When visiting Ireland, one of the most common statements that you will ever hear the locals say to you is- “There’s no place like Ireland….. when you get the weather!”
Ireland entices all who steps within its mystical boundaries. Fairy tales, stories, myths and legends rule the land along with the most stunning landscapes. This is a country famous worldwide for its immense natural beauty. For nature enthusiasts, it’s truly heaven on earth. The only catch, of course, is- the weather!
Ireland has been basking in the sunshine for the past few days and everyone has been making the most of it. Most of the time, weather here can give you frostbite, irrelevant of what month it is. So, when we saw the sun blazing in its full glory outside our window right before the weekend, we just had to en-cash this opportunity to explore more of this beautiful country. The best scenery of Ireland is obviously in the remotest of places. We’re a tad spoilt for choice when it comes to remarkable holiday destinations in Ireland but there was one place that had been highly recommended to us by several people. A region nestled deep into the rural lands of West Ireland called ‘Connemara’. This was where we decided to head for our short break.
Connemara in County Galway, is one of most iconic Irish destinations, once described by Oscar Wilde as “Savage beauty”. It boasts of the West of Ireland’s only national park, encircling a kaleidoscope of the most stunning scenery spread in a vast 4,942-acre setting. With very little man-made development, it is a blend of mountains, grasslands, rivers, waterfalls, and nature trails, where ponies run wild and assorted wildlife roam the gentle landscape.
We took a 9:30am train service from Heuston Station, Dublin to Galway which took around three hours. From Galway, we got a fabulous bus service till Clifden, a small village that was going to be the base of our stay in Connemara. Clifden is pretty much presumed as the capital of Connemara and is a lively location full of shops, pubs, restaurants and cafés.
The bus ride from Galway station till Clifden is sheer tonic to the eyes! The route is carved through the scooping hills, wiry roads intricately woven between the mountains and coastal trails that wind along the jagged shoreline. Untouched, off-radar and crying out for exploration, this rugged coastline and breathtaking mountain scenery marks the western contour of Ireland.
It took us a couple of hours to reach Clifden by bus, and when we disembarked onto the city centre, the sun was shining and the colorful little village was buzzing with locals and visitors alike.
Now, I kid you not- the first thing that you notice as soon as you arrive in the Irish countryside is always be how chattier the people here are! Every cab you take, the ride is like learning about a slice of life in Ireland. Most of the times, the driver will tell you about how Ireland was during his childhood and how it has changed drastically over the years. I simply love chatting with cabbies and bus drivers during all our travels.
The Irish are incredibly hospitable hosts. Their warm smiles and hearty laughs charm any who arrives on their doorstep. People of Ireland sincerely enjoy hosting visitors and sharing their beautiful country. For me, the Irish village life has always held a certain allure: Guinness, hearty food, friendly locals and their tales of leprechauns, lucky charms and pots of gold. Clifden is one of the most loved towns of Ireland. While the major attraction in the Connemara is the landscape, the busy town of Clifden is a great place to spend some time and mingle with the people.
We were fortunate enough to have gotten an accommodation right in the middle of the Clifden city centre. It was a little cottage that the reviewers on tripadvisor had assured us was great, just a little old, creaky and rough around the edges. We didn’t mind in the least.
We rested for around an hour before heading out again, to do something fun with the rest of the day that was left.
After a quick lunch, the first thing that we did was find a shop where we could hire the bikes. Hubby and I are always keen to hire bikes during our travels, so that we are free to take our time exploring the area and can hop off at every photo opportunity we get. The friendly person who worked at the bike shop recommended that we head on to the famous Sky road for the evening and assured us that it will only take a couple of hours to complete the picturesque loop. The views, he said, were stunning. So, we began pedaling towards the hills, enjoying the wind in our hair and excited for our first Connemara experience.
The Sky Road route takes you up among the hills overlooking Clifden Bay and its offshore islands. Some of the most spectacular Panoramic Views of Connemara’s coast are seen from here. The circular route is 11km long and takes you out west from Clifden.
As it was a superbly sunny day, got some of the tremendous views over the mighty Atlantic ocean. We cycled along the rolling green pastures, enjoying the sensational journey along sweeping coastline and towering sea cliffs. Every once in a while, we’d get down from our bikes to silently look at the shimmering water and soak in the stunning views. As we circled the loop back, we came across two hidden beaches which were beautiful with crashing waves and vast expanse of shining white sands.
Even if you are not a nature-lover, one just can’t fail to be thrilled with Ireland’s dramatic landscapes. This country’s pristine beauty is clearly unmatched!
By the time, we got back to the village, we were completely exhausted but ecstatic with the fabulous ride. For a well deserved dinner that evening, we went to a restaurant called ‘Michelle’s’ which our host had recommended to us. One can experience the finest of food in the array of restaurants and cafes in Clifden. She told us that Michelle’s was the winner of “The best sea-food in Ireland” in the year 2015. It has also been given a Michelin star recently.
After a scrumptious meal, we called it a night and headed to our apartment to get a good night’s sleep .
Next morning, after a light breakfast of toast and eggs that I prepared in our little kitchen, we boarded a bus to Letterfrack, which is the nearest stop to get to the amazing Connemara National park. When we asked the price for two tickets to Letterfrack from the bus-driver,he winked and said, “Today is your lucky day! My meter is broken so….no charge! Go on,I will give you a free ride!” Amused and thanking him profusely, we hopped on to the bus.
At Letterfrack, we waved good-bye to the beaming driver, who warned us to return to the same spot at four in the evening for taking the bus back to Clifden. We had a quick cup of coffee at the nearby café, and began our walk towards the amazing Connemara National Park.
Connemara national park is a perfect representation of all the attributes that make Ireland a wonderful holiday destination. It was established and opened to the public in 1980 and covers some 2,957 hectares of scenic mountains, expanses of bogs, heaths, grasslands and woodlands. There’s a great cafe with home baking at the Connemara National Park Visitors Center and right beside this is a large Children’s playground.
The hike itself is divided into several walks, the most difficult of which is the Upper Diamond Hill walk – that takes you right to the summit. The full round route is a 7km hike and for the hikers to really enjoy the scenery from height, there is a carved out walk up the diamond hill and exceptionally well maintained pathway up to about three quarters of the way up the hill.
Hubby was excited for our hike up the Upper Diamond Hill to get the best views, and eventhough I had managed to hike up some pretty intense routes in the past, I wasn’t too sure about this one.
I hiked with him for about a couple of kilometers before deciding that the hike was too difficult for me. My legs were still paining from all the cycling we had done the previous evening and there was no way that I could reach the summit. I assured hubby that I will be fine in returning to the visitor centre on my own and that he should carry on ahead. We split for the day and once I reached the tea room at the base of the hill, I happily bought myself a kettle full of hot tea and huge slice of apple pie. I sat outside in the sun for around an hour, sipping my tea, reading a book that I had brought along and enjoying my own company immensely as always.
Hubby came back extremely proud of himself for completing the hike. He told me that the summit had been incredibly tranquil, peaceful and quiet and the views from up there were indeed beautiful and worth the long hike.
We both had had a great day, what if it was not together.
Once back in Clifden, we spent rest of the evening roaming around the market street, exploring the cute, little shops and shopping for souvenirs and t-shirts that said things like-
“You know it’s summer in Ireland when the rain gets warmer”
“Those who drink to forget, please pay in advance”
Early next morning, we got up at 6am and took the earliest bus to Kylemore Abbey, one of the most popular tourist attractions of Ireland. We had planned to visit Kylemore during the first half of the day and head to the beach later but the weather of Ireland had once again, pulled one on us.
Connemara boasts of some of the most stunning beaches in the world and we had kept the beach visit for the last day of our trip, as the weather channels had assured us that Sunday would be the warmest and sunniest day of our visit. HMPH!
Even riding to the Kylemore Abbey, we knew the weather would be cold throughout the day and the dark clouds that were hovering above us now, will soon break to shower their wrath on us. It was going to be a rainy day, contrary to what the weather channels had to say. TYPICAL!
We reached Kylemore Abbey at around 9 am and there was not a single vehicle parked in the parking lot. Also, we had been the only people in the hop-on-hop-off bus that we had boarded in the morning. The driver was a cheery young lad, who generously gave us a student discount on our tickets which cut the expense straight into half. We sure were lucky with the bus rides and kind drivers on this trip!
We had a nice breakfast at the abbey’s café (again we were the only ones there) and proceeded to the main entrance afterwards. It felt that the place was open only to give us a personal tour. Apart from the staff members, there was nobody there! We had the best time roaming around the vast campus with no one else in sight.
The Abbey itself was a former castle, built by a wealthy businessman named Mitchell Henry for his new bride Margaret. The tragedy behind the happy family life involves the sudden dead of Margaret and one of their daughters due to dysentery, (there were nine children) during their holiday in Egypt. Margaret’s death broke Michell’s heart and he built a little gothic church and mausoleum in his beloved wife’s memory near the castle. He never re-married and died at the ripe, old age of 82. He was buried besides Margaret in the same Mausoleum.
In the year 1920, the benedictian nuns purchased Kylemore Castle and it was converted into an abbey.
The Kylemore Abbey was a well-known boarding school with girls from all over the world till recent years. Unfortunately this school closed down due to the growing age of the nuns. The nuns still reside in the abbey. They make chocolate that sells in the gift-shop, grow their own vegetables in their gardens and the recipes served at the café also come from the nuns.
We had the good fortunate of meeting one of the nuns right outside the main entrance. She seemed to be heading to the church for the morning mass and when she saw that hubby is struggling to get a good picture from the lakeside, she ushered him into the restricted area alongside the abbey so that he could get a better view. He was beyond thrilled when he got a good shot of the abbey. The kind nun blessed us as we parted ways at the church entrance.
It had been a nice visit and we got some fantastic pictures of the abbey nestled in the hills by the water from afar!
We took a bus back to Clifden at 1:30pm. The driver had been right about the crowds during the day time. By the time, we were ready to head back, the crowds were simply over-whelming!
We returned to Clifden at around 3pm and there was clearly no point in heading to the beach. There was a slight drizzle on and off and it was chilly. We had a nice lunch at a restaurant called “Marconis” and gladly took a three hour afternoon nap afterwards to drain off the tiredness that had accumulated over the last three days.
Evenings at Clifden were always very pleasant and the atmosphere was perpetually cheerful. We would often go into a pub after dinner, to get a drink whilst enjoying the live Irish music by the local musicians. The atmosphere was festive, with clapping families with kids sitting on the floor and elderly couple, dancing to lively music and laughing with their friends. If visiting the Irish countryside, one should never miss a chance of going into a pub/restaurant where there’s live music. It’s an incredible experience!
Throughout our stay, whether it was asking questions on the street, interactions in stores, or banter in the bars, the locals were always warm, helpful, and energetic. They have an infectious charisma that just makes you so happy. We would spend almost all of our evenings wandering the colourful streets, listening out for traditional Irish live music and savouring smells from local cafes. The unhurried pace of life is one of the region’s hallmarks. We were going to miss being here!
Next morning, we packed up all of our stuff and bidding farewell to all the faces that we had gotten familiar within the past three days, started our journey back to Dublin. We reached home late at night on Monday, full of amazing memories and refreshed after a relaxing break.
Irish countryside is beauty and culture at its most authentic. Sculpted over the millennia by both natural and human forces, Ireland’s landscapes are truly beautiful and a joy to behold. The natural terrain of mountains, rivers, lakes and lush greenery, sandy beaches will always leave you wanting more… and when everything is said and done nothing quite beats a relaxing pint in a pub with the locales while listening to traditional Irish music.
Connemara is almost too beautiful for words. Its wild, it’s desolate and mesmerizing. It is a place that lifts your spirits. There’s solace to be found here. It’s the kind of place that warms your heart and steals your soul. Trust me, it is an experience that will stay with you for a lifetime.
Visit Connemara. Get enchanted.