Today we move to Connacht the smallest and most westerly of the four provinces. It includes counties Galway, Mayo, Sligo, Roscommon and Leitrim. Today we begin with:
Galway city is the county town and stands at the mouth of River Corrib with a history that stretches back to 400AD. Strategically located in the heart of County Galway it is the home of the Claddagh Finger Ring, a crowned heart held by two hands. Attractions worth a visit include Lynch’s Castle, the church of St. Nicholas and the Spanish Arch. Right at the heart of the City is Eyre Square – a public park dedicated to John F. Kennedy. There is a unique atmosphere and charm with a great night life scene all year round. Festivals abound like the Galway Races (July), the Oyster Festival (September) and the Galway Arts Festival (July).
Drive the 45km Connemara Loop and you’ll enter a world where time seems to have stood still, With pre-historic bogs, magnificent mountains, sandy beaches, Connemara National Park, the wild Atlantic Ocean and some archaeological sights you won’t want to go home! Connemara is also Ireland’s largest Gaeltacht (Irish speaking), so you might be lucky enough to hear the friendly locals speaking in their native tongue.
Spiddal or An Spidéal is a vibrant friendly town where the people speak both Irish and English. Spiddal is probably best known for Colaiste Chonnacht to which students come from all over Ireland and the world to learn the Irish language, culture and traditions.
A short 19 klms west of Spiddal is Rossaveel a small harbour surrounded by thatched cottages. From here turf is shipped by barge to the Aran Islands. The passenger boat trip out to the islands is only one hour as compared to the 2½ hour voyage from Galway.
The Aran Islands are the high peaks of a submerged limestone reef that runs out to the sea from County Clare, they are made up of Inishmore, Inishmaan and Inisheer.
Inishmore is the largest of the three islands, it has many sites of interest including the Dun Aengus stone fort, Clochan-na-Carraige and Arkin’s Castle. Inishmaan is the middle island and was the setting of the film Riders to the Sea. Inisheer is the farthest island and has remains of several forts and churches.
Dún Aonghasa is the most famous of several prehistoric forts on Inishmore at the edge of an approximately 100 metre high cliff that also offers a spectacular view. It is not known when Dún Aonghasa was built, though it is now thought to date from the Iron Age. A popular tourist attraction, Dún Aonghasa is an important archaeological site.
Kinvara is a beautiful town located at a tidal port at the head of an inlet in the South-East of Galway Bay. The famous boats of Galway, the Galway Hookers, may be seen at the harbour in the town. Close to the village is the restored Dunguaire Castle, built in 1520 by the O’Hynes clan, the castle is now open to the public. Doorus House is also located close to the town, once visited by Yeats.
At Gortmore a road leads to Rosmuc, where Padraig Pearse, leader of the 1916 Rising studied the Irish language and wrote most of his works, including the O’Donovan Rossa graveside oration which he delivered at Glasnevin in 1915. Beyond Gortmore, the route follows the shore of Kilkieran Bay to Carna where lobster fishing is still the main occupation. Off the coast near Carna is the small St. Mac Dara’s Island, on which is a beautiful stone-roofed oratory.
Clifden is the largest town in the Connemara area. It is surrounded by the Twelve Pins mountain range which offers a beautiful backdrop to the town. It was founded in 1812 by John D’Arcy as a small market town for the region. The ruins of Clifden Castle can be found on the Sky road out of the town. The Church of Ireland in the town is proud to display a copy of the Cross of Cong.
The first transatlantic radio message was sent in the early 1900s when Guglielmo Marconi built his first high power transatlantic long wave wireless telegraphy station four miles south of the town to minimize the distance to its sister station in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia. The first point-to-point fixed wireless service connecting Europe with North America opened for public service with the transmission of 10,000 words on 17 October 1907 and ceased operation on 25 July 1922 after suffering serious damage in the Irish Civil War. Transatlantic wireless service formerly provided by the Clifden station was transferred to the more modern Marconi wireless station near Waunfawr, Wales.
Clifden area is also remembered as the landing site for the first non-stop transatlantic flight in 1919 by Alcock and Brown. During the month of August the famous Connemara Pony Show is held, a show not to be missed by the visitor.
Kylemore Abbey is a Benedictine monastery founded in 1920 for Benedictine Nuns who fled Belgium in World War 1. It is set into the rocks of Connemara with the Atlantic Ocean as a water feature on the front lawn. It is on the grounds of Kylemore Castle, built between 1863 and 1868 as a private home for the family of Mitchell Henry, a wealthy politician from Manchester who was also MP for Galway County from 1871 to 1885. He and his wife are both buried in the small mausoleum near the church in the grounds of the abbey.
Notable features of the abbey are the neo-Gothic church (built between 1877 and 1881), a miniature replica of Norwich Cathedral, made from local green Connemara marble, and the Victorian walled garden. The abbey was an international secondary girls’ boarding school, the nuns decided to close the school in 2010, although they do not plan to sell the property and will continue to reside there. The house and gardens are open to the public.
Near the head of Killary harbour is the village of Leenane, an angling resort and an excellent centre for the mountain climber. This is the western end of the Partry Mountains and the 650m Devil’s Mother is the most striking feature of the landscape around a lovely village. On the road to Louisburgh is Ashelagh Waterfall, which is well worth a detour.
Elly told me not to forget the N17 a notorious single carriage route from Galway to Sligo well known to fans of the Saw Doctors. On this route you will find Tuam gets its name from the Tumulus – a bronze age burial ground – on which the town is built. It was established in the 5th century when St Jarlath founded a monastery here, stopping when a wheel broke on his chariot. The O’Connor Kings, Turlough and Ruari, lived here In the 11th century. Turlough built a castle and an abbey which later became a cathedral. All that remains is part of the wall of their castle, a stone throne known as the chair of Tuam.
Athenry is situated halfway between Galway City and Ballinsloe. It is known world wide mainly due to the song associated with it, The Fields of Athenry. Here we have yet another castle built this time by de Bermingham between 1235 and 1250. A typical Anglo-Norman stronghold comprising of a keep and a walled court. Located in the town’s market place is a ruined cross with a representation of the Crucifixion on one side and the Virgin and Child on the other.
Gort is a beautiful market town located on the N18 the main Limerick to Galway road. It is surrounded by ancient monastic ruins, dramatic landscapes and countryside. Just North of the village is the entrance to Coole Park once home of Lady Gregory who played a central role in the literary revival in Ireland. The house was demolished in 1941 but the tree on which her guests carved their initials is still standing. On the tree the following initials are still visible, WBY (William Butler Yeats), GBS (George Bernard Shaw) and many others. Yeats lived at the Castle of Thoor just North-East of the village. The tower has been restored as a Yeats Museum.