A landscape where the thundering Atlantic forms the pounding backbeat to the most westerly seaboard in Europe, this most distinct area of Ireland has been an escape from urban stress since its vast empty landscapes and rocky indented coast was "discovered" by writers and artists in the 19th century. While the bustling town of Westport has assumed the identity of the ultrahip destination of a younger, more confident Ireland, the surrounding countryside still attracts the traditional anglers, golfers, and seekers of rural solitude, along with savvy hikers, cyclists, and birders.
It is a landscape richly endowed with magnificent vistas: Connemara's combination of rugged coastline, mountains, moorland, and lakes; the distinctive conelike shape of Croagh Patrick, towering over the 365 islands of Clew Bay, and the rippling waters of Lough Corrib, Lough Conn, and many smaller lakes. The Irish people are well aware of what a jewel they have in the largely unspoiled wilderness, grazed by sheep and herds of wild ponies, that is the 5,000-acre Connemara National Park, the result of a successful lobby for landscape preservation. Peat lands, or bogs as they are called around here, are at last being valued for their unique botanical character.
Time seems to have a different value out here, as if the 21st century had never begun. It is still not unusual to be stuck behind two cars parked on either side of the white line, drivers' windows open while local news is exchanged, and the drivers oblivious to your revving engine behind them. Unlike most of Ireland where the marks of Viking, Norman, and English invaders blotted out much of the rich heritage of the ancient Irish kingdoms, these western counties retained, by virtue of their remoteness, those essential Celtic characteristics of rebellion and individuality, and the accompanying graces of unstinting hospitality and courtly good manners. These traits survive, despite the purges of Cromwell's English armies and the all-pervasive trauma of the Great Famine (1845–49). That era started a tradition of emigration that continued to deprive the area of the majority of its youth well into the 1960s. The growth of tourism since the 1970s, the building of fine new hotels and the upgrading of traditional ones has helped to provide jobs for the local population. Another boost has come from the development of fish farming, and the fostering of local artisanal food producers, whose farmhouse cheese and smoked salmon enhances the menus of the West.
These unspoiled regions possess a spirit that has always spoken to the hidden poet within all who travel here. Images of spectacular red sunsets lingering over the Atlantic, that shocking lapis-lazuli blue of your first Connemara lough, and the fleeting moments when the way ahead was framed by a completely semicircular rainbow will likely haunt your memory long after you leave, as will the ancient whispers, cries, and melodies carried on the Connemara breeze. Here is where the magic lies.