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10 Things You Didn’t Know About Connemara

Posted on Jan 07, 2019 by Eimear Quinn

Connemara, one of Ireland’s most iconic locations, is a wild and mountainous expanse bordering the Wild Atlantic Way.

The spectacular cultural region of Connemara is defined as being nestled between Lough Corrib, Co. Galway and the southern realms of Co. Mayo, in particular, the barony of Ross, in the West of Ireland. Here are 10 things to know about Connemara before you visit! 

There are many different ways to describe this sparsely populated and truly magical region of Connacht in Ireland’s West, which brings me to the first fact in this blog post…

1. A Bastion of the Irish Language

Gaeltacht biking

Biking through the Gaeltacht regions of Ireland.

Connemara is one of Ireland’s few remaining strongholds of the Irish Gaelic language and is commonly referred to as the largest Gaeltacht region in Ireland. You’ll know you’ve reached a Gaeltacht region on your travels throughout Éireann (Ireland) when the English translations on road-signs disappear. There have been many attempts throughout the ages to overthrow the Gaelic way of life, but each time, those who came to conquer, from the Vikings to the Normans, eventually assimilated. Unfortunately, at the turn of the 19th century, the Gaelic language went into rapid decline due to the harsh marginalisation of the native Irish people and the state establishment of national schools, which placed emphasis on learning English over Irish Gaelic. After Irish independence, the Irish language has seen a resurgence in schools (it is considered a mandatory subject alongside English) but English is still the principle language.

There are still pockets where Irish Gaelic (often just called Irish) is spoken by the locals – many of which are found in Connemara. Head to the local pub in a Gaeltacht region and there’s a good chance you’ll hear it spoken! (To note, other Gaeltacht regions can be found in Donegal, Dingle and West Cork).

2. The Famine & the Famine Relief Road

Famine Road in Killary

The Killary Fjord Famine Relief Road skirts along the southern edge of Ireland’s largest fjord. Surrounded by the beautiful mountainous backdrop of Maol Reidh, or Mweelrea Mountain, it’s hard to believe the tragic origin of this road. Sadly, it was built in 1846 by the starving Irish locals. Projects like this took place all over the country during An Gorta Mór 1845-1849 (The Great Famine, or the Great Hunger of 1845-1849).

Such road and wall building projects were created as a means to provide employment for the local populace – though most never benefited from it. To many of the ruling (often British) landlords, it was thought that the local Irish couldn’t get something (ie food) for nothing, so when the potato crops failed several years in a row, the landlords dictated that all people wanting food must work for their bread. Hence such building projects were created – though it is the sad fact that many of the projects were unnecessary and created simply to make work. Many famine-era projects never saw completion, with most of those working on them perishing where they stood from hunger, malnutrition and exhaustion, leaving multiple roads and walls unfinished.

3. The Reek – Croagh Patrick Mountain

View from Croagh Patrick

View from the Reek, or Croagh Patrick, Ireland’s Holy Mountain.

The glorious Croagh Patrick, known locally as simply ‘The Reek’, is situated just 5 miles west of Westport in Co. Mayo. This pointed peak has been a location of pilgrimage for many centuries. In recent times, the sacred mountain of Croagh Patrick has been attributed to Ireland’s patron saint, St. Patrick. In a much earlier time than this, the mountain we call Croagh Patrick was originally known as Mons Egli, Croachan Aigli or Cruachan Aigli and is known to have been a highly revered place for the ancient polytheistic people of the country, who made the ascent in the name of the sun god, Crom Cruach. Since the time of St Patrick when we supposedly made a pilgrimage to the summit to fast and pray, thousands of pilgrims has climbed Croagh Patrick each year. The most important day for these pilgrimages is Reek Sunday, the final Sunday of July. 

The Boheh Stone, an example of Mesolithic “rock art” can be found 6km east of the Reek. Historian Gerry Bracken determined that on April 18 and August 24, when viewed from the Boheh Stone, the setting sun appears to ‘roll down’ the western side of the mountain – likely considered to signal the beginning and end of the growing season. Such alignments between the landscape, megalithic monuments and the sun can be found all over Ireland, as the ancient Celtic peoples revered the sun. 

4. The Connemara Pony

Galway-Connemara Pony Show-Clifden

Clifden’s Connemara Pony Show, showcasing some of the breed’s most beautiful ponies.

The Connemara Pony is an internationally renowned breed of pony that is uniquely Irish and the largest of all pony breeds. The famously good-natured and tremendously hardworking Connemara Pony descends from the magnificent Andalusian horses of the Spanish Armada – a tragic fleet of 130 ships which fell foul of Ireland’s rough and rugged coastline in 1588 en route to invade England. The liberated team of Andalusian horses ran wild and began to breed with the Scandinavian ponies residing in the mountains of Connemara from the time of the Viking invasions between 800-1169, eventually creating what is known today as the Connemara Pony. The Connemara Pony Breeders Society was founded in Clifden in 1923 to protect and develop the breed – with the Pony becoming an official pedigree in 1926. The ponies can still be found throughout Connemara.

5. Longest Place Name

Mam Ean Connemara Pass of the Birds

Hiking the beautiful Mam Ean pass in Connemara.

Galway is home to the longest place name in Ireland, Muckanaghederdauhaulia – Muiceanach idir Dhá Sháile in Irish – which means “piggery between two briny places” – what a name! This intriguing 470-acre town-land is one of many found within the Union of Oughterard, which is known as the “Gateway to Connemara.” A stunning location and just a stone’s throw from the Maumturks mountain range, this is where you’ll find the Mám Éan pilgrimage site, a mountain pass with wonderful views and a saintly connection. 

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6. Flora & Fauna

Orange Tip Butterfly Ireland Connemara

The orange tip butterfly, one of the dozens of species of butterflies to inhabit Ireland.

In May 2010, Connemara National Park won a ‘Biodiversity Blitz’ wherein a total of 542 species of flora & fauna were recorded in 24hrs. Six wildlife sites across the country took part in a bid to categorise as many species as possible within a day. The following is but a sample of what was recorded: mountain hare, red deer, feral goat, four species of bat, seven species of butterfly, 51 species of macro-moth, 10 species of micro-moth, four species of dragonfly/damselfly, 46 other invertebrate species, 2 amphibian species, 55 bird species, 218 flowering plant species, 83 bryophytes, 17 lichens, 18 liverworts, and 18 algae. Connemara National Park itself encompasses part of the Twelve Bens mountain range, including the well-known Diamond Hill, a popular spot for visitors and locals alike. Your best bet to see the wildlife is by exploring Connemara’s rugged backcountry of the Twelve Bens with a local hiking guide and wildlife expert. 

7. Epic Battles – Connemara Myth & Legend

Lake Corrib Connemara

The view of Lake Corrib in Connemara.

Connemara, like all regions in Ireland, is steeped in legend and lore. The Battle of Moytura, known in Irish as the ‘Cath Maige Tuired’ is a tale of two epic battles. The first battle was supposed to have taken place in the plains west of Lough Corrib, which we now call Connemara. The Tuatha De Danaan – an ancient tribe of mystical origins in Irish mythology – are reported to have landed in the region to take part in the First Battle with the Fir Bolg: “They burnt their barques (a type of boat) at once on reaching the district of Corcu-Belgatan” that is, the Connemara of today.

The second battle details an account of a confrontation between the Tuatha De Danaan and their oppressors, the Fomorians, as they battled for Kingship of the land (with the former being the victors). This battle is rumoured to have taken place on the ridge west of Lough Arrow in Co. Sligo.

8. Meaning of the Name

The name of Connemara derives from ‘Conmhaicne Mara’ – meaning, descendants of Con Mhac, a mythical ancestor of the sea. The Conmhaicne Mara were a branch of the Conmhaicne, an early tribal grouping that had a number of branches located in different parts of the region. The chiefs of the Conmhaicne Mara were the O’Kealys and a very early reference to the clan can be found in the medieval Annals of Inisfallen – “AI1016.8 Death of Muiredach son of Cadla, king of Conmaicne Mara.”

9. Derrygimlagh Bog

Connemara

The blanket bogs of Connemara.

Most hear the word “bog” and think of nothing more than hours of hard labour & the resultant roaring fire. However, the spectacular blanket bog of Derrygimlagh, south of Clifden village, is famous for a few things. Firstly, being the location of the inaugural trans-Atlantic wireless service between Clifden, Galway, and Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, established by Guglielmo Marconi on October 17, 1907. Secondly, 12 years later Alcock & Brown – the first pilots to ever fly non-stop across the Atlantic – crash-landed safely in Derrygimlagh Bog in 1919. Connemara is famous for its blanket bog landscapes.

Though common throughout Ireland, bogs are an exotic thing to most visitors. It may seem like Connemara, and Ireland in general, have plenty of bogs, but in fact, the bogs of Ireland have massively receded (a combination of agriculture, peat harvesting, and house construction). Connemara is one of the best places in Ireland to explore the haunting beauty of the vast and wild boglands so synonymous with the island. 

10. 1981 French Song, Les Lacs de Connemara

Connemara mountains and bogs

Landscapes of Connemara.

Ah, Michel Sardou. This Frenchman wrote an instant French classic in 1981 called Les Lacs du Connemara (“The Lakes of Connemara”), which romanticised the “earth burned by wind” and the “land of stones encircling the lakes” (it sounds a bit better in French!) which entices many French tourists to visit this region each year. To this day, while exploring Connemara, you’re bound to hear some lilting French vowels. Interesting tidbit – visiting French tourists are often confused by the Connemara landscape that doesn’t seem to match the song. This is because Michel Sardou wrote the song without ever visiting the region!

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If Connemara sounds amazing, why not visit the region this year? Check out the various kinds of trips that visit this wonderful region!

Self Drive - Connemara, Dingle & The Cliffs of Moher

Self drive trip - Cliffs of Moher, the Burren, Dingle
Location: Ireland;West – Connemara, Burren & Aran Islands
  • Stand atop the iconic Cliffs of Moher away from the crowds
  • Explore the alien landscapes of the Burren National Park with a local archeologist
  • Immerse yourself in Dingle, lauded by the National Geographic as the most beautiful place on Earth

Price: from €2,000

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Family Adventure - Paddling and Pirates

Family Tour on the Wild Atlantic Way - Connemara -
Location: West – Connemara, Burren & Aran Islands
  • Enjoy a privately guided trip, with each activity tailored to match your family's preferences
  • Island hop to the Pirate Queen's stronghold & try your hand at stand-up-paddling
  • Learn bushcraft and seashore foraging skills
  • Follow a pilgrimage path on horseback in St Patrick's footsteps

Price: from €1,850

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Hiking Connemara to the Cliffs of Moher

hiking Connemara and the Burren
Location: West – Connemara, Burren & Aran Islands
  • Stand at the edge of the world atop the Cliffs of Moher
  • Island hopping adventure to Irish-speaking Aran Islands
  • Explore Connemara's wild mountains, bogs and and windswept vistas
  • Hike the Burren National Park to explore its exposed limestone landscape

Price: from €1,795

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Hiking the Mountains of Connemara and Mayo

Hiking in Connemara
Location: West – Connemara, Burren & Aran Islands
  • Challenge yourself by summiting three of the west of Ireland's highest peaks
  • Join local guides who will help you to really get under the skin of this fascinating landscape
  • Follow in the steps of St Patrick as we follow ancient pilgrimage routes that date to pre-Christian times
  • Explore the wildest and most sparsely populated area of Ireland

Price: from €1,710

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Bike Tour - Connemara & the Aran Islands

Location: West – Connemara, Burren & Aran Islands
  • Bike in Connemara National Park and along the famous Sky Road
  • Two nights island retreat on the Aran Islands & off the beaten path visit to the Cliffs of Moher
  • Discover why the otherworldly Burren National Park is the hidden treasure of West Ireland

Price: from €2,010

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About the author

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Eimear Quinn

Originally from Northern Ireland, Eimear is particularly interested in gardening from a Permaculture perspective, exploring the Irish landscape, understanding the rich and wonderful world of Irish mythology, legend and folklore, and preserving Irish language, tradition and music.

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