IRELANDS WILD ATLANTIC WAY – PART 5 – MAYO AND CONNEMARA

Last updated on February 6, 2024

In this episode we look at a very beautiful and very well known region in the west of Ireland, Connemara. We also take a good look at an equally beautiful but slightly less well-known region, Mayo. So let’s get started:

Sheep on the road in Mayo mountains
Sheep on the road in Mayo mountains (photo: Ulrich Knüppel-Gertberg)



Killary Fjord or Killary Harbour

Killary Harbour is an elongated bay that sheltered ships from the stormy Atlantic Ocean, then as now, and is a natural harbour.

In fact, it is a fjord and the only fjord in Ireland. It is about 15 kilometres long and up to 45 metres deep!

Killary Fjord
Killary Fjord (Foto: Ulrich Knüppel-Gertberg)

The long rows of buoys are evidence of shellfish farms and there are also salmon farms in the clean waters of Atlantic Bay.

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The shores are lined with wild rhododendrons and green, boggy mountains rise on both sides of the fjord. The south side of the fjord belongs to County Connemara, the north side to County Mayo.

The borders meet at the end of the fjord. There is the village of Clog and nearby are the beautiful Aasleagh Falls.

Rhododendron in bloom at Killary Fjord
Rhododendron in bloom at Killary Fjord (photo: Ulrich Knüppel-Gertberg)


Connemara

County Connemara boasts pristine rocky landscapes. The barren land offered the farmers only a meagre income over the centuries, because farming was difficult and the pastures for the cattle were stony and meagre. Fishing was better, but risky in the stormy Atlantic.

“There were many stones and little bread” sums it up in a nutshell. The rocky landscape was correspondingly lonely and sparsely populated in the past.

Motorcycle at the coast of Connemara
Motorcycle at the coast of Connemara (photo by Ulrich Knüppel-Gertberg)

Today the landscape is still wild, but much less lonely. From Galway, tour buses offer day trips to Clifden, Kylemore Abbey and many other beautiful corners of Connemara.

If you want to be alone here in the summer months, it is best to drive on the small narrow roads off the beaten track.

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Less well-known than Connemara, but no less beautiful, is the Mayo Highlands further north. The high moorland mountains are reminiscent of the Scottish Highlands – only smaller, of course. On the border of the two counties is the long-drawn-out sea inlet “Killary Harbour”.

Kylemore Abbey

The N59 country road winds southwards through the green hills, on whose flanks peat is still cut.

Kylemore Abbey
Kylemore Abbey (photo: Ulrich Knüppel-Gertberg)

A little further on, one of Connemara’s most important sights comes into view: Kylemore Abbey. The castle was built around 1870 by a major industrialist as a residence and has served as a convent school and monastery for nuns since 1920.

The magnificent monastery castle cannot be visited from the inside, but the beautifully landscaped monastery gardens can.
In any case, the location of the castle is beautiful and well worth a photo stop!

Kylemore Abbey
Kylemore Abbey (photo: Ulrich Knüppel-Gertberg)

The town of Clifden and the Sky Loop

Clifden is the pulsating heart of Connemara and its capital. The bustling, typically Irish town is bursting with colourful houses, pubs, shops and accommodation.

In summer, there’s all sorts of cheerful activity here. But if you book early enough, you can easily find a B&B or hotel for the night.

From Clifden, a small road leads west, around a landfall and curves back to the N59.

Motorbike at the secluded coastline of Connemara
Motorbike at the secluded coastline of Connemara (photo by Ulrich Knüppel-Gertberg)

This is the Sky Road or the famous Sky Loop. This little road is a highlight for motorcyclists! But car drivers will also enjoy the picturesque road very much. However, the single-lane road is too narrow for motorhomes.

Past Clifden Castle, it leads directly along the rugged cliffs.

Again and again you see small bays, fishing boats, steep cliffs and hills. In places it goes steeply uphill and downhill.

Like a roller coaster with many incredible views! A dream! Don’t believe it – try it!

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The coasts and mountains of Connemara

Once you’ve seen all the highlights, you’re done with Connemara, aren’t you?

Far from it! Even and especially away from the tour buses and tourist attractions, there are always scenic gems to be found.

Follow the coastline on small roads or drive through the mountains, you can’t go wrong here. And if you are exhausted from taking so many photos, you can relax for a while on one of the beautiful beaches.

Pines Isle Viewpoint in Connemara
Pines Isle Viewpoint in Connemara (photo by Ulrich Knüppel-Gertberg)

Another “insider tip” is the R344 through the mountains. Close to the Pines Viewpoint, it leads north past Lough Inagh.

Wrong direction? Never mind, you can turn around after a while, the valley is beautiful in both directions!

Conclusion

Barren, stony and rustic with magnificent mountains and rugged coasts, this is how the “Wild West” of Ireland presents itself.

Renvyle Beach in Connemara
Renvyle Beach in Connemara (photo by Ulrich Knüppel-Gertberg)

Travellers get their money’s worth here and should therefore plan at least one full day for Connemara.

If you’re still in the mood for a colourful and lively nightlife, we recommend the city of Galway – and then there’s the south.

But more about that in the next episode of this series of articles on the Wild Atlantic Way ….


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IRELANDS WILD ATLANTIC WAY – PART 7 – DINGLE PENINSULA AND THE RING OF KERRY


IRELAND’S WILD ATLANTIC WAY – PART 1 – AN INTRODUCTION TO THE WORLD’S LONGEST COASTAL ROAD


POSH LIVING IN IRELAND – 26 BEAUTIFUL CASTLE HOTELS FOR YOUR TRIP

Photo credits cover photo: Sailing ship at Killary Fjord, photo by Ulrich Knüppel-Gertberg (www.easycruiser.tourswww.the-view-accommodation.iewww.irland-insider.dewww.ireland-insider.com)

Uli Written by:

Hello and welcome to my blog. Originating from Germany, my family and I now live in Ireland (at least part time). We have travelled this amazing isle many times and know many parts of it very well. In this blog, I would like to share valuabe tips and information for your next trip to Ireland with you. Enjoy the content, yours, Ulrich Knüppel-Gertberg