Staycations 2020: Create your own memories with the glories of Connacht

Connacht, perhaps more than anywhere else on our island, is the quintessential Ireland of postcards and tourist brochures.
Staycations 2020: Create your own memories with the glories of Connacht
Striding across the summit ridge of Slieve Carr, County Mayo, the most remote mountain in Ireland. Picture: Gareth McCormack

Connacht, perhaps more than anywhere else on our island, is the quintessential Ireland of postcards and tourist brochures.

Visitors have been coming here for generations in search of the unspoiled beauty and peace that Connacht still holds within five counties: Galway, Leitrim, Mayo, Roscommon and Sligo.

Galway

Spiddal, Co. Galway has been a traditional fishing village for centuries. Picture: Pat Good
Spiddal, Co. Galway has been a traditional fishing village for centuries. Picture: Pat Good

Long known as the city of the tribes, and legendary in hunting circles for its white stone walls, Galway has been on trading routes since ancient times.

Christopher Columbus came here in 1477, attending Mass at St Nicholas’ church; considerably later travellers Alcock and Brown made the first non-stop transatlantic flight, touching down at Clifden in 1919 (landing in a bog, which at least was soft).

The city’s museum charts its history, and the view from the top floor of the bay and surrounding coastline is breathtaking.

Spiddal, outside the town, on the shores of Galway Bay, has been a traditional fishing village for centuries, but now also contains a number of craft shops where traditional skills can still be seen in use.

Continue on around the coast and you come to Clifden, where Alcock and Brown landed after that first daring flight.

Dun Eochla Ring Fort on Inishmore, the largest of the Aran Islands.
Dun Eochla Ring Fort on Inishmore, the largest of the Aran Islands.

You’re now in Connemara, a heart stoppingly lovely region, where you can explore striking places like Kylemore Abbey, marvel at amazing white shell beaches, or count the purple-tinged Twelve Bens at sunset.

Leenane and Ireland’s only fjord at Killary Harbour are also unmissable.

The long length of Killary Harbour actually forms the border between Galway and Mayo so in a boat you could hop back and forth from one county to the other.

Take in Coole Park near Gort, the home of Lady Gregory, dramatist and co-founder of the Abbey Theatre.

The Aran Islands must be visited at least once in your lifetime.

Inishmore is the largest, Inishmaan the middle one, and Inisheer ‘the littlest Aran’, famed as Craggy Island in the Father Ted TV series.

Mayo

Amy Wallace from Leenaun takes a break while overlooking Killary Harbour. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie
Amy Wallace from Leenaun takes a break while overlooking Killary Harbour. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

Mayo (Maigh Eo, or 'plain of yew-trees') is vast and spreading in its range of scenery, and breathtaking landscapes.

The county stretches from Lough Corrib and Killary Harbour in the south to the barony of Erris and Killala Bay in the north, and from the Atlantic ocean on the west coast to Sligo and Roscommon on the east.

It’s full of history, with settlements reaching back into the 4th millennium BC, and later Christian pilgrimage sites still drawing the faithful.

The Céide Fields, only rediscovered in the 1930s, contain the oldest known field systems in the world, while Croagh Patrick has been welcoming pilgrims since long before the Christian era to climb its well-worn sides every summer at Lunasa.

A not-often seen image of Achill Head on Achill Island. Made from the air, the dramatic headland extends like a finger into the Atlantic.
A not-often seen image of Achill Head on Achill Island. Made from the air, the dramatic headland extends like a finger into the Atlantic.

The National Museum of Country Life near Castlebar preserves the memory of how times used to be in centuries past.

Mweelrea, the highest mountain in Connacht at 819m, situated just north of Killary Harbour, is the start of a splendid mountain range: Ben Gorm, Ben Creggan, the Sheeffry Hills, Maumtrasna and the Partry mountains.

Achill Island, now linked to the mainland by a bridge, is a spectacularly beautiful place to spend a holiday, with wonderful beaches and a genuine abandoned Famine village.

Further out in Clew Bay stands magnificent Clare Island, once the home of famed pirate queen Granuaile.

Sligo

Lissadell House is famous as the childhood home of the Gore-Booths.
Lissadell House is famous as the childhood home of the Gore-Booths.

There can never be a poet so inextricably linked with one place, as Sligo with Yeats.

Yeats actually died in France in 1939, and was buried at Roquebrune in Provence, but was brought back after the war and interred at Drumcliff churchyard in his beloved county.

Then go on to see all those beautiful places which inspired so much of his poetry: Innisfree on Lough Gill, Ben Bulben, Glencar, the Rosses, and more.

Lissadell House is famous as the childhood home of the Gore-Booths.

Constance (later Markievicz) was one of the leaders of the 1916 Rising, and was imprisoned, but later was the first woman elected to Dáil Eireann.

Parke’s Castle is a 17th century fortified manor house with lovely views over Lough Gill.

Carrowmore is one of the four major passage tomb cemeteries in Ireland.
Carrowmore is one of the four major passage tomb cemeteries in Ireland.

There is a small harbour nearby from where you can catch a boat for a cruise on the lake and a visit to the island of Innisfree.

A little further south is Carrowmore, one of the four major passage tomb cemeteries in Ireland, and one of the largest of its kind in the world.

There are more than 40 Stone Age tombs to be found here.

Lovely little Leitrim, with its county town, Carrick on Shannon, an ideal base for boating enthusiasts.

And then there is Roscommon, with the splendours of Boyle Abbey, Lough Key Forest and Activity Park, and a chance to explore coal mining at Arigna.

And if you’re heading south for home, call into Portumna on the Shannon, just on the border between Galway and Tipperary.

More in this section

Lifestyle
Newsletter

The best food, health, entertainment and lifestyle content from the Irish Examiner, direct to your inbox.

Sign up