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Hikes, Scenic Drives, Sites and Pubs in Connemara

I am coming to Ireland with my family (me, husband and 3 kids ages 15, 15 and 13) for the first time in June for 14 nights - we are renting a car. Itinerary is planned - now looking to put together a "hot list" in those areas with drives and hikes, sites and pubs/restaurants. My son and I have have Celiac and must eat gluten free, so we do have to plan in advance where we eat out. Our days will be flexible and if it doesn't all happen, that's ok, too. I am including our itinerary, because I know in some cases, we have options to experience something like a sheep farm or falconry in another part of the country.
2 nights Dublin
1 night Kilkenny
2 nights in Kenmare
3 nights in Dingle
1 night Galway ( really just to rest and break up the drive)
4 nights in Clifden/Connemara
1 night outside of Dublin and they fly home.

My question here is for Connemara - What are the best most beautiful drives drives? a couple of great hikes (under 3 mies long) and best sites? and favorite restaurants/pubs? favorite artisan shops? What are your favorites? Thanks in advance!

This is what I have I come across so far of interest:
-Sky Road at sunset, drive in a clockwise direction

-Diamond Hill Hike in Connemara National Park

-Ashford Castle - Hawk Walk. I'd also like to experience a fancy "high tea" somewhere
-Killary Harbor Fjord Cruise
-Killary Sheep farm (see sheep herding and peet bog log demo also)...OR Kisane sheep farm near Kilarney
-Great Western Greenway bike ride out of Westport
-Kylemore Abby
-Ballynahinch Castle
-Town of Roundstone
-Achill Island

Artisan shops with local, handmade goods? I love local souvenirs. Knits, tweeds, jewelry, original paintings, etc.

-Matt Malloys - Westport
-Moran's Westport
-EJ Kings - Clifden
-Lowry's -Clifden
-Marconi's for dinner
-Walsh's Bakery
-Griffin's Pub in Clifden for great music

Posted by
540 posts

In the town of Roundstone you can visit the music shop of Malachy Kearns, who is world renowned for making bodhrans, the hand-held Irish drums similar to tambourines. You can see the drums being made and painted, and even request a design to be painted on. He made all of the drums used in Riverdance.

Posted by
76 posts

Since you're heading to Killary Fjord, I suggest a stop at Aasleagh Falls. If you're coming from the direction of Leenaun, you’ll turn right onto N59, which will take you around the east end of the Fjord. When you get to the bend, you’ll come to Aasleagh Falls on the right. Parking is just beyond the falls on both sides of the street, just after the bridge. There are trails on both sides of the bridge that lead back closer to the falls (the trail along the left of the river is best).

From Aasleagh set your GPS to DooLough Famine Memorial. This will take you along the north shoreline of Killary for a little while before turning north into the Doo Lough Valley. The valley is flanked by Mweelrea Mountain on one side and the Sheeffry Hills on the other. The road passes right next to Glencullin and Doo Loughs. This is spectacular scenery (if you've seen the movie "Leap Year", the scene where Amy Adams gets in the van was filmed in the valley).

At the end of the valley you’ll come to the Doolough Famine Memorial. In March 1845, during the Irish Potato Famine, a group of starving people were instructed to assemble in Louisburgh for inspection in order to receive food relief. When they arrived, they were told the inspectors had changed their minds and they should meet at a fishing lodge in Delphi, twelve miles away. Nearly 600 men, women and children attempted to make the journey, struggling through the mountain passes and roads in the rain, sleet and wind. When they arrived at Delphi, those that had survived were made to wait until the inspectors finished lunch before the inspection took place. In the end, they were given no grain, nor anything to eat at all. It’s estimated that 400 died during the ordeal.

Also, since you'll be on Sky Road, Clifden Castle is pretty cool. You park at the small, triangular car park, walk through the castle-looking stone "gate" and follow the path. Easy. It's a good distance, and so it takes about 15-20 minutes to get there. Also, the path gets pretty muddy in places, so be prepared (I would actually keep a pair of walking shoes in the car and change into them when you arrive). A few words about safety. The floors of the castle are gone. What this means is, when you approach the front door, there's a drop of about 15-20 ft. straight down. In other words, this is not a place to let small children roam around on their own...keep them in check. If you want to actually get inside, you'll have to walk around the back and enter on the ground floor.

Connemara National Park is another must-see. The entrance is near the village of Letterfrack. This is a great place to take a walk. The Upper Diamond Hill Walk is probably one of the best hikes in Ireland. Great ocean, island and mountain views in all directions. From the top it looks down on Kylemore Abbey and into the Twelve Bens mountain range. On its slopes are the remains of an abandoned 19th century farm and a megalithic tomb built 5,000 years ago. There are three other, shorter walks…you can pick up a map at the visitor’s center. There’s a car park and no admission fee.

Hope this helps.

Posted by
76 posts

A few other things. If you do Achill Island, make sure to get on Atlantic Drive. This will take you around the southern, very scenic part of the island...right past the White Cliffs of Ashleam (stunning). Also, you probably already know about Keel and Keam Beaches, but make sure you go to Barr an Mhionnain (Minaun Viewpoint). The view at the top is incredible....not to be missed.

And if I can be so bold...if there's onething on your list I'd take a pass on it would be the sheep farms. Trust me, you'll see enough sheep to last a lifetime without taking time out of your sightseeing to visit a farm. Of course it's up to you.

As far as Ashford Castle, non-guests can only visit the castle grounds, for 10 euros per person, not go inside. There are gardens, fountains, a beautiful lake view, etc. It’s a sprawling complex. Even if you’re not staying, seeing the castle from the outside is spectacular. When you arrive at the castle gate, there’s a man there to collect your money. You’ll follow the long road back to the castle, and will park at the visitor’s car park on the right, before the bridge. There’s a small café/shop nearby.

Two minutes from the entrance to Ashford Castle is the small village of Cong. This is famous for being the filming location of the John Wayne and Maureen O’Sullivan movie, “The Quiet Man.” There’s a statue of the two near the river, and you can even visit the cottage where many of the scenes were filmed. The ruins of Cong Abbey are also right there, and there’s no admission. A short walk away is the Monk’s fishing hut, an ingenious structure that was built sometime between 1400 and 1550 on a platform over the River Cong. A small arched opening allows the river to flow underneath the floor, and a trap door allowed the monks to drop a net to catch fish. If you’re looking for a nice place to eat, Pat Cohen’s is excellent and reasonably-priced. You can stand at the same bar John Wayne stood at and drank. The ruins of Cong Abbey are also pretty cool.

And finally, another cool place is Ross Errilly Friary. This is a medieval Franciscan friary located about a mile to the northwest of Headford, about 30 minutes north of Galway. It’s among the best-preserved medieval monastic sites in the country. This is really off the beaten path, but it’s definitely worth the effort. There’s a small car park at the end of the one lane road that leads back to the friary. Admission is free… the cow pies.


Posted by
308 posts

For a superb dinner or lunch, I recommend The Blackberry Restaurat in Leenane. Formerly "The Field" after the eponymous 1990 movie shot in the area, we've eaten there several times and have always enjoyed excellent food and service. Reservations in the summer are a good idea. You'll find details here:

For a grand drive, the Connemara loop - from Maam Cross at the eastern end to Clifden in the west to Letterfrack, Leenane and back - takes you through, arguably, the most beautiful scenery in the country. Leenane, at its northern tip and at the end of Killary Harbor with Ireland's only fjord, is its crowning gem, set between three mountain ranges.

Leenane is also the gateway into County Mayo and a short drive to the National Famine Memorial and Croagh Patrick in Murrisk just west of Westport.

Posted by
11703 posts

Horseback riding on the beach is another option. I'm sure there are many options, here's one:

Posted by
660 posts

From another traveler, thank you to Russ Willoughby for the details!

Posted by
326 posts

North of Galway, on the coastal road, is a very nice collection of artisan shops called Spiddal Craft Village. All sorts of things, in all price ranges. Maybe it will fit into your itinerary?

I’ll also give another vote for Connemara National Park. And keep your eyes open for peat being cut and dried.