We left Dublin on 4/12/14 and headed to Connemara on the Western coast of Ireland and specifically a small village called Letterfrack. Originally, we were going to take a bus to Letterfrack but we decided to rent a car instead. I’m really glad we made that decision as the cost difference wasn’t much, but I realize now that we wouldn’t have been able to experience most of the things we did without the car. Ireland is very rural once you get out of Dublin even a little ways. Without a car there simply isn’t any way to get to most of the things worth seeing. If you’re going to Ireland and going anywhere besides Dublin, I highly recommend getting a car. That said, I would not recommend renting a car in Dublin and trying to drive there. The traffic is crazy and combine that with the confusion of driving on the other side of the road and it would be a nightmare. What we did is took the train from Dublin to Galway, picked up our car in Galway, and then drove the rest of the way to Letterfrack. The car rental was actually very straightforward, as easy as renting on in the US. If you’re a US citizen, all you need is a valid US driver’s license and a credit card and you’re good to go. Long story short, if you’re going to Ireland, definitely rent a car. It’s really the only way to see the countryside.
About that whole driving on the other side of the road thing. I was actually pretty nervous about it and it was definitely very strange at first. I drove around in the parking lot of the rental agency and then in some quiet residential streets for a while to get used to it a little bit before hitting the open road. It’s not just driving on the other side of the road, but the driver’s seat is actually on the opposite side of the car as well. Therefore, it’s like a mirror image of what we’re used to in the U.S. The gear shift is on the left side and you shift with your left hand, the seat belt buckles on your left side instead of the right, and the passenger is to your left instead of your right. Once I got going, it actually started to feel pretty natural to be on the left side of the road pretty quickly. The thing that was hardest was knowing where the passenger side of the car was. I found myself being way too far over on the left side of the lane all the time. The roads are really narrow and windy as well and many of them have walls on the side. Therefore if you’re too far to the left, it’s very possible to sidewipe something pretty easily. I just found that I had to consciously tell myself to get over to the right side of the lane and after doing that for a while it started to feel a little more natural. After a few hours on the road, I got over the initial nervousness and started to get the hang of it. I am doing pretty well now a couple days in, although Jocelyn might argue otherwise.
Once we picked up the car we headed toward Letterfrack and Connemara. The first place we stopped was at Aughnanure Castle. This was a stronghold of the O’Flaherty clan dating from around 1500 AD. It was really neat and in remarkably good shape. The keep was well preserved and you can climb all the stairs and see all of the different floors where people lived, worked, ate, etc. It’s also in a really beautiful setting in the woods next to a little creek. This is just one example of a place we would not have seen had we taken the bus to Letterfrack. Our next stop was at Kylemore Abbey. We didn’t actually go in because it was a little expensive and we didn’t have a lot of time. It is quite a place though and definitely worth seeing.
We arrived in Letterfrack around 6:00 PM and got checked into the Bard’s Den hostel. Letterfrack is an interesting little village. When I say little, I mean tiny. It only has a population of about 200 people. It’s in a beautiful spot though, right on the edge of Connemara National Park and also within walking distance of the ocean. We made some dinner in the kitchen there and decompressed a little bit. The pub across the street called Molly’s was advertising music at 9:00, so we decided we would head over there later. I went over about 8:30 to secure us a table and there was indeed some music. It consisted of one guy sitting on a barstool with a guitar singing cover songs. It was definitely full of locals who all knew each other, but I managed to strike up a couple of interesting conversations with folks. One thing about the Irish is that they are in general very friendly and willing to talk to strangers if you approach them. This seems especially true in the pub when the Guiness is flowing. The guy with the guitar was singing a song intermittentlh between glasses of whiskey and by about 9:30 he was three sheets to the wind and obviously wasn’t going to be playing any more music. About that time a whole group of other people showed up with all kinds of boxes and what appeared to be gift baskets full of various things. The kind of thing you might win at a raffle. They then put DVDs of horse races onto the TV and people started betting on the recorded horse races. It was for some local charity and people were having a good time doing it, but I’ve never really seen anything like it. All in all, the place was interesting and gave me a good feel for small town life in Ireland.
The next day, we headed out for some hiking. We started out walking to the top of Cregg Hill a little ways outside of Letterfrack. We had the place all to ourselves except for a few sheep, which was very nice. The top of the hill had some great views down into the Connemara boglands and the harbor to the North and the Twelve Bens mountains to the East. We then headed down and followed another trail out into the boglands. This was a little tough going, they don’t call it a bog for nothing, it was definitely wet and squishy. We were rewarded for the effort though with a brief glimpse of a fox running across the bog and into some trees. After this, we headed into the next little town of Clifden which is about a 20 minute drive from Letterfrack. They had a traditional music festival going on all weekend and we caught the last session of it on Sunday afternoon. They had music going the whole time with 10-12 musicians playing at any given moment as well as singing and dancing. After that, we headed back to Connemara and climbed Diamond Hill. Again, this had great views all around Connemara and aside from being a little windy it was a great hike.
Our final morning in Connemara we woke up to a perfect sunny day and started our drive towards Letterkenny farther North. We got a bit lost in the first little bit, but found a really amazing sandy beach. We hung out there for a while, soaked up some sun, and I even took my shoes off for a little while. It was a nice way to spend our last bit of time in Connemara and it goes to show that getting lost isn’t always a bad thing on a trip like this. Sometimes thats how you find the best stuff.
Connemara was a beautiful place and I hope to make it back here again at some point as there is a lot more to see and do. It was really nice to get out into nature again after being in cities for the last few weeks. I left feeling recharged and ready for the next leg of our journey which includes Glenveagh National Park and Malin Head which is where my Irish ancestors came from. Pictures of Connemara below.