30 Best Sights in Connemara and County Mayo, Ireland

Achill Island

Fodor's choice

Achill Island is only 20 feet from the mainland and has been connected by a bridge since 1887, the latest (2008) being a €5 million swing bridge, known locally as "our Calatrava-style bridge." At 147 square km (57 square miles), Achill is Ireland’s largest offshore island, with a population of 2,700. In summer, it attracts camper vans and families from the mainland who enjoy the wild open spaces of its unspoiled bogs with miles and miles of long empty beaches. The island is abundant with flora, especially wild heather and, in May and June, rhododendrons, while fuchsia blooms later in the summer.

The best introduction to Achill is to follow signs for the 20-km (12-mile) Atlantic Drive. The road runs through Keel, which has a 3-km-long (2-mile-long) beach with spectacular rock formations in the eastern cliffs. Dugort, on the north shore, is a small village with a beautiful golden strand. Above it is the 2,204-foot Slievemore, the island’s highest summit. At its base is the Deserted Village, a settlement of 80 ruined one-room stone houses, abandoned since the 1845 famine. At the far westerly corner of the island are the 2,257-foot-high Croaghan Sea Cliffs, the third highest in Europe---and Keem Beach, a magnificent bone-white sandy bay beneath the shoulders of two enormous lush mountains.

Connemara National Park

Fodor's choice

The 5,000-acre Connemara National Park lies southeast of the village of Letterfrack. Its visitor center covers the area's history and ecology, particularly the origins and growth of peat—and presents the depressing statistic that more than 80% of Ireland's peat, 5,000 years in the making, has been destroyed in the last 90 years. You can also get details on the many excellent walks and beaches in the area. The misleadingly named "park" is, in fact, just rocky or wooded wilderness territory, albeit with some helpful trails marked out to aid your exploration. It includes part of the famous Twelve Bens mountain range, which is best suited for experienced hill walkers. An easier hike is the Lower Diamond Hill Walk, at about 3 km (less than 2 miles). Ask for advice on a hike suited to your abilities and interests at the Park and Visitor Centre, which is on the N59 as you arrive in Letterfrack from Clifden, on your right, clearly signposted, not too far southeast of the center of Letterfrack.

Croagh Patrick

Fodor's choice

Look out as you travel north for the great bulk of 2,500-foot-high Croagh Patrick; its size and conical shape make it one of the West's most distinctive landmarks. On clear days a small white oratory is visible at its summit (it stands on a ½-acre plateau), as is the wide path that ascends to it. The latter is the Pilgrim's Path. Each year about 25,000 people, many of them barefoot, follow the path to pray to St. Patrick in the oratory on its peak. St. Patrick, who converted Ireland to Christianity, spent the 40 days and nights of Lent here in 441. The traditional date for the pilgrimage is the last Sunday in July. In the past, the walk was made at night, with pilgrims carrying burning torches, but that practice has been discontinued. The climb involves a gentle uphill slope, but you need to be fit and agile to complete the last half hour, over scree (small loose rocks with no trail). This is why most climbers carry a stick or staff (traditionally made of ash, and called an ash plant), which helps you to stop sliding backward. These can sometimes be bought in the parking area. The hike can be made in about three hours (round-trip) on any fine day and is well worth the effort for the magnificent views of the islands of Clew Bay, the Sheeffry Hills to the south (with the Bens visible behind them), and the peaks of Mayo to the north. The climb starts at Murrisk, a village about 8 km (5 miles) before Westport on the R335 Louisburgh Road.

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Foxford Woolen Mills

Fodor's choice

This site is just a 20-minute drive from Castlebar through the pretty village of Foxford which has several crafts and antiques shops. Woolen Mills Visitor Centre is a good stop heading north on the N5 where you can explore the crafts shop and grab a bite at the restaurant. Few first-time visitors leave without buying an heirloom-quality Foxford blanket. The Foxford Experience tells the story of the wool mill, famous for its tweeds and blankets, from the time of the famine in the mid-19th century—when it was founded by the Sisters of Charity to combat poverty—to the present day. Visitors can take the longer and more scenic route from Castlebar via the tiny, wooded village of Pontoon, skirting the western shore of Lough Conn and passing through the rough bogland of the Glen of Nephin, beneath the dramatic heather-clad slopes of Nephin Mountain to Crossmolina and Ballina.


Fodor's choice

Cleggan is the ferry port for this stark and unsettlingly beautiful outpost of Connemara. The island is a hiker's paradise, with loop routes that lead to a plethora of fine sandy beaches by the Atlantic's pristine water. Just 5 km (3 miles) by 3 km (2 miles), it was once a stronghold of the pirate queen Grainne O'Malley, and the crumbling ruin of a Cromwellian barracks is a stark reminder for visitors of the clergy held captive by troops before they were shipped afar. The island is now a holiday retreat dotted with small pubs and inns for those who want quiet time. The ferry costs €25 round-trip for an adult.

Killary Harbour

Fodor's choice

Beyond Kylemore, N59 travels for some miles along Killary Harbour, a narrow fjord that runs for 16 km (10 miles) between County Mayo's Mweelrea Mountain to the north and County Galway's Maamturk Mountains to the south. The dark, deep water of the fjord reflects the magnificent steep-sided hills that border it, creating a haunting scene of natural grandeur. The harbor has an extremely safe anchorage, 78 feet deep for almost its entire length, and is sheltered from storms by mountain walls. The rafts floating in Killary Harbour belong to fish-farming consortia that raise salmon and trout in cages beneath the water. This is a matter of some controversy all over the West. Although some people welcome the employment opportunities, others bemoan the visual blight of the rafts.

Kylemore Abbey

Fodor's choice

One of the most magical "castles" in all of Europe, much-photographed Kylemore Abbey is set on a reedy lake with a backdrop of wooded hillside. The storybook Gothic Revival, gray-stone mansion was built as a private home between 1861 and 1868 by Mitchell Henry, a member of Parliament for County Galway, and his wife, Margaret, who had fallen in love with the spot during a carriage ride while on their honeymoon. The Henrys spared no expense—the final bill for their house is said to have come to £1.5 million—and they employed mostly local laborers, thereby abetting recovery from the famine (this area was among the worst hit in all of Ireland). Adjacent to the house (a short walk from the abbey) is a spectacular neo-Gothic chapel, which, sadly, became the burial place for Margaret, who died after contracting "Nile fever" on a trip to Egypt. In 1920, nuns from the Benedictine order, who fled their abbey in Belgium during World War I, sought refuge in Kylemore and ran a girls' boarding school here until 2010. Three reception rooms and the main hall are open to the public, as are a crafts center and cafeteria. You can prebook a guided hike and nature walk (€3) uphill to the life-size statue of Jesus for an unforgettable view of the tranquil abbey and lake from above. There's also a 6-acre walled Victorian garden; a shuttle bus (free with admission) from the abbey to the garden departs every 15 minutes during opening hours. An exhibition and video explaining the history of the house can be viewed year-round at the abbey, and the grounds are freely accessible most of the year.

Be sure to visit the "Ironing Stone," a short walk from the chapel. Legend has it that this massive stone was tossed here by Irish mythical warrior Cú Chulainn. If you stand with your back to the rock and throw a pebble over the stone three times, your wish will be granted.

Sky Road

Fodor's choice

Drive the aptly named Sky Road to really appreciate Clifden's breathtaking scenery. Signposted at the west end of town, this high, narrow circuit heads west, giving views of several offshore islands, before looping back to the N59 after about 10 km (6 miles) alongside phenomenal views of Clifden Bay's precipitous shores. The Sky Road connects to the Beach Road, where hikers can enjoy the Connemara shoreline.

Wild Nephin Ballycroy National Park

Fodor's choice

Located in the southern territory of the Mullet Peninsula and covering 110 square km (42½ square miles) of Atlantic bogland and mountainous wilderness, Ballycroy is one of only six national parks in Ireland and utopia for the outdoor adventurer. Marked looped trails offer staggering views across Blacksod Bay and the Achill Islands. Once the sun sets, the area becomes a "dark-sky park," where visitors arrive with flashlights to witness the uninterrupted view of the heavens. The park is equipped with a visitor center and café. To camp, contact the park manager.

Augustine Abbey

Cong is surrounded by many stone circles and burial mounds, but its most notable ruins are those of the Augustine Abbey, overlooking a river. Dating from the early 12th century when it was founded by Turlough O'Connor, the High King of Ireland, this abbey is an impressive example of ancient Irish architecture and still retains some finely carved details and a cloister, and served as a hospital and college in its day. Don't miss the fishing hut, an ingenious invention to keep fishermen dry.

Cong, Co. Mayo, Ireland

Ballintubber Abbey

This is the only church in Ireland founded by an Irish king and still in daily use. Ballintubber has greeted its faithful flock since 1216, when Cathal O'Connor built it on the site of St. Patrick's church, which was built some 800 years earlier, a replica of which can be found on the grounds. In the 1960s, the 15th-century cloister was unearthed by excavators in surprisingly good condition, given Cromwell had left his mark on the structure, and it now creates a serene space alongside the abbey. Scan the gardens for Seán na Sagart's (Sean the Priest Hunter's) Tree. He escaped the gallows indebted to local Sheriff Bingham---to be repaid by bringing him one head of a priest yearly. After Sean's death, the story goes, a blossomless tree grew from his grave and splintered in half when it was hit by lightning, creating a fitting epitaph for a black soul. In more recent times, 007 actor Pierce Brosnan's marriage to Keely Shaye Smith occurred in the abbey.


Anywhere else in Ireland this tiny one-street village would be unremarkable, but out on this wild windswept coast, its brightly painted houses in the relatively sheltered valley of the Ballinglen River are a welcome sign of normal life and coziness. Mary's Tea Rooms gives a warm welcome, while within shouting distance, Ballinglen Arts Foundation puts on art exhibitions between May and September.

Blacksod Lighthouse

Few would believe that the modest, sandstone lighthouse on the southeast tip of the Mullet Peninsula could have had a pivotal role in history, but a weather report issued by the lighthouse keeper on June 3, 1944, convinced General Dwight D. Eisenhower to delay the D-Day invasion of Normandy by 24 hours. This delay saved the Allies from a catastrophic fate. Blacksod Lighthouse dates from 1864 and embraces the full brunt of the Atlantic Ocean's extreme weather.

Belmullet, Co. Mayo, Ireland
sights Details
Rate Includes: Closed fall--spring. Contact ahead

Céide Fields

Buried below North Mayo’s wild boglands is the most extensive Stone Age monument on Earth. The Céide Fields’ megalithic tombs, dwelling sites, field system, and vast, stone-walled meadows stretch back 6,000 years and were unearthed in the 1930s when a local teacher noticed the stone formation when cutting turf. The visitor center is housed under a glass-and-steel pyramid and has a magnificent 4,300-year-old Scotch pine that looms alongside the staircase, which alone makes the visit worthwhile. Meander along the ancient pathways at leisure, and stop by the viewing platform to see the ocean over a 110-meter-high cliff. Guided tours are also worthwhile; check ahead for times. Admission includes an optional guided walk through an excavated section of the stones; wet-weather gear is provided when necessary. The Céide Fields are on the R314, 5 km (3 miles) west of Ballycastle.

Clare Island

Clew Bay is said to have 365 islands, one for every day of the year. The biggest and most interesting one to visit is Clare Island, at the mouth of the bay. In fine weather the rocky, hilly island, which is 8 km (5 miles) long and 5 km (3 miles) wide, has beautiful views south toward Connemara, east across Clew Bay, and north to Achill Island. About 150 people live on the island today, but before the 1845–47 famine it had a population of about 1,700. A 15th-century tower overlooking the harbor was once the stronghold of Granuaile, the pirate queen, who ruled the area until her death in 1603. She is buried on the island, in its 12th-century Cistercian abbey. Today most visitors seek out the island for its unusual peace and quiet, golden beaches, and unspoiled landscape. There are two ferry services to the island, one year-round, the other seasonal; both depart from Roonagh Pier, near Louisburgh, a scenic 19-km (12-mile) drive from Westport on the R335 past several long sandy beaches.

Clew Bay, Co. Mayo, Ireland
098-25045-for ferry info
sights Details
Rate Includes: Ferry €17 round-trip (discounted online), Two ferry companies serve Clare Island. Your return ticket will only be valid on a ferry belonging to the company you came out with

Clifden Castle

Clifden Castle---a Gothic Revival masterpiece---was built above the town in 1815 by John D'Arcy, the town's founder and high sheriff of Galway, who wished to establish a center of law and order in what he saw as the lawless wilderness of Connemara. Before the founding of Clifden, the interior of Connemara was largely uninhabited, with most of its population clinging to the seashore. Today there is just the shell of this former seat of power---but its setting off Sky Road is epic. Wear appropriate footwear as there is a lovely, 15-minute winding walk from the nearest car park.

Dog's Bay Beach

Dog's Bay Beach lies back-to-back with Gurteen Beach, forming a tombolo that juts out into the ocean. Unlike other local limestone beaches, Dog's Bay's brilliant white sand was formed from seashells, and its horseshoe shape stretches for a mile along the Connemara coast. Its clear, blue water is sheltered from currents, making it popular with swimmers and kitesurfers. Amenities: none. Best for: swimming; water sports; walking.

Ervallagh, Roundstone, Co. Galway, Ireland

Doolough Valley

You have two options for traveling onward from Leenane to Westport. The first is to take the direct route on the N59. The second is to detour through the Doolough Valley between Mweelrea Mountain (to the west) and the Sheeffry Hills (to the east) and on to Westport via Louisburgh (on the southern shore of Clew Bay), passing through the hauntingly beautiful Doolough Valley. A stark stone cross commemorates a particularly shameful chapter in Ireland's potato famine when people perished by the roadside when forced by poor relief officials to walk for an inspection in brutal weather conditions. The latter route adds about 24 km (15 miles) to the trip, but devotees of this part of the West claim that it takes you through the region's most impressive, unspoiled stretch of scenery. If you opt for the longer route, turn left onto R335 1½ km (1 mile) beyond Leenane. Just after this turn, you can hear the powerful rush of the Aasleagh Falls. You can park over the bridge, stroll along the river's shore, and soak in the splendor of the surrounding mountains.

Downpatrick Head

On a clear day you can see the dramatic sea stack at Downpatrick Head in the distance from the Céide Fields Visitor Centre. It is worth getting closer. Wild Atlantic Way signposts lead you to a gravel car park a short walk across rough grass from the cliffs. Keep a tight hold on your kids: the unfenced cliffs rise 126 feet above the sea, and the wind can be strong. The sea stack, known in Irish as Dun Briste (the Broken Fort) is 262 feet offshore and rises to a height of about 164 feet. The sea has undermined the headland and spouts up to great heights through impressive blowholes, which are fenced off for safety. The sea stack was inhabited until the 14th century when nature rendered it an island. In May and June, the cliffs are covered in sea pinks and nesting seabirds.

Co. Mayo, Ireland

Dún na mBó

Past the windswept townland of Gladree and seemingly at the very edge of the world is this magnificent blowhole, drilled vertically through solid rock by the elements to create an epic, natural fountain when the weather is wild and waves pound the shoreline below. Encased in wire and accessed through a triangular stone sculpture, the site has spectacular views across to Eagle Island Lighthouse and the Atlantic Ocean.   

Inis Ní Loop

Just when you think you've discovered Connemara's final Atlantic frontier, Inis Ní (or Inishnee) Island lures you miles farther into its ocean-fringed wilderness. This is one of the most northerly outposts of the south Connemara Gaeltacht. The trailhead is by a car park close to Roundstone, and from there it's an easy mile of country road to a small causeway. Discarded fishermen's boats bob along a marshy inlet, at the start of the loop walk. The island's color palette varies with the season's blossoms, as you meander past deserted, forlorn graveyards, granite walls caked in lichen and moss, and a pier where fishermen sort their stock from brightly painted boats.

Museum of Country Life

At this highly acclaimed museum, the only branch of the National Museum of Ireland outside Dublin, you're invited to revisit rural life in Ireland between 1860 and 1960---before electrification and in-house running water. Among the displayed items are authentic furniture and utensils; hunting, fishing, and agricultural implements; clothing; and objects relating to games, pastimes, religion, and education.

The museum experience starts in Turlough Park House, built in the High Victorian Gothic style in 1865 and set in pretty lakeside gardens. Just three rooms have been restored to illustrate the way the landowners lived. A sensational modern four-story, curved building houses the main exhibit. Cleverly placed windows afford panoramic views of the surrounding park and the distant Round Tower, allowing you to reflect on the reality beyond the museum's walls. The shop sells museum-branded and handcrafted gift items and a café with indoor and outdoor tables is located in the stable yard, and you can take scenic lakeside walks in the park.


Westport's streets radiate from its central Octagon, where an old-fashioned farmers' market is held on Thursday morning; look for work clothes, harnesses, tools, and children's toys for sale. Presiding over the square at the top of the tall fluted column is a statue of St Patrick, which replaced an earlier statute of a faceless banker (his face was removed by pellets during Civil War target practice). Traditional shops—ironmongers, drapers, and the like—line the streets.

Quiet Man Museum and Gift Shop

Cong's 15 minutes of fame came in 1952, when John Ford's The Quiet Man, one of his most popular films, was released to a global audience. John Wayne plays a prizefighter who goes home to Ireland and courts the fiery Maureen O'Hara. The Quiet Man Museum, in the village center, is an exact replica of the cottage used in the film, with reproductions of the furniture and costumes, a few original artifacts, and pictures of actors Barry Fitzgerald and Maureen O'Hara on location. Margaret and Gerry Collins host Quiet Man walking tours, leaving the cottage at 11 am daily and exploring such Cong village sites as the river fight scene, the "hats in the air" scene, and Pat Cohan's Bar. There is also a chauffeur-driven tour option.

Circular Rd., Cong, Co. Mayo, Ireland
sights Details
Rate Includes: €5, walking tour €15, By appointment only Nov.–Mar.

The Derrigimlagh Walking Loop

In June 1919, pilot John Alcock and navigator Arthur Whitten Brown entered the annals of navigation history by taking the first transatlantic flight from Newfoundland to a bumpy crash-landing in the heart of Derrigimlagh Bog, close to Guglielmo Marconi's groundbreaking wireless station. Both the bog and the wireless station are noted in the staggeringly beautiful 5-km (3-mile) Derrigimlagh trail that passes miniature lakes, peat bogs, and rare flora and fauna.

The Linenhall Arts Centre

The town's arts center has a calendar of exhibitions, concerts and performances, a crafts shop, and a handy coffee shop with home baking. It occupies an imposing gray limestone building dating from 1790, when the town had a thriving linen industry.

The Mall

At the center of Castlebar is the pleasant tree-lined Mall, with some good 18th-century houses. A memorial honors the French soldiers who died during the 1798 uprising when Castlebar was briefly the capital of “the Provisional Republic of Connaught.” The Mall was once a cricket pitch belonging to the local landlord, Lord Lucan, and is now a town park.

The Sheep and Wool Centre

The Sheep and Wool Centre, in the center of Leenane, focuses on the traditional industry of North Connemara and West Mayo. Several breeds of sheep graze around the house, and there are demonstrations of carding, spinning, weaving, and the dyeing of wool with natural plant dyes.

The Tidal Pool

Head onto Bellmullet's Shore Road to discover the Tidal Pool, a feat of engineering and imagination from the 1980s that facilitates an ocean swim without the incumbent risk to life that the Atlantic's strong currents usually pose. Two large concrete basins fill and ebb with the ocean's water at  high tide---one deep, the other shallow---offering hardy sorts an opportunity to swim or just soak in the waters of Blacksod Bay, depending on the tide, and within the confined space of a 20-meter pool. Of course, the ocean still can be hazardous with waves or sudden storms, so take precautions at all times.   

Westport House

Westport House and Country Park, a stately home built on the site of an earlier castle (believed to have been the home of the 16th-century warrior queen, Grace O'Malley) is the town's most famous landmark. Set right on the shores of a lake, the house remained the property of the Browne family from the 17th century until recent years, when a local businessman purchased it. Architect Richard Cassels (who also designed Powerscourt in County Wicklow and the Irish government's nerve center, Leinster House) masterminded the design of the house, which was constructed in 1730 and added to in 1778, and then finally completed in 1788 by architect James Wyatt with a lavish budget from the Browne's slave trading history with Jamaica. The rectangular, three-story house is furnished with late-Georgian and Victorian pieces. Family portraits by Opie and Reynolds, a huge collection of old Irish silver and old Waterford glass, plus an opulent group of paintings—including The Holy Family by Rubens—are on display. A word of caution: Westport isn't your usual staid country house. The old dungeons now house interactive games, and the grounds have given way to an amusement park for children and an adventure center offering zip rides, laser combat games, and archery. In fact, the lake is now littered with swan-shape "pedaloes," boats that may be fun for families but help destroy the perfect Georgian grace of the setting. If these elements don't sound like a draw, arrive early, when it's less likely to be busy. There is also a 1½-km (1-mile) riverside walk, a tree trail, a gift shop, and a coffee shop.

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