Mon 13 Apr - through Connemara to Westport

Maybe a dull, overcast and windy day was appropriate for Connemara's wild scenery. First of all, we can add Galway city to the list of significant places I've managed to avoid somehow, my more direct route cutting through away from the coast not far from my hotel, skirting Lough Corrib (27 miles long) en route to the town of Oughterard.

I think this is the model for the town in Charles Lever's 1856 novel 'The Martins of Cro' Martin', but I need to check that, and also that Ballynahinch Castle, now a hotel, served as the basis for the Martins' stately home.


I should have stayed on the N59 to Clifden, which would have taken me close to Ballynahinch, but I turned off to follow signs for Kylemore Abbey and the Connemara National Park, not realising that I would have come to them via Clifden, just by a slightly longer route

I'm not sure what to make of Kylemore Abbey. It's a community of Benedictine nuns, but it is set up as a major tourist attraction. I find it hard to rationalise why these two activities should be incompatible. I probably need to understand the Benedictine philosophy better. Certainly it is an incredible location. And the Abbey is unlike any I've seen before, although unfortunately I didn't have time to explore it internally - I think only a few rooms are open to the public.

It was originally a 'castle' built between 1867 and 1871 by Mitchell Henry, using an inheritance from his father, whose money came from the Lancashire cotton industry. Originally trained in medicine, Mitchell Henry served as MP for Galway for 14 years, and Edward VII even visited Kylemore in 1903. In the same year, Henry sold out to the Duke and Duchess of Manchester, who lived beyond their means, or rather beyond the means of the Duchess' father, an American by the name of Eugene Zimmerman, on whose death in 1914 the banks moved in. The Benedictines bought the property in 1920, to replace a Belgian establishment destroyed in the 1st World War. They ran it as a school from 1923 onwards, but that rôle ended in 2010.

The Connemara National Park covers about twice the territory of the Burren National Park. The Visitor Centre contains (as well as the ubiquitous café) a display describing the geological history of the region, as well as information of the flora and fauna. It also serves as the base for the various walks up Diamond Hill, the main landmark in the park.

Connacht is one of the four ancient provinces of Ireland, the others being Ulster in the north, Leinster to the east, and Munster to the south-west.

Connacht comprises the counties of Galway, Leitrim, Mayo, Roscommon and Mayo. Pre- the Great Famine in the mid/late 1840s, the population of Connacht was well over 1.5 million, thanks in large measure to Cromwell banishing the papist enemy from the better land to the east, to make way for more amenable subjects - the derivation of the expression 'to hell or Connacht'.

By the time of the 2011 census, the population of Connacht had dropped to 540,000, of whom an estimated 40,000 - 55,000 are Gaelic speakers, living mostly in specially designated areas known as Gaeltacht, which are confusing for the tourist because the road signs are only in Gaelic, whereas elsewhere in the country all public signage is bi-lingual.


Martin, the tour bus driver on Inishmore, reckoned that Killary Fjord in Connemara is the only true fjord in the British Isles. (Can't we find a better way to describe these islands, since a big part of one hasn't been British for almost a century?) Wikipedia says a fjord is "a long, narrow inlet with steep sides or cliffs, created by glacial erosion". It says the word derives from Norwegian, but that the Norwegian meaning is different, referring to any inlet.

It gives two other fjords in Ireland, Lough Swilly and Carlingford Lough, and some in Scotland, so Martin's claim of uniqueness for Killary may not be entirely true, but that doesn't diminish its impact.

The fjord is stunningly beautiful, in that majestic wild Connemara way, but I found the buoys from the mussel farming spoiled the natural look more than a little.


[I found out later that the author Anthony Trollope had tramped the mountains around the Killary harbour with his brother Tom in 1843.  Anthony worked for the Post Office, and at this time was based in Banagher.]


If you thought I'd given up on photos of bridges over rivers, sorry, you're wrong. Here's the one at Leenaun, at the top of the fjord. It's quite a new bridge, replacing one that was swept away in flooding in July 2007. Shortly after that, you come to the Assleagh Falls, which aren't really falls if you define them as having a big drop, they're more what I would call rapids.

From Assleagh I travelled west along the northern shore of Killary Fjord on the R 335 road, which then abruptly turns north and runs up along beside the Bundoragha River on the right, and then past Lough Fin and the larger Lough Doo, both on my left. By this stage I'm beginning to run out of superlatives to describe the majestic scenery around me. The wind was so ferocious that it whipped up a wall of spray from the surface of Lough Doo - I wish I had a video to show you this wall being blown along the lough. As it was, this shot was taken from inside the car - I wasn't getting out in that!

After Lough Doo, the terrain plateaus out, so one can get one's breath back after the wonders of Connemara. The R 335 takes you through to the coast near Louisburgh, and then turns east towards Westport, with the Clew Bay to the left and the mountains on the right, until you arrive at another of the most sacred sites in Ireland, Croagh Patrick. 'Croagh' means mountain, in this case about 2.500 ft, and although it has apparently been a special place for over 5,000 years, its main claim to fame is that this is where Ireland's patron saint is believed in 441 AD to have fasted for 40 days, although looking at the mountain from the bottom it's hard to think anyone would be able to graze sheep up there! Nevertheless it attracts over a million pilgrims annually, although I'm not sure whether they all make it to the little church at the top.

From Croagh Patrick its not far to the town of Westport. I mooched around the harbour for a while, mainly to find somewhere to have dinner - the last two nights of my holiday were to be spent in B&Bs. In the end I couldn't resist the picturesque "Sheebeen", where I had a tasty curry, accompanied of course by a glass of black nectar, before moving on to Rinnaseer and my home for the night, The Garden Gates B&B.

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