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Iron Donkey Bicycle Touring : bike tours, cycle vacations and biking holidays in Ireland, England, Wales, Scotland, Italy and Spain.
 

West of Ireland

THE REGION IN DETAIL

You may find it helpful to view and print off a copy of the regional map and cross reference with the description below. The letters in brackets correspond to the biking routes.

The city of Galway, the most convenient access point for the region, is deserving of a visit in its own right. Compact, lively and cosmopolitan, there is plenty to attract the visitor, including great shops, musical pubs, theatres and clubs. The old town gate, known as Spanish Arch, houses the Galway City Museum (A, B, I, S, J). West of Ireland

To the north west of Galway is the vast expanse of Lough Corrib. The River Corrib drains the lake into Galway Bay through the centre of the city. Oughterard, a pretty village also called “The Gateway to Connemara”, is a well-known angling centre - there are boat trips from here across the lake to Cong. Close to Oughterard, Aughnanure Castle is a restored six story tower house standing on a rocky islet. Between the western shore of Lough Corrib and the northern shore of Galway Bay, is a wild and uninhabited expanse of low granite hills, small tarns, bog and coniferous forest that offers superb, traffic-free cycling (A, C).

The region to the south of Galway Bay, consisting of County Clare and part of County Galway is rich in both scenery and history.

The pretty village of Clarinbridge, a few miles south of Galway, hosts an annual oyster festival – it is a good place to sample local shellfish (S, J).

Gort is a handsome 18th century market town. The market place has a weighing house, huge scales and pump. Nearby Coole Park was once the home of the author Lady Gregory. Nothing remains of the house except a magnificent avenue of cedars and a copper beech bearing the carved initials of many Irish literati including Shaw, Yeats and O’Casey (J, R).

South of Gort is Kilmacduagh, a beautiful monastic site with several churches and a (slightly leaning) round tower (J, R).

Ennis, the county town has a maze of arched tunnel passageways that link the narrow medieval streets. The ruined 13th century friary dominates the town. A few miles south is Quin Abbey, and a little further on Bunratty Castle and Folk Park are major attractions for those with an interest in Ireland’s past (J, K, L, R).

Due west from Ennis are the attractive Atlantic coastal resorts of Kilrush and Kilkee. South of Kilkee, the Loop Head Peninsula is a relatively undiscovered scenic gem. A ride around here is a never-to-be forgotten delight! Views from the Loop Head lighthouse are sublime (L, M).

The Atlantic coastline north of Kilkee is a series of spectacular strands – West of Irelandsome of Ireland’s best surfing resorts, such as Spanish Point and Lahinch are found here. North of Lahinch the majestic Cliffs of Moher that extend for 8 km along the coast are one of the most outstanding natural features in the country. The fishing village of Doolin at the northern end of the cliffs is famous for its traditional music sessions (N, O).

Ferries to the Aran Islands run from Doolin harbour (Q).

A few miles inland, the colourful spa town of Lisdoonvarna finds fame as the matchmaking capital of Ireland. Come in September if you are looking for a life partner (N, O, P).

In the north west of Clare is the unique area called The Burren – apart from its unique beauty this vast limestone plateau is packed with interest for geologists and botanists. The stark bare rock resembling a lunar landscape is littered with dolmens, cairns, round towers and Celtic crosses (K, O, P, R).

The Burren Interpretative Centre is at Kilfenora (K, N).

The coast road north from Doolin to Ballyvaughan is another cycling gem – dolphins and seals can often be seen from the viewpoint at Black Head. Just south of Ballyvaughan are the Ailwee Cave, and the much photographed Poulnabrone Dolmen (O).

In the Eastern Burren, the village of Corofin hosts the Clare Heritage Centre and Museum. The restored castle of Dysert O’Dea, the site of an ancient hermitage, is a short distance from the town (K, R) .

The wonderful Burren Perfumery at Carron uses native plants to create products inspired by the surrounding landscape (P).

The picturesque village of Kinvarra on the southern shores of Galway Bay is a great place to view and photograph the famous Galway hookers (traditional sailing boats – in case you were wondering!). On the edge of the town, Dunaguaire Castle is a restored 16th Century fortification (P, R, S).

Rossaveal is the departure point for ferries making the 40 West of Irelandminute crossing to Inishmore, largest of the three Aran Islands that guard the entrance to Galway Bay (C, B, Q).

The islands are the summits of a tilted reef that stretches out from the limestone surface of The Burren. The islanders are fiercely proud of their culture and traditions – and Irish remains the principal language. Attractions include dramatic cliff-top forts such as Dun Aengus and the Black Fort, local crafts including the knitwear that bears the Aran name, and traditional music sessions. The bicycle and the pony and trap are the most common forms of transport on the islands (C, B, Q).

The sublime beauty of Connemara, a region that captures the essence of the West of Ireland, draws visitors from all around the world. Bounded on the east by the two great loughs of Corrib and Mask and on the west, north and south by the Atlantic Ocean, Connemara is almost an island. The peaks of the Twelve Bens rise above a plain of bog lands, boulders and black lakes that combine to produce a unique landscape. The encircling coastline is a beautiful patchwork of little islands, mini-peninsulas and promontories. Semi-wild Connemara ponies graze on the coastal salt marshes – their prized qualities of hardiness, agility, intelligence and jumping ability are rooted in their environment. (D, E, F)

The Connemara roads go around rather than over the hills, so cycling is not too arduous.

Clifden, the “capital” of Connemara, is a bustling market town. With its colourful shops and galleries, excellent restaurants, and lively pubs it is a great place to relax and enjoy the Connemara atmosphere (D, E, F).

The Sky Road to the west of Clifden gives wonderful views over the surrounding coastline. Further to the north, Cleggan is the departure point for the ferry to the island of Inishbofin (E, F).

Along the coast to the south of Clfden are the beautiful beaches atWest of Ireland Coral Strand, Dogs Bay and Gurteen Bay. Just outside Ballyconneely is the spot where pioneer aviators Alcock and Brown crash landed after the first trans-Atlantic flight in 1919. Further along the coast Roundstone is a pretty fishing village with a craft centre that specializes in the manufacture of traditional instruments (E).

The Connemara National Park covers a vast area, including the slopes of the Twelve Bens. There are several hiking trails and an information and interpretative centre (F).

Every turn in the road that wends its way through the lovely Lough Inagh Valley offers a new photo opportunity (F).

Close to the village of Letterfrack, Kylemore Abbey occupies a stunning location. Now a Benedictine convent, it was originally built as a private home. The attractions include a scale replica of Norwich Cathedral and beautifully landscaped gardens (F).

East from Kylemore, Killary Harbour, Ireland’s only fjord, is a spectacular natural deep water anchorage. There are short cruises on the fjord from Leenane. This village and its surroundings were the location for the film “The Field”(F, G).

Over the hills from the Maam Valley lies Joyces Country and the beautiful lakes of Nafooey, Mask and Cong. In the village of Cong, Cong Abbey and Ashford Castle are the main attractions. The village was the setting for “The Quiet Man”. The Partry Mountains, a sparsely inhabited upland region between Cong and Clew Bay provide some wonderful cycling routes (G, I).

Westport is a bustling centre that grew up around Westport House, the stately home of the Earl of Sligo. The town is an intriguing mix of the old and the new, with traditional shop fronts alongside continental style cafes. There are plenty of opportunities to listen to traditional music in the evenings (G, H, I).

West along the shores of island-strewn Clew Bay is the village of Murrisk, site of Murrisk Abbey and the starting point for the ascent of Croagh Patrick, Ireland’s holiest mountain. St Patrick is reputed to have spent 40 days fasting on the summit – his discomfort must have been somewhat alleviated by the great views! Close by is the striking sculpture that is the National Famine Memorial. Further to the west, Louisburgh was the birthplace of the legendary pirate queen, Grace O’Malley. To the south between the Mweelrea Mountains and the Sheeffry Hills lies the hauntingly beautiful Doolough Valley – made even more poignant by the memorial to the victims of the Irish famine who died during a winter trek in a fruitless quest for food (G, H).

Gallery

  • Aran Islands
  • Bunratty Castle
  • Connemara
  • Doolough
  • Inishmore
  • Kylemore Lough
  • Loop Head
  • Lough Nafooey
  • Roundstone
  • The Bog Road
  • Turf Stacks
  • Westport
 

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