We’ve just passed a very pleasant and relaxing weekend in Connemara, my favourite place in Ireland. Oscar Wilde described Connemara as “savage”, probably due to the rock-strewn rugged landscape that creates a real challenge for farmers to scrape a living. Of course, Connemara was part of the destination that Oliver Cromwell had in mind when he dispatched the native Irish “to hell or to Connacht” during the plantations from 1650 onward, a bitter episode in Irish history that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands.
On a brighter note, Connemara is a much different place today. My preferred area is the triangle of Roundstone – Ballyconneely – Clifden, which is where my family has been coming for vacations since the 1970s. Good habits die hard.
Roundstone is a small fishing village that has expanded greatly in the last twenty years or so through the construction of many holiday apartments and houses surrounding the core of the village. Even so, Roundstone retains a lot of its charm and is a pleasant place to halt for a coffee. The Sunstone cafe is a good place to stop.
The road from Roundstone to Ballyconneely passes some bays fringed by white sand beaches and headlands that serve as great locations for walks. Gorteen and Dog’s Bay are the two most famous of the places to stop to explore.
On a nice day there’s nowhere nicer to enjoy a bracing walk than to stroll down from the car park at Dog’s Bay and move around the headland to the rocks that fringe the Atlantic. Then again, the walk can be pretty miserable on a typical Connemara day when the rain blows in from the west and is persistent enough to penetrate all but the best all-weather clothes. But on a positive note, the weather last Sunday was bright and clear and the wind, while always present, didn’t chill to the bone.
The village of Ballyconneely isn’t much to write home about. Blink and you’d miss it in passing. However, the real value is not in visiting the pub, church, and post office that collectively make up the village. It is the surrounding countryside and the sparkling beaches that line the bays that provide the compelling desire to return to this region time after time.
My favourite walk is from the beach at Ailebrack to Bunowen before looping back towards the golf club and Ailebrack. It’s roughly 6km, give or take a kilometre depending on where you start and the walk brings you from sandy beach over grassy commonage past small inlets to beach again before turning to walk to the memorial to the B-24 crew that was rescued in 1944 when they crash-landed en route from the U.S. to Iceland. From there it’s another 1.6km back to Ailebrack passing the 6th hole of Connemara Golf Club. I used to play there as a teenager but lost a lot of desire to play golf due to my inability to hit straight and the grasping nature of the rough that hid any mishit ball against the frantic searches of its owner.
There’s much more to see in Connemara than the brief glimpse described here. North of Clifden you’ll find Cleggan and the boat ride out to Inisboffin and then further north to Killary, Leenane, and Renvyle up to the Mayo border. South there’s the Gaeltacht around around Carna and Carraroe. To the east you’ll find Maam and Recess, all worth exploring. But to the west, at least from Ballyconneely, there is nothing but the Atlantic Ocean.
Connemara is more than a place. It’s also a state of mind. Stress is almost guaranteed to depart during a stay here, which is of course the major reason why I keep on coming back. There’s nothing like having the mind blow through the rattling spaces of your brain to clear things out and make all clear again!