraordinary natural features, it is also worth taking a walk around Omey Island to see some of its local man-made highlights. Particularly fascinating are several shell-filled mounds known as ‘middens’ (essentially ancient dumping grounds) that have been dated back to as early as 1000 AD and the ruins of a medieval parish church that were buried by sand for centuries but finally excavated in the early 1980s.
Not far from the popular town of Clifden (often referred to as the ‘Capital of Connemara’), Derrigimlagh Bog offers another totally different experience for visitors keen to explore the many and varied natural attractions this region boasts.
Spending a few hours discovering Ireland’s most beautiful blanket bog will make you feel like you have travelled back in time thousands of years. With an easily navigable road cutting through the wet, wild and often misty bogland, you can really lose yourself in the unmanicured yet strangely tranquil surroundings; and, even if it’s raining, you will find that the bog is one of those rare places that arguably becomes even more arresting when the weather is on the gloomy side.
Made up of an intricate network of lakes and peatland, Derrigimlagh Bog is also notable for a wing-shaped memorial you may stumble across on your travels, which was erected to mark the site where the first transatlantic flight crash-landed (with no injuries to the pilots) in 1919.
Possibly the remotest sandy beach you are likely to come across during any visit to mainland Ireland, Lettergesh is about three miles from Tully Cross, the nearest village. Unusually for a beach that is so secluded, its terrain, geology and climate mean Lettergesh is surprisingly suitable for those who want to enjoy swimming, sunbathing and taking a gentle stroll without being too exposed to the elements. And the best part of all? Its isolated location ensures the beach stays relatively quiet on even the sunniest of summer days.
One of the reasons why Lettergesh Beach is so naturally sheltered is that it is surrounded by several huge, stunning mountains of the kind synonymous with the Connemara region. The incredible Mweelrea range, along with the imposing peaks of Benchoona and Garraun, provides an extraordinary backdrop to this very special spot and, once you have taken a trip here, we can guarantee it will live long in the memory.
The area known as Killary is variously referred to as a fjord, a fjard and a harbour, and debate has continued for years over what this stretch of water should officially be classified as. One thing is for sure, though – whatever you call it, Killary is, quite simply, breath-taking.
In addition to the beautifully still, mountain-encompassed water that may make you think you have been magically transported to the famous fjords of Norway, Killary also boasts an impressive array of wildlife for you to enjoy spotting. Seals, dolphins, sharks, herons, geese and swans are just some of the many species that are regularly seen in and around the fjord.
Whether you choose to cruise down Killary Fjord on a guided boat tour or just walk alongside it at your leisure, you are sure to always remember your visit to this uniquely picturesque corner of Connemara.
Finally, we would recommend that any keen walkers keep a day free to discover the glorious Tully Mountain, which offers incredible views for those who successfully scale the summit. You may also be pleased to hear that you don’t need to be a vastly experienced hiker to get to the top; technically a large hill, Tully can be climbed by most people who have an average level of fitness in about two hours.
Usually referred to by locals as ‘Letter Hill’, due to its proximity to the nearby village of Letterfrack, Tully Mountain affords an amazing panorama which you will surely agree is well worth the time it takes to reach the peak. From a height of over 350 metres, you will be able to take in a plethora of natural wonders, such as the legendary Twelve Bens (aka The Twelve Pins) mountain range and several of Connemara’s loveliest islands (including Inishbofin).
The mountain itself also holds several treasures of its own that you should keep an eye out for. A scenic lake, an ancient stone cairn and a prehistoric court tomb are just a few of the many striking manmade and natural features walkers can look forward to seeing.
Connemara... truly magical.