For summer 2019, we are partnering with theJournal.ie to bring you 12 Great Irish Drives: the most amazing road trips in the country. Whether it’s with friends, family or by yourself these trips should give you the courage to get in the car and go explore.
This week, Paul Wilson explores Connemara, jutting out into the Atlantic along the Sky Road, with some seafood stops en route.
- Name: The Connemara Loop and Sky Road. See a map of our suggested route from Galway city here, and see a close up of the Sky Road itself here.
- Where: Galway’s west coast.
- The route: From Galway, take the N59 to Maam Cross. Head onward toward Killary Harbour and Kylemore Abbey before arriving at Clifden and the start of the Sky Road, bringing you to Kingstown and back. From here, complete the loop and return to Maam Cross.
- What makes it one of Ireland’s Great Drives? You’re right at the heart of the Wild Atlantic Way here. Expect sweeping sunset views, rugged coastline and imposing bogland.
- Photo opportunities: A stop at Monument Hill for a birds-eye view over Clifden. The peaks of the Twelve Bens mountain range are a must too.
- Journey time: 3 hours approx for the full Connemara Loop, or 30 mins for the Sky Road loop from Clifden to Kingstown and back.
- Hidden gems: Just outside Roundstone on the road from Clifden you’ll find the secluded Gurteen Beach, picture-perfect for a dip in the Atlantic. Mitchell’s Cafe at Kylemore Abbey uses fresh ingredients from the walled kitchen garden on site – be sure to try the apple pie.
- If you’re feeling courageous:Get your timing right for a walk across to Omey Island – the strand is accessible on foot from two hours before low tide to two hours before high tide.
From lively Galway, take the N59 to where the Connemara Loop starts at Maam Cross. Part of The Quiet Man was filmed here, and the area is known for its lush countryside and a glacial fjord at Maam Valley.
North from Glynsk on the R344, you’ll be on the Inagh Valley road, snaking through mountains carpeted with heather and sparkling lakes – so have your camera at the ready.
Heading north to Leenaun, along the southern Shores of Lough Fee, stop off at Killary Harbour for spell-binding views over the cloud-capped mountains. Here you’re looking at Munterowen West, Devilsmother, and Benbaun, the last of which is the highest point of the quartzite-topped Twelve Bens, in Connemara National Park.
Home to Benedictine nuns since 1920, Kylemore Abbey is a good family stop-off to explore the Victorian walled garden and see the pet pigs, Gloria and Ken.
Mitchell’s Cafe at the Abbey serves up homemade scones and traditional Irish fare, using fresh ingredients from the garden.
From Letterfrack, the secluded and cheerful Renvyle House is another option for rustic, informal dining, tucked in between a private freshwater lake and Atlantic.
The coast of Connemara is peninsula after peninsula. You’ll find Clifden north of one of these – the Errislannan Peninsula – on a forested plateau. Monument Hill, a stone memorial to the town’s founder, is the best place to photograph the town and its glorious Twelve Bens backdrop.
From Clifden, at Ballyconneely, you’ll find the family-run Connemara Smokehouse, producers of Connemara smoked salmon and tuna. On Wednesdays during the summer months they operate public tours.
For a diversion, two miles on from Roundstone, take a stroll to two isolated beaches at Dog’s Bay and Gurteen, perfect for a dip in the Atlantic.
Part of the Wild Atlantic Way, the 16km Sky Road itself goes west from Clifden and back along the cliff-edged shores. Join it on the N59, for a truly impressive journey.
Fancy some low-key island hopping? Omey Island, near Claddaghduff, is almost hidden, but a sandy strand is accessible on foot at low tide – just follow the signs.
On the Carna-Cashel road, prepare to be silenced by vast expanses of dark Atlantic blanket bog. Formed in the west 10,000 years ago, these are some of the most renowned peatlands in Ireland. Back towards Maam Cross, the N59 will take you straight to Galway.