Connemara is named after Conn-mhaicna Mara – “the descendants of the sea”.
Connemara is a region west of Galway city along by the ocean and inland, distinctive stony landscape and rolling hills. Irish folklore is alive in the Connemara landscape. Here, the playwright, author and foundress of Dublin’s Abbey theatre, Lady Gregory, received inspiration and the storytellers whose words she has immortalised in books and plays.
On a 16th century map of Ireland, we can see the area of Connemara is represented by many hundreds of islands, inlets and bays more conductive to movement by sea than by land.
Here, ocean waves are known as Capaill Mhanannán, “Manannán’s Horses”.
The tribal name “Conmacna Mara” designates a branch of the Conmacne, an early Irish tribal grouping with a number of branches in different parts of the province of Connacht.
Since this particular branch of the Conmacne lived by the sea, they became known as the “Conmacna mara”- Conmacna of the sea which has since formed the name ‘Connemara”.
County Galway west of Lough Corrib is referred to as Connemara and traditionally is divided into North Connemara and South Connemara. However, there remains some mystery as to where it truly begins and ends. This is a paradoxical landscape of geological jumble where masses of sandstone, limestone, granite and quartzite overlap and mushroom into mad creations of nature. Prior to the construction of the Victorian roads, this area was out of bounds to the mainland – accessible only by sea and then nigh impossible to cross. It’s rocky moonlands and moorlands have given it a startling cultural resilience.
The defiant structures of Dún Aengus fort on the Aaran Island of Inismore speaks volumes of the ferocious opponents the people of this region once had to face. The local traditional boat, the currach, is still built and used in this region the choice of transport among both farmers and fishermen for generations.
The mountains of the Twelve Bens and the Owenglin River flowing into the sea at An Clochán Clifden, mark the boundary between the two parts. The raging Atlantic ocean frames the region on the north, south, and east. Known as the largest Irish speaking region or Gaeltacht in Irealnd, Connemara’s people exhibit a brisk rural charm and a rugged independent spirit.
Today’s Connemara is accessed by road but this was not so but a hundred years ago. With a mind emboldened by the wild sea air, the Irish Republican leader and educator, Pádraig Pearse, found in Connemara a spiritual home and courted visions of Ireland’s freedom. Connemara is a far cry from Ireland’s apparent citadels of power. One hundred years ago it would have taken up to six days to make the long trip from Dublin to Connemara. Here another Ireland continues to live on as the local culture and language is now a source of celebration .
You can visit the Heritage Centre where Padraig Pearse former house here.
Mannin is the widest of Connemara’s west facing bays. Here, about three miles of water separate its northern shore of Errislannan (Iorras Leannán) from Errismore (Iorras Mór), a peninsula at its southerly end. A number of beaches line the head of the bay and the silvery Coral Strand is one worth seeking out. Not strictly a coral that crunches underfoot , but rather fragments off a coralline alga, a seaweed that draws on the calcium carbonate dissolved in seawater. An Trá Choireálach near An Ceathrú Rua is another fine coral beach of Connemara. The coralline seaweeds are collectively known as maerl and offer an abundance of hide outs for the great variety of sea creatures found here.
Of course, Connemara’s rich coastline invites adventure – the many inlets peninsulas, bays and beaches are yours to explore.
Alongside the rich sea life of Connemara, there is a bewildering array of onshore and offshore geographical phenomena.
From cosy pubs to relaxing restaurants where local sea-food is served in ultimate freshness – you will find many places to relax and unwind in Connemara. To the east rises the Mamturk mountains and beyond them lies Joyce country divided by the two lakes, Lough Corrib and lough Mask both excellent fishing destinations. By the shores, you can tread in the footsteps of generations of Connemara fishermen – expert boat builders and sea men.
Take a walk out to Slyne Head ( Ceann Léime ) from Ballyconneely (Baile Conaola) or take a boat out to explore the Islands. There is a regular tour from Cleggan to the Island of Inishbofin with its monastic remains. The Twelve Pins Mountains rise to the east, Hillwalkers are advised to purchase a local Ordinance Survey Map to assist in navigating the wilds of these mountain treks. Passing through Letterfrack NOTE and Kylemore where you can visit a famous neo gothic Abbey.
Through Leenaun village with its charming homesteads you will finally arrive at Killary harbour where the wilds of Connemara open to lush Mayo countryside.
In 1948 the philosopher, Ludwig Wttgenstein arrived at Rosroe in Connemara to stay at a friend’s holiday cottage. To the south in Maam Valley, it is said that the mother of one of Ireland’s heroes, Fionn Mac Cumhall, found her final resting place.