Ireland: Connemara, Leenane and Connemara National Park - No Need to Rush.
I love all things Irish and the atmosphere of Connemara cannot be beat for a slow-paced Irish fix complete with misty harbors, rocky beaches, sheep crossings, woolen sweaters, Irish coffee, stew with brown bread, and carrot served with a Gaelic accent.
Galway City is the obvious starting point for any trip to Connemara (the west of Ireland), a land made famous by the 1950's film starring John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara - The Quiet Man
and infamous by the plays of Martin McDonagh – most memorable being The Leenane Trilogy
including Beauty Queen of Leenane
. Being an actor and living in Ireland, I was drawn to Connemara, compelled to see the place that inspired McDonagh’s trilogy.
I had the opportunity to spend a weekend in sleepy seaside village of Leenane about a four-hour bus ride north of Galway. It is not far in distance from Galway but culturally it is on another planet. It is like in the chill zone. Leenane has one main road, two pubs, a hotel and restaurant, a cultural center, gift shop, and convenience store. That is it. But it sits on the edge of one of the most majestic sights in all of Ireland - Killary Harbour, Ireland’s only Fjord.
I was there in October after the tourist rush so the pace was slow and I had an opportunity to listen to locals share their version of the local lore on which McDonagh based his plays. It seems not much has changed in four decades. Fishing remains the livelihood of the hamlet. Mussel farms, marked by straight lines of floats joined by ropes, interrupt the coast line. During the warmest months adventures and families walk, hike, bike, or run the gamut of pathways and trails in the surrounding area. Bonus points:
In this area of Ireland Irish (Gaelic or Gaeilge) is still spoken making even the simplest of conversations interesting.
The gentle people of Connemara will insist with a rhythmic Gaelic lilt that it is the most beautiful place in all of Ireland, and I agree with them. There is a sense of place – peaceful and uncomplicated. Leenane is a picture-perfect snapshot of Ireland – quiet, comfortable, and family friendly. Bonus points:
From Nancy’s Point just west of Leenane, Killary Cruises runs 90-minute Killary Harbor excursions aboard a catamaran. The trips weave the waves passing along mussel farms and stopping at a salmon farm. If Mary had a little lamb.
Color-coded sheep graze along narrow roadways and Irish is still spoken. Not far from Leenane, The Sheep & Wool Centre makes an excellent outing for all ages. The Centre is open from April to October with demonstrations of carding, spinning, weaving sheep shearing in peak season plus exhibits and an informative audio-visual display. The gift shop sells 100% Irish Wool knitting yarn in an array of hand-dyed colors. An Tobár Café at the Centre is worth the trip. They are known county wide for the best fish chowder and carrot cake - takeout orders are possible if need be. Bonus points:
The highlight for children is a chance to meet the sheep and sometimes feed them. Need to know:
This is a family run operation, like almost everything in Connemara, so if you call during the off season it may still be possible to have a look but probably no carrot cake.
Leenane was only one snippet of my excursion to Connemara. I added Connemara National Park and an awesome walk along the Cliffs of Moher to my weekend. Hike to the top.
Connemara National Park, located near the town of Letterfrack, is truly a natural national treasure. I stumbled upon it by accident while I was waiting for my bus from Leenane back to Galway. I had time to kill and a hike seemed like the perfect solution. The Park spans more than 4900 acres on the slopes of the Twelve Bens. The Visitor Centre houses exhibits, and shows an informative film worth watching before hiking the nature trails.
The shortest and most popular walk, also the one I chose, is to the top of Diamond Hill. It’s about a two-hour hike in total on a looping path with options for shorter stints along the way. The people of Ireland are known for being friendly and that is indeed the case. During my solo hike to the top I met a wonderful Irish gentleman and his son who shared their lunch with me while relating fantastic stories about Connemara. No trip to Connemara would be complete without seeing the picturesque vistas from one of the three observation points along the trail. Need to know:
Be wary though, the last leg of the journey involves a lot of climbing to the submit of Diamond Hill so if that isn’t your thing then avoid that stretch of the journey because once you start it will be even more tricky to come back so you will be in for the long haul. Bonus points:
During the summer months there is an array walks, talks and special events geared to families and younger visitors. Vacation Planning Details and Things to Do with KidsThe Sheep & Wool Centre.
Leenane sits along N59 about mid-point between Clifden, County Galway, and Westport, County Mayo. +353 (0)95 42323 or www.sheepandwoolcentre.com Connemara National Park Visitor Centre.
Letterfrack County Galway. +353 95 41054/41323/60900 or Connemara National Park Music to your ears.
In anticipation of your trip to Connemara and the west of Ireland listen to P.J. Murrihy & Seamus Shannon - The Connemara Bus
The second is Into The West
by director Mike Newell - an enchanting adventure about two Dublin kids who receive a magical horse - Tir Na Nog and then things go from bad to worse. One of my favorite actors David Kelly (Waking Ned Devine) makes the grandfather in the film truly believable. The film is often realistic to the point of ugliness (no Disney influence) but it is uplifting in the end.
My third is Waking Ned Devine
best suited for families with older children it offers classic Irish humor. Basically Ned Devine dies from shock after winning the lottery. His longtime friends discover the body and decide that Ned would want them to have the winnings so they create an outrageous scheme to claim the ticket. David Kelly is ideal as the anchor for the prank.Find a home away from home.
Trident Holiday Homes based in Ireland offers an extensive array of self-catering family holidays throughout Ireland including Connemara. Many of their vacation home locations offer onsite facilities for the children including playgrounds, tennis courts, crazy golf, swimming pools, and summer Kids Clubs. Many of these locations are also within easy reach of the beach, waters sports, and riding stables. Bonus points:
They are Irish and know Ireland so no question is too difficult for them to handle. Trident Holiday Homes E8, Network Enterprise Park Kilcoole Co.Wicklow Ireland. +353 (0)1 201 8440 or www.tridentholidayhomes.ie/
Authentic Ireland Vacation Planning Resource.
Discover Ireland provides free vacation planning kits. Simply contact them online at wwwmdiscoverireland.com
or call from USA or Canada toll-free 1-800 SHAMROCK (1-800-742-6762).Content and images provided by Jule Nelson-Duac, actor and teacher who recently spent five months in Ireland. Copyright 2012.