Westport to Clifden:101 miles / 3 hours 15 minutes at 30mph
Westport to Killary Harbor
It’s not hard to see what makes Westport so charming: this pretty heritage town is cut through with an elegant tree-lined mall that runs alongside the Carrowbeg River. Here, and on the little streets that branch off it, you’ll find a lively mixture of cosy cafés, bustling restaurants and some of the island’s best traditional music pubs.
Lovely shops, an uplifting atmosphere and beautiful Georgian architecture make it an ideal place to unwind. To get a taste of the town’s history, make sure to visit Westport House & Country Park – home of Ireland’s very own Pirate Queen, Grace O’Malley.
Leaving Westport, the splendour of Clew Bay dominates this stretch of coast, and a Clewbay Cruise is a graceful way to explore its scattering of islands and curious seals. Keep your eye out for Dorinish, also known as “Beatle Island”; it was bought by John Lennon in 1967, and the story goes that he intended to retire there.
Ask a local and they’ll tell you there is an island here for every day of the year (in fact it’s more like 117). Look upwards and you’ll see Croagh Patrick’s scree-covered slopes looming above – a detour in itself if you’re up for the climb? Even if you don’t make it to the slopes, beneath its shadow is the National Famine Monument. This moving sculpture of a “coffin ship” was commissioned to commemorate the anniversary of the Great Famine (1845-1852).
Head south and the road weaves through to the pretty town of Louisburgh. Plan your visit around the May Bank Holiday Weekend, and you’ll arrive just as the Louisburgh Féile Chois Cuain rolls into town, with musicians from all over the world making music wherever they go. Following the signposts for the Wild Atlantic Way, and the village of Leenane and the fjord of Killary Harbour beckon.
Killary Harbor to Letterfrack
Pop into Gaynor’s pub in Leenane and you might find that it looks a little familiar. That’s because it had a starring role in the movie adaptation of John B Keane’s The Field, as the haunt of one Bull McCabe. It wasn’t just Keane who was mesmerised by this spot; director and screenwriter of In Bruges, Martin McDonagh’s trilogy of plays – the most famous of which is The Beauty Queen of Leenane – was also inspired by this landscape.
One of only three fjords in Ireland, Killary is nature’s playground. Anyone looking to chill out, head for the Delphi Mountain Resort. For those who like an adrenaline rush, on the other hand, the Connemara Adventure Tours offer canoeing, gorge walking and archery.
Boasting scenery and, indeed, geography not found anywhere in Ireland, you can always take a guided walk along the Famine Trail, which snakes along the banks of the fjord. Onwards now, and your next destination is Letterfrack.
Letterfrack to Clifden
Leave the imposing fjord in the rear-view mirror and travel onwards to Letterfrack through switchback roads and around a landscape peppered with lakes. It’s worth bringing your camera with you just in case, for local legend and many cryptozoologists attest to the presence of monsters in these waters. The Each Uisce (water horse) is rumored to live in this most remote part of Ireland.
Approaching Letterfrack, you will find the final resting place of pilot, surgeon, poet, politician, novelist and all-round wit, Oliver St John Gogarty (he of the renowned Dublin pub), in the graveyard at Ballinakill.
Then at last it’s on to Clifden where great food, great drink, plenty of places to stay and – even more importantly, perhaps – great music awaits. Now is a good time to fill up on fuel, as you won’t find as many petrol stations moving forward into Connemara.
Although Ireland has some of the most beautiful coastline in the world, Killary Harbour at the mouth of the fjord has a unique quality that is only found in the island's other two fjords (Swilly and Carlingford).
On the road to Roundstone from Clifden, you’ll find Derrigimlagh bog. This elemental landscape is yours to walk, cycle or drive, but make sure to take in the historic sights of Marconi’s transatlantic transmitter and the location where Alcock and Brown made landfall after crossing the Atlantic by plane for the first time.
Clifden to Roundstone
Leaving Clifden for Roundstone, it’s along this the stretch around Derrygimlagh bog that many transatlantic firsts were recorded. Guglielmo Marconi established the first-ever commercial transatlantic wireless station here, and pilots Alcock and Brown landed the first-ever transatlantic flight in 1919.
The landscape of this part of Connemara is utterly unique. Simply take a deep breath and immerse yourself in silver lakes, purple mountains and orange fields.
A real highlight of this stretch, though, is the fascination that is Coral Strand, located just after Ballyconneely. Here, the Gulf Stream sweeps inshore, and a closer look at the “sand” reveals it is composed entirely of coral.
A trip to Gurteen Beach or Dog’s Bay on the way to Roundstone will also make a beautiful detour, if not to swim, then certainly to stretch your legs along the golden sands. Roll into Roundstone and its myriad pubs serving super-fresh seafood, brought in daily by the little fishing boats.