The top sights of Connacht? That might sound strange. After all, "to Hell or to Connacht" was Cromwell's alternative for Catholics ... the province was long regarded as the backwater of all backwaters. Today this translates as "unspoilt by mass tourism". Nature, ancient monuments and small-scale attractions are the norm, with only few tourist towns and caravan parks thrown in. This is the part of Ireland to take everything easy in.
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The town of Sligo itself is decidedly underwhelming, but the surroundings make more than up for it. Knocknarea has the (reputed) grave of Queen Maeve on top and spectacular sights to enjoy after a steep climb. Carrowmore is the largest stone age cemetery in Ireland. Drumcliff sports a (truncated) round tower
, a medieval high cross and the grave of W.B.Yeats
right next to the spectacular table mountain of Ben Bulben.
A splendid Neo-Gothic pile in the middle of nowhere, once designed as a family home, then taken over by Belgian nuns fleeing the First World War. The nuns opened an exclusive school for girls and a small part of the abbey (and grounds) to visitors. The first part is now in decline, the school will close down in the near future. Visitors will find one of the most famous views of Ireland (the abbey seen across the lake), a well-stocked souvenir and craft shop and a good (if sometimes very full) restaurant.
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Every visitor to Connacht
should at least see Croagh Patrick
, Ireland's holy mountain. And if you are able and willing you might want to climb it as well. The saint stayed up on the peak for 40 days and 40 nights, fasting, but normally a day will suffice for the ordinary tourist or pilgrim. The views are magnificent in good weather. Also visit the nearby town of Louisburgh. Head for the Granuaile Visitor Centre, especially if you have kids - the story of "Pirate Queen" Grace O'Malley (c. 1530 to c. 1603) is stirring stuff!
Technically still an island, Achill is now linked to the mainland by a short, sturdy bridge. It is also a favorite holiday haunt for those seeking unspoilt countryside, peace and quiet. Which in turn makes it quite busy in summer. Local attractions include miles of beaches, the former holiday home of German writer Heinrich Böll, a deserted village, an abandoned quartz mine and spectacular cliffs and mountains. Local roads can, however, be daunting ... better not look down the side if you are driving near the cliffs!
Just below the "Twelve Pins", an imposing mountain range, you will find the Connemara National Park
. Sheer endless walks in a lush landscape await the visitor. Strongly recommended for anybody wanting to get away from everyday life without too much effort. Look out for wild Connemara ponies, reputed to be the last survivors of the Spanish Armada.
The first glimpse at this village might convince you that nothing happened here before (or after) John Huston invaded and John Wayne was "The Quiet Man
". Wrong. The extensive ruins of Cong Abbey (its processional "Cross of Cong" is now in the National Museum of Ireland
) and the luxurious hotel in Ashford Castle (the extensive grounds are open to visitors) are witnesses to medieval history. And a dry canal is a fitting memento to the great famine.
Life on this group of islands is a far cry from the portrayal in the seminal movie "Man of Aran
". And the tourist industry is blooming. Trips are possible by ferry or Aer Arann
... if the weather isn't too bad. Day trips are good for a first impression and those pressed for time, but a longer stay will be more rewarding. Inishmore, the Irish name
means "great island", is the largest and has the cliff fortress Dún Aengus.
When you tour Connemara
, visit the small harbor town of Roundstone, make your way to the craft village and drop into Malachy's workshop. Ireland's most famous bodhran-maker (he even featured on a postage stamp) produces these potentially deafening instruments in the traditional way. And can supply any design to your personal taste. While contemplating a possible purchase, why not tickle your tastebuds with the home-made food on offer? The bread pudding is to die for ...
In true Zen-like fashion the way is the goal here ... Omey Island is nice, has some ruins, but otherwise unexciting. But, oh, the road there! Or rather the road signs indicating the safest way across the sea-bed at low tide. Be there in time to drive through the Atlantic. And enjoy long, bracing walks. But make sure to park your car on the mainland or the island and to observe the tide tables. Otherwise you might not only get stuck on Omey, your car may also be swept away towards America.
Clifden is the tourist capital of Connemara and a central place to stay. Loads of accommodation os available, as are pubs and restaurants. At a price - Clifden can be expensive in summer. You will find two "transatlantic sights" nearby. Marconi had his first powerful transmitter in a bog nearby and Alcock and Brown chose the vicinity to (crash-)land after the first successful transatlantic flight. The tiny harbor of Cleggan is renowned for chowder and the ferry to Inishbofin, a perfect destination for a day trip.
Connacht's best attractions - is there a definite list or a wide difference of opinion? Guide books and websites can recommend, but what are the popular favourites among the attractions of Connacht? What, in your personal opinion, should be the one sight no visitor of Connacht should leave without having seen it first? Share your favourite Connacht attraction(s)
with other readers!