The West of Ireland, comprising the coastal counties of Clare, Galway, Mayo, Sligo and Leitrim along with land-bound Roscommon, is a rather special place where traditions run deep and where the sea meets the land. All along the famed Wild Atlantic Way, the world’s longest defined coastal route and of which a major part follows the shoreline of the West of Ireland, you’ll discover hidden bays and beaches of purest white sand ideal for walking, horseback riding and surfing; and there are towering cliffs and enchanting little port towns to discover, too. Behind the surf are heather-clad mountains, shimmering lakes, peat bogs, emerald-green fields edged by stone walls and sere limestone pavements.
This grand, and sometimes forbidding, landscape forms the majority of the Gaeltacht, the Gaelic-speaking part of Ireland, and you’ll frequently come across a tiny fishing village or a remote crofting community where you will hear the softly lilting tones of this ancient language being spoken. The West of Ireland’s human history goes back thousands of years, and at places like Carrowmore in Sligo and the Burren in Clare, you will find entire Neolithic ritual landscapes to explore. The earliest Christian settlers also left behind a dazzling array of monasteries, abbeys and churches whose spirituality is palpable, and at medieval castles like Ashford or Dromoland, you can these days gain an insight into the lives of the old Irish kings while enjoying unfettered contemporary luxury.
Highlights of the West of Ireland include the majestic and remote mountains and lakes of Connemara, perfect for a few days’ walking or fishing. Further south the otherworldly fissured limestone pavements of the Burren are fascinating to explore. Here an incredible wealth of dolmens, sacred wells and sheela-na-gigs will connect you with the earliest pre-Christian Irish settlers, while nature lovers visiting in spring or early summer will find an extraordinary display of rare wildflowers and vast seabird colonies breeding on the nearby Cliffs of Moher.
The three offshore Aran Islands, essentially a continuation of the Burren, are a magical destination where you will find the old traditions very much alive, along with Celtic monuments, churches, Iron Age cliff forts, abundant wildlife and mile upon mile of stone walls, best explored on a bicycle before repairing to the pub to enjoy some Irish music and to share a yarn or two with the locals. Wherever you go in the West of Ireland, you’ll find wonderful and unexpected hospitality, dazzling scenery and an intangible but immensely powerful connection with the past.