Local knowledge: Connemara

Tue, Jul 31, 2012, 01:00

Where should you go? We ask the locals

Joe Joyce, a sheep farmer in Finney, Connemara.

What is it about Connemara that attracts people to it?I would say the natural surroundings. For me what is special is that we live in the mountains and I find it a lovely, natural way of life. There is no healthier way of life. I have a lot of French visitors here and they talk about the bleakness and the beauty of it.

Do you allow visitors on your farm?I have groups calling every day and I breed and train border collies here. With sheep farming we don’t make a lot so I try and build up the income. I do talks and give visitors an insight into hill farming, and any questions they have on the area I answer. Our website is joycecountrysheepdogs.ie.

Any local spots you think people should visit?When people are looking for food here, I send them to the Larches Bar in Finney. It is one of the best pubs around and always has a good atmosphere.

What local walks would you recommend?There are annual walks down here and a local walking club who walk around the hills. We’re trying to develop it a bit more and as long as people have dogs on a lead and don’t interfere with gates, I think that will happen. There is lovely area here for walking near Lough Na Fooey.

Any old ruins nearby?Across from Lough Na Fooey, on a mountain called Ceann Garbh, there are the remains of what people thought was a Famine village. I think actually it dates from the Cromwellian era, and there are about six old buildings. It would have been a good area for raising sheep. In relation to Famine times, you can see where people went up the mountain and planted potato beds. On a clear day you can see where the ridges were. There is another area where people were hiding out during the Black and Tans era. So on just one mountain you have a huge sweep of Irish history.

What is there to do locally on a rainy day?All you want is a good pair of wellingtons. There’s no point coming with an umbrella, as it’s too windy. The beach at Lough Na Fooey is great and people come and camp there. It is safe for swimming and the sand is reddish in colour.

Alice Kennelly, events consultant who lives in Aillebrack

If someone wanted to go on a boat trip, where do you suggest?In my childhood, the lights of the Slyne Head Lighthouse lulled me to sleep every night. One of the things I most like to do now is to take a boat trip from Bunowen Pier (at the end of my road) to Slyne Head. Martin O’Malley, my neighbour, is a man who knows the Connemara Coast like the back of his hand.

Not only do I trust his navigational skills, but I also thoroughly enjoy his company and commentary, which includes stories of the notorious sea pirate Granuaile, who once had a castle at Bunowen. He can be reached through serioussailing.com.

What about local walks and things to do?The peace and solitude of living here is glorious. We have long safe, sandy beaches by the dozen, so swimming is a family tradition. The beaches at Aillebrack are clean and safe. We organise a community clean up of the coast in the spring. Most of the debris actually comes in from the sea, so in general people respect our beaches.

For pony riding, I’d recommend The Point riding school in Ballyconneely. Anne and Seán run a small pony trekking centre and will take you riding on the local beaches. Anne is a Belgian who came here to ride horses, and stayed. thepointponytrekkingcentre.com

Where is good for local produce?Dennis Keane in Roundstone catches fresh fish and then sells it from his little shop in the village. Graham Roberts and his wife Saoirse run tours and demonstrations at their smokehouse, and you can also buy their products directly from them. smokehouse.ie

Mary Banotti,  former member of the European Parliament

Greetings from Connemara. I’d suggest a bumpy ride across the bog to the Alcock and Brown landing spot – it is such a magic place.

Next, a trip to St Macdara’s Island if you can get to sea – it has been very difficult all this summer.

In Roundstone, the Matchmaker shop – full of glitz and old frocks and coats and hats – is a great way to shelter as the rolling mists come down.

On the weekend of August 6th and 7th I will be running a dog show – nothing grand but great fun. And on August 7th there is the Tour de Bog. It is a highlight of the year, with bikes of all sizes, children, dads and mums taking the 26km route through the village and over the bog.

Eric Byrne, owner of Celtic Coin Jewellery in Spiddal

Why should someone visit Spiddal?You just have to look out the window for the view. The quality of life here is great and everybody still recognises each other. I was here before the Celtic Tiger and bought a site and am well settled in now.

An Builín Blasta cafe is a great restaurant. He’s won awards for the last two years. The owner is a New Zealand guy and he has a French lad in there also. Anyone who comes into my shop, I send them in there.

What’s your favourite spot in the village?The Spiddal Craft Village where I work has about 10 different artists working in here. The location is great and it is one of the biggest craft villages in the country. There is a weaver and someone working with glass as well as a potter, jeweller and so on.

Any suggestions for a day out with children?My buddy came in today and he was at the new pet farm called Turoe Pet Farm, which is on the top of the mountain. We’ve got Spiddal beach or any of the beaches all the way out along.

Where to go,  see and stay 

Cnoc Suain:Cnoc Suain is a rural retreat in Spiddal that gives visitors an insight into Irish culture and traditions in a genuine way. Some of the new offerings this summer include short cultural experiences where visitors can avail of coach transfer from Galway and spend one to two hours exploring local bog land and its environment. The package also includes a history of Irish food and each visit ends with some Irish music and dancing. On the grounds of the 200-acre estate, restored 17th-century cottages are also available to rent. The coach leaves from Galway coach park at 10am on Friday and Saturday and costs €29 per person. A one-bedroomed cottage costs €590 for a week in July and August, and the estate is run by Charlie Troy and Dearbhaill Standún, who is a founder member of the traditional group Dordán. cnocsuain.com

Ballynahinch Castle Hotel:This hotel first opened to the public 66 years ago, and the property dates back 250 years. What marks it out from competitors is a very strong emphasis on outdoor activities, such as learning to fly fish and a range of walking activities. The latter includes a 2.5-hour walk with local guide Noel Joyce. Generally it takes place after breakfast, and features the history and archaeology of the estate. Boat trips are also available on Ballynahinch Lake. Special offers in the autumn include two nights’ bed and breakfast and dinner on one evening for €195 per person. The equivalent summer break is €250. The venue is the Georgina Campbell Hotel of the Year 2012, and also makes the Condé Nast hot list. It is one hour’s drive west of Galway, and a 10-minute drive from Clifden and Roundstone. ballynahinch-castle.com

Social media recommends

Foyle’s Hotel in Clifden has excellent food at realistic prices – @ladbroke1

Head to Currarevagh. Ireland’s oldest guesthouse with delicious food and a stunning view of Lough Corrib. – @LouHodg

Check out Seamus Kelly Butcher shops in Clifden and Letterfrack. Great local meat and fish. – @doyourbitdotie

Leitir Móir is a must see and totally worth the climb. Inverin has some lovely beaches. – @ianmaleney

Fly to one of the Aran Islands. Great fun. Hire bikes there and cycle about. We brought our dog too.

– @barbarascully

Perhaps not the “heart” of Connemara, but there is a fantastic little pub/restaurant called Tír Na nÓg, near Connemara Regional Airport. Lovely grub. – @pjcoogan

Carraroe has the Coral Beach and it has coralline algae or “maerl” instead of sand. Drive the Leenane road. – @AnneHadnett

Check out the great vintage shop in Clifden and lamb stew in Mitchell’s. Dogs Bay is my favourite beach in Connemara. – @aoibhinn_ni_s

Next weekWe will be looking at the Shannon region. If you have recommendations, drop us a line before Friday.

Twitter: @oconnellbrian Email: brianoconnell@ irishtimes.com

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