By Aisling Conneely
Connemara is a destination situated on the west coast of Ireland with breathtaking beauty that is steeped in history and is a place where you feel most at home amongst true Irish heritage. Located in County Galway, when you visit Ireland you certainly shouldn’t miss this very special part of the world.
Connemara Culture & History
Culture is a very strong part of the people of Connemara’s lives. Traditions that date back many years are kept alive and strong today. Many festivals and workshops are held throughout the year, that celebrates the performance of drama, dance, music and art keeping the culture of Connemara truly alive. One of the most famous crafts to have come from Connemara is the Aran sweater. Traditionally it was knitted by fishermen’s wives on the Aran Islands, but its popularity grew so much over the years that now Aran jumpers are being sold globally.
When travelling around south Connemara you will find a great choice of galleries and craft shops, especially in Spiddal Craft Centre. Further on in Roundstone, a must-see is the Roundstone Music and Craft Shop where Bodhra’s are still being handmade and you can learn the history behind the instruments and how they are made (from goatskin).
Deeper into Connemara a visit to Kylemore Abbey is well worth a visit here you will find out about the history of the Abbey and how it was built and the reason behind it was a love story which turned to tragedy. Kylemore Abbey is in the top 10 biggest tourist attractions in Ireland.
A very big part of the culture in Connemara is Gaelic sports. It is highly recommended to ask a local in the area if there is a game on whilst visiting to go witness first hand a taste of Hurling or Gaelic football or alternatively in June of year on Inis Mor on the Aran Islands a festival of traditional sports are held which would be a golden opportunity to join in on the action.
Other areas of Connemara to visit which are steeped in history and culture:
- Pearse’s Cottage (Teach an Phiarsaigh), Rosmuc
- Dan O’Hara’s Homestead, Clifden
- Connemara Smokehouse, Ballyconneely
- Dún Aonghasa, Inis Mór, Aran Islands
- Brigit’s Garden, Roscahill
- Ross Castle, Roscahill
- Killary Cruises, Killary Fjord, Leenane
- Connemara National Park,
- Leenane Sheep & Wool Centre, Leenane
Films made in Connemara
Connemara is also well known for some famous movies being shot here. The Quiet Man is the most well-known movie and over the years has brought many tourists to the area around 8 km past Oughterard, to go see the bridge which was made so famous by Maureen O’Hara and John Wayne in 1952.
Another well-known movie shot in Connemara was The Field; an iconic Irish Film set in the village of Leenane. More recently Marley and Me starring Owen Wilson and Jennifer Anderson. Look out for the scene in the movie where they come to Ireland. The hotel they stayed in was the Inagh Lodge which is in the middle of the Inagh Valley close to Kylemore.
Music in Connemara
Often in Connemara musicians gather for informal ‘sessions’ in many pubs across the region. By going to see these sessions it is a great way to witness the heart of Connemara with lively music, storytelling and dancing into the night. Highly recommended would be to visit Clifden during the arts festival held every year in September which showcases a range of Irish music, artists showcasing and concerts. However, if you can’t make it in September time every festival no matter if it’s food-related or any other type of festival in Connemara always showcases a music section at it. Here are my top 5 recommendations of festivals held in Connemara during the year.
- Mussel Festival, held in Tullycross, Renvyle. Held May Bank holiday
- Clifden Traditional Irish Music festival Held April 2nd – April 5th
- Connemara International Marathon Sunday 19th April
- Inishbofin Craft Expo May 1st – 3rd
- Omey Races August 2nd
Photo courtesy of Connemara Life
Food and People of Connemara
The folk of Connemara have always had an appreciation of locally produced food, especially seafood. Locally caught fish has been part of their diet for years and years. There are many places of a high standard to eat in Connemara, but my favourite recommendation would be Paddys Coyne’s pub in Tullycross. It is the perfect example of a traditional Irish pub that serves top quality Irish dishes and where the bartenders make you feel right at home they will even let you in behind the bar and show you how to pour the perfect pint of Guinness if you ask.
Food production is a big part of the lives of people in Connemara as it is a very important source of employment. From fishermen to farmers, delivery drivers and many others, for tourists who come to Connemara, there are many people involved in this industry. When you come to Connemara, there are a number of ways to see behind the scenes of some of this production by going on farm and factory visits.
In Ballinakill Bay near Letterfrack, DK Connemara Oysters runs very informative tours of their farm. However, these tours depend on how the tide is, so often it might not be possible to go.
Connemara Smokehouse is a world-famous producer of smoked fish. The fish that is smoked in this factory are smoked with sea salt and beechwood smoke to create the perfect flavour without using any artificial flavourings, colours or preservatives. During the summer months, you can go to the smokehouse and witness the process. This is well worth a visit for a true foodie.
My final recommendation for a food tour in Connemara is at Killary Mussels. You are brought out on a boat and shown the mussel farm told all about how the farm work and the history behind the mussel farm. After the boat trip is complete a pot of mussels is cooked on the shore for the tour attendees to enjoy. This tour is weather dependant.
Recommendations for your trip to Connemara
Try not to do it all in one day. There are so many beautiful and wonderful places to see and tours to do that it is recommended to take your time to explore the true beauty of this area. If possible, travel Connemara by car, as this way you can go off the beaten track and really explore the area and see much of what it has to offer.
However, if you only have one day to see Connemara on a bus trip might be the best way to see as much as you can in your short space of time. Lally Tours offer some great package deals and depart from Galway city every morning. Most of all enjoy your trip, make sure you take time to talk to the locals and enjoy the craic agus ceol.