- Travel and Places
Connemara | A Jewel in Ireland's Crown
The Beauty of Connemara is All Around
Connemara is an area of outstanding natural beauty in the West of Ireland.
The actual boundaries are not specifically defined; however, they encompass all of County Galway west of the popular fishing lake of Lough Corrib, taking in much of the Gaeltacht (Irish speaking areas) of the western part of the county.
There's a sharp-peaked quartzite mountain range called the Twelve Bens or Twelve Pins located north of the lovely fishing village of Roundstone, As well as many small boggy lakes, rivers cascade down the mountains bring the purest of pure water with them.
Artists, naturalists, photographers and lovers of all kinds keep coming back to this area year after year. I have been coming here almost annually since I was a boy, and it's a very special place as many family members have brought their loved ones in the early part of their relationships to this romantic of areas.
The air is pure, the sea is fresh (term for very cold with the Irish), and the folk are friendly - where time almost stands still.
Photo: A view of the Twelve Bens
© Rob Hemphill
Published on Valentine's Day, 14 Feb 2013
As a celebration of a place I love
Where is Connemara?
A unique breed
The area is famous for one breed of horse, the Connemara breed which first became recognized as a distinctive type in the region. The pony breed developed into a hardy type producing strong, healthy individuals capable of withstanding the harsh environment of high winds and driving rain.
It is thought that this breed of small ponies (an adult is normally between 128 to 148 cm in height) is an offspring from the Scandinavian ponies which the Vikings first brought to Ireland.
The most famous of all Connemara Pony shows is the Annual Clifden Connemara Pony Show held every August at the Showgrounds in Clifden. Here breeders and visitors get the opportunity to witness the best of Connemara Ponies on display.
Books On or About Connemara
One of the best books I have read about the area I know so well.
If you have never been, why not let Tim Robinson's in-depth knowledge of this magical part of Ireland take you there?
Derryclare Lake - Peace and Tranquility
Derryclare Lake is renowned for this its island of trees. Situated under the southern end of Derryclare mountain (one of the Twelve Bens) and located just north of Roundstone village on the coast. The distinctive sharp southern ridge of the mountain is visible from the Galway to Clifden road (N59), making it a popular backdrop for visitors, especially photographers.
There are fine views over the mountains of the Glencoaghan Valley, with the myriad of lakes in the bogs of Connemara. Derryclare is formed from quartzite and care is required if negotiating its upper slopes which are comprised of shattered pieces of rock, although there are plenty of narrow trails amongst the stones.
I have driven past here dozens of times and each time I just have to stop to take pictures and admire the scenery. There is an air of peace and tranquility about the place, I expect it's the same under mountains wherever you are - a majestic awe!
Photo: © Rob Hemphill
Roundstone - Fishing village
Photo: © Rob Hemphill
This has to be one of the most beautiful of little villages in Ireland. Visitors from all over the world descend here during the summer months, and many small holiday properties have sprung up in recent years.
Roundstone has the most amazing seafood restaurants - the harbor is only 50 yards from the main and only street, and pubs serve the most wonderful Guinness. What more could you want than a seafood platter with a pint of the famous black stuff? And to cap it all, a fabulous view of the mountains and sea with of course good company.
There is even a world famous product made right here, the bodhran. I can hear you say, "what the heck is that?" Well, a bodhran is a hand-held frame drum, you may have seen one if you've ever seen a Riverdance performance or visited an Irish pub. Most drums measure 14" to 18" (35 to 45 cm) and are made with goatskin hide, more information about them here...
Bodhran for Barack
Made in Roundstone
Malachy Kearns, a well known bodhran maker based in Roundstone was invited by the American Embassy to make a unique present for the Obama Family to mark their historic visit to Ireland. They visited Barack Obama's roots in Moneygall in 2011.
The Bodhran is one of the oldest products made in Ireland. It was used to winnow grain and hold potatoes on the table during the day while at night the beater or cipin (little stick), i.e. a bone from a goat was "taken down" from the shelf and used to beat the frame drum. It soon became a musical instrument.
It is played in a unique way in the world of manual percussion, one hand beats the drum, whilst the other is able to press behind the skin enabling a variation of pitch.
If you visit Roundstone, you should try to drop by the bodhran shop, where you'll be able to see them being made. The gift shop also has loads of other interesting stuff.
Image from www.bodhran.com
Here are the lyrics to the well known Irish song of Galway Bay:
Galway Bay (Sheet music)
If you ever go across the sea to Ireland
Then may at the closing of your day
You will sit and watch the moon rise over Claddagh
And see the sun go down on Galway Bay.
Just to hear again the ripple of the trout stream
The women in the meadows making hay
And to sit beside a turf fire in the cabin
And watch the barefoot gossoons at their play.
For the breezes blowing o'er the seas from Ireland
Are perfumed by the heather as they blow
And the women in the uplands diggin' praties
Speak a language that the strangers do not know.
For the strangers came and tried to teach us their ways
They scorned us just for bein' what we are
But they might as well go chasin' after moonbeams
Or light a penny candle from a star.
And if there is going to be a life hereafter
And somehow I am sure there's going to be
I will ask my God to let me make my heaven
In that dear land across the Irish sea.
Galway Bay is the large expanse of sea separating County Galway in the province of Connacht to the north from County Clare in the province of Munster to the south.
Located on the northeast side of the bay is the vibrant and attractive city of Galway, Ireland's third major city.
The Aran Islands, made up of Inishmaan, Inisheer and Inishturk lie to the west, however there are many smaller islands within the bay.
Hookers sailing on Galway Bay at Roundstone in Connemara
Photo: © Rob Hemphill
Sailing in Galway Bay - The Galway hooker
Galway Hookers sailing off Roundstone
Photo: © Rob Hemphill
This traditional fishing boat is used in Galway Bay, and with it's sharp, clean design, it was developed to sail in strong seas. The hull of the boat is usually covered in pitch and the red-brown sails consist of a mainsail and two foresails.
The boat has been in use for over two hundred years, but it's not known whether it might be much older, The design allows the craft to sail in shallow waters, so proved ideal for the Connemara coastline.
These hookers were used to carry turf for fuel use across Galway Bay to the Burren and Aran Islands from the Connemara and County Mayo regions. The boats frequently carried limestone on their return journeys, this would have been used to neutralize the local acid soils.
When the Irish settlers in Boston in the US needed a vessel for fishing, they constructed the hooker that they had known from home. These boats got the name of Boston Hookers or Paddy Boats.
500 million years old
The mining of Connemara Marble is one of Ireland's oldest indigenous industries. In fact green Connemara Marble (Verde Antique) is 500 million years old.
Another family, the Joyce's opened the Streamstown marble quarry just outside Clifden in 1822. Marble mined here adorns the floor of Galway Cathedral as well as the walls of the Senate Chamber of the State Capital Building in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.
The Connemara Marble Centre in Moycullen, near Galway offers the visitor the chance to buy Connemara jewellery and other gift items. Many of these are fashioned in gold and silver, depicting the harp, shamrock, Claddagh ring and Celtic cross. Skilled craftsmen can be seen at work cutting and polishing the marble.
A large selection of marble gifts such as clocks, ashtrays, marble eggs, cheeseboards, paperweights and chess boards are also available.
Image of Connemara Marble
A little Irish keep-sake in the form of this marble keychain makes an ideal present.
Dan O'Hara's Homestead - Life long ago
Image of Dan O'Hara's Homestead website
Find out what life was like in the west of Ireland long ago, then Dan O'Hara's Homestead or as it's also known as 'the Connemara Heritage & History Centre' is worth a visit.
The centre is based around a restored pre-famine cottage that belonged to Dan O' Hara who had to emigrate in the 1840s after he was evicted from his home.
Entertaining & educational guided tours and demonstrations of traditional farming activities, such as cutting turf, herding sheep, soda bread making over the open fire are offered.
Old Irish Cottage in Connemara
Photo: © Rob Hemphill
I had been looking in this area for an old traditional Irish cottage to photograph for years. Last summer I was on a reminiscing trip with my elderly parents, and we spotted this dilapidated building in a way out place, in fact the road ended long before we could get to the cottage.
Undeterred, I grabbed my trusty Nikon camera, lenses and tripod and set off on foot. But first, I needed to seek permission from the local farmers, who turned out to be two 80 year-old brothers who were busy making hay the old fashioned way - with pitchforks. I asked them, and got a reply in an accent I barely understood, was it a Cork accent or just a local dialect here in Connemara? I never found out, but was happy to realize that they approved of me proceeding with my photography.
Imagine living in a cottage of this size!
Kylemore Abbey - Benedictine Community
Photo: © Rob Hemphill
On the Clifden to Leenane road just past Letterfrack village is the wonderful location of Kylemore Abbey.
Within the grounds of Kylemore Castle is one of the oldest of Irish Benedictine Abbeys, Kylemore Abbey. Kylemore was founded in 1920 when the community of nuns settled here after taking refuge in England after fleeing Belgium in World War I.
In 1867, construction of Kylemore Castle began, with a workforce of 100 men it took four years to complete. It was built as a home for the family of Mitchell Henry, who was a wealthy doctor from London, his family had been in textile manufacturing in the north of England near Manchester.
Mitchell Henry moved to Ireland, when he bought the land surrounding the Abbey. He became a politician, and was also a Member of Parliament for County Galway from 1871 to 1885.
The Estate includes large walled Victorian Gardens, which have been open to the public since the 1970s, while the Benedictine community, using local artisans, have restored the Abbey's gardens, so the estate could be self-sustaining.
Anyone on holiday in the area should take time and visit Kylemore where they will be transfixed by the beauty of the craftsmanship of the Abbey as well as the breathtaking beauty in this remote part of Ireland.
Places of Interest - So much to see and do!
- Aughnanure Castle
Aughnanure Castle is one of over 200 tower houses in County Galway built by large, wealthy, land owning families, mainly of Gaelic but some of Old English (Anglo-Norman) stock.
- Connemara National Park
Situated in the West of Ireland in County Galway, Connemara National Park covers some 2,957 hectares of scenic mountains, expanses of bogs, heaths, grasslands and woodlands.
- Glengowla Mines
Glengowla Mines is an historic 19th Century Silver and Lead Mine, situated in Oughterard, County Galway. It was abandoned in 1865, but stands as a unique reminder of the 19th Century methods of ore extraction and processing.
- The Sheep And Wool Centre
Visit the Sheep and Wool Museum and learn the history of sheep farming and wool craft in the west of Ireland.
Peat Bogs of Connemara
The Quiet Man Country - With John Wayne & Maureen O'Hara
By Employee(s) of Republic Pictures [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
In 1952, John Ford directed the romantic comedy-drama 'The Quiet Man'. This Irish-American technicolor film starred John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara.
The film is notable for its wonderful photography of the Irish countryside in Connemara, The cottage where the film was set near the village of Maam Cross is now open to visitors and is called The Quiet Man Cottage Museum.
It was an official selection of the 1952 Venice Film Festival.
A Love of Connemara
The jist of my article here, is one of love. I have loved this area since I came here aged 11. My parents love the area, and my father has been coming since he was aged 6.
My children were introduced to Connemara when they were tiny, and I have wonderful memories of them (3 children) performing their own plays to their parents, grandparents and other family members, using the rocks as stage with the mountains as a backdrop.
Today as I write, I realize it's St Valentine's Day - well, well, well - LOVE IS IN THE AIR!
Image by Rob Hemphill