Galway's wonderfully wild Connemara coast was the adored location of my childhood family holidays. The contrast with my hometown of Dublin was deliciously wild and after a journey into the west, there was nothing I loved more than to hear the sound of the Atlantic waves crashing on the shores of a beautiful, remote white sandy beach.
I can still see myself as a young girl, thrilled at the prospect of a few exciting days filled with adventures and exploration. Running on the sand, spotting whales, meeting horses and lambs, making new friends and playing in the lush purple, yellow and green countryside.
And when the moonlight had started dancing on the Atlantic Ocean and evening had set in, the volume in the hotel bar started to gradually rise from polite murmurs and conversation, to the laughter and joking that preceded the live Irish music sessions. Sometimes Sting sat at my parents' table during these sessions. Where were we? Don't worry, you'll find out soon enough.
Even though our special family favourite lives on in my heart, County Galway has an abundance of gorgeous places, that offer visitors those unique ruggedly beautiful landscapes, that are for me, at the core of County Galway's essence.
And Sting agrees ...
It was a relief to read that a certain idol of my teenage years, Sting, also shared my deep love and connection to this part of the world. Sting had a house in Roundstone, Co. Galway, and in 2017 he was quoted saying:
"It’s a beautiful place. I lived in Roundstone and had wonderful neighbours - it is one of the most beautiful places on the planet."
1. Roundstone Dog's Bay & Gurteen Beaches
Roundstone has not only been an inspiration to Sting, but to other artistic types as well. Lying on Connemara's western coast, Roundstone is home to the stunning crescent shaped beaches of Dog's Bay and Gurteen; two strikingly beautiful beaches that lie back to back.
It was late actor Peter O'Toole, who had introduced Sting to Connemara. Roundstone was claimed by the famous actor as his birthplace, although official records show that his birth was registered in Yorkshire city. His father was a bookmaker from Galway, and O'Toole, who was incredibly proud of his Irish roots, had a house in a magnificent setting on Galway's Sky Road.
To learn more about the village of Roundstone, head over to the Galway most beautiful towns and charming villages feature.
2. The Sky Road, Clifden
The route known as the Sky Road takes you out from the west side of Clifden and you'll head in a loop that takes you back to Clifden, after around 11 km. The jaw-droppingly gorgeous rugged scenery should not be missed. Set against the stunning backdrop of the Twelve Bens mountains, the Sky Road route is well signposted, as you experience the remarkable vistas on the peninsula that juts out over the Atlantic Ocean.
Is Peter O'Toole's soul still walking the Sky Road?
Even before Tourism Ireland created the Wild Atlantic Way, the Sky Road in Galway was considered by many to be the most beautiful route in the whole of Ireland. A very close friend of O'Toole's and the President of Ireland at the time of the actor's death in December 2013, Michael D. Higgins said at a memorial, that he could imagine O'Toole's soul, "still walking the Sky Road."
3. Cliffs of Moher
Included on a 2015 Condé Nast list of the world's most beautiful places are the Cliffs of Moher. Years ago, I lay on their edge feeling as if I was merging into some other world altogether. Spectacular feelings in a spot of intense beauty. Yes officially the Cliffs of Moher belong to County Clare, but they are not far from the south of County Galway.
Legend suggests that a person could become ridiculously rich there....
It is said that at some distance out from the Cliffs of Moher, in the bay, there is a site where waves break into white foam even on the calmest days. Legend says that there, under the sea, is a great city that was swallowed up by the sea because of some serious crime. However the city becomes visible each seven years. It is said that when this happens that if a person sees it and keeps his vision fixed on it until he reaches it, then the city would be restored and the person would receive abundant wealth.
4. Galway, Co. Galway
Just like Dublin, Galway is a city and a county. Although strictly speaking this feature is about county Galway's most beautiful places, I don't feel we can exclude Galway city itself. I remember it from my childhood and even back then it was a great city. However over those decades, Galway City has really come into its own.
It is a gorgeous, pretty city that is welcoming and friendly to explore. Ancient architecture and cobblestone streets are awash with buzz, plenty of great bars, shops and eateries.
Wander through streets with colourful buildings, and be sure not to miss the Claddagh district and the Spanish Arch.
Galway is full of craic and ceol (fun and music). It's a fabulous city to spend some time in and in 2015 was named the world’s friendliest city in travel survey US magazine Travel + Leisure.
A harrowing yet enduring Galway legend: Lynch Memorial
In 1493, the then Mayor of Galway, a man called James Lynch FitzStephen, hung his own son from this particular window. Apparently his son had killed a Spanish man, who had been in the care of the Mayor's family. The practice of hanging became known after this event as Lynching.....The Lynch Memorial Window can be found in Market Street.
5. The Aran Islands
Also included on a Condé Naste Traveller most beautiful places list, are the Aran Islands. I first visited Inis Mór, the largest of them, as a child. Cycling was the most practical form of transport and I just loved exploring the island this way. Spelt the English way, Inishmore, is like going so far back in time, that it is incredibly special.
Kilronan from the sea By Cynthia Shirk
Perched precariously on a clifftop is the stone fort of Dún Aenghus. Around an 8 km cycle from the island's capital, Kilronan, the fort was described by the 19th century archaeologist George Petrie as "the most magnificent barbaric monument extant in Europe." It is thought to be around 2000 years old and is incredibly impressive. When you reach this fascinating place, you may feel like you've arrived at the edge of the world!!
Inishmore is one of the three beautiful, windswept islands that make up the Aran Islands – the others are Inisheer and Inishmaan. All are easily accessible from mainland Galway by ferry.
Sunset at Dun Aengus By The Drone Guys
Did you ever wonder where the opening scene to the hilarious series, Father Ted, was filmed? Well that is actually the most eastern and smallest of the Aran Islands: Inisheer. Watch out for the massive population of around 297 people!
Built by a mythological race
According to what is written in the Book of Invasions (Lebor Gabála), it was the Fir Bolgs, a mythological race that constructed the fort of Dún Aenghus, naming it after their chieftain.
6. Inchagoill Island off Oughterard
Inchagoill lies around 4.5 km north of the village of Oughterard, on Lough Corrib (Lake Corrib). The largest of the Corrib's islands, the name Inchagoill translates into Island of the Devout Foreigner. Until it was taken over by the Irish Forestry Commission, it had been owned by Sir Benjamin Lee Guinness; a brewer as his name suggests and a philanthropist.
Ancient remains dot the island, including an obelisk that marks a burial site, standing around 75 cm in height. You can reach the island on a daily cruise run by Corrib Cruises.
Europe's second oldest inscription
It has been claimed that the Latin writing on the obelisk is the second most ancient Christian inscription in all of Europe, taking second place only after the inscriptions on the catacombs in Rome.
7. Killary Harbour
When I was a child, we had a small, typical Irish cottage with a gorgeous traditional half-door which opened out to reveal spectacular views over Rosroe Harbour, in the west of Killary Harbour: the country's only true fjord. The area is beautiful and can be discovered by doing this Killary Harbour Coastal Walk.
Salrock Pass, the Devil and smugglers
Part of the route on this walk will bring you on a famine relief road, as of course this area was greatly affected during the Great Famine. On the way, you will pass Foher, an abandoned settlement. Up in the hills above Foher, is a rugged gap known as Salrock Pass. Local legend says that this gap was caused by the Devil himself, who apparently dragged St. Roc over the local hills, using a chain.
Little Killary is also known locally as a spot where smugglers used to land to bring in their contraband, heading inland to distribute their wares.
8. Connemara National Park
It was only when I was writing the book about how Dalí's various environments affected his creative output, Salvador Dalí at Home, that I realised how deeply I had been influenced by the remarkable scenery of Connemara as a young girl.
Whether we were staying at our original family favourite, which I'll tell you about shortly, or in the little cottage that we bought later in Rosroe Harbour, or somewhere in between, we were always embraced by the magical Connemara National Park.
The Connemara National Park spans 2957 hectares of expansive heaths, bogs, grasslands, woodlands and of course, the scenic, almost trademark mountains of the area. One of six of Ireland's National Parks, this is home to red deer, a wide variety of bird life and the native Connemara ponies.
Choose from a variety of walking trails which you can start off from the Visitor Centre, to explore this amazing landscape, which also includes ancient stone walls, old sheep pens and ruined houses.
According to local legend, at the time in the 16th century when the Spanish Armada ships sank of Connemara's coast, their Arab horses were able to swim to shore. Once settled in their new home, they bred with the local Connemara ponies starting off a new wild, tough breed.