The glacial fjord of Killary acts as a natural border between the two bastions of traditional Ireland: County Mayo and County Galway.
A local to the area is the Connemara pony – the only horse breed native to Ireland. These sweet little ponies are rumoured to have arrived on our shores when the Spanish Armada crashed off Connemara’s coast during the 16th century. Their ancestors are said to be the Arab stallions that swam to shore from the wrecked ships and settled into their new life in Ireland.
These days the ponies are the favoured form of transport across the beaches and bogs of Connemara and when the tide is low, they'll wade out to the nearby islands of Finish, Mweenish and Omey. During the summer months, Omey Island hosts its unique beach-racing day. At low tide, head for the sound of cheers rising from the beachfront. To entertain you between race time, there’s plenty of music, dance and food to be had. Just follow the road signs and the enthusiastic crowds… but when they announce the tide is rolling in again, be sure to follow those same crowds back onto dry land, too.
All aboard for dolphin watching
The view of Killary from the shore is certainly a spectacular one, but taking to the water here gives you a whole new perspective. Hop on board the Killary Cruises catamaran for live music sessions, a hot lunch served as you sail (or you can bring your own), and maybe an Irish coffee. Then head up on deck to say hello to the fjord’s resident school of dolphins – they simply love popping up to say hello.
Back on land is the picturesque village of Leenane (Leenaun on Irish signposts). It sits at the mouth of Killary harbour, almost dwarfed by the Connemara mountains surrounding it. Leenane became famous in 1989 when it starred in the film adaption of John B Keane's play The Field. Gaynor’s pub was the spot where much of the action took place on film, and in real life the staff serves up great pints and tasty toasted sandwiches. Expect a fair bit of chat on the side! Other sets from the film can be visited, too. Just ask the locals where to head.
Photo opportunities everywhere
Offering sublime picture postcard moments, the Delphi Valley boasts three lakes – Glencullen, Doolough and Finnlough – which run down to the Bundorragha River and into Killary Harbour. Meanwhile, the Maam Valley to the east of Killary is dense with ancient woods and overshadowed by the Maumturk Mountains, along with a multitude of prehistoric sites. As they say in Leenane, it’s a place of contrasts: outdoor pursuits, Hollywood moments and ancient history. Along with the chat, it’s also a place you won’t want to leave!
Before returning to the Wild Atlantic Way route, you could drive half an hour to Westport, which has been voted the best place to live in Ireland. The surrounding Partry Mountains are calling out to be climbed, and nearby rivers Erriff and Delphi are excellent for angling (ask locally about fishing permits).
Geographical coordinates: Latitude: 53.965278; Longitude: -10.192778 (note, if you use your car’s GPS to go directly to this point, you may not always remain on the Wild Atlantic Way route.)
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