Top 10 places to see in the West of Ireland
Here at www.greenmarblecycletours.com we do the utmost to choose the very best of what the West of Ireland has to offer and then bring our clients there! There is so much to see and do here that we will often suggest a number of places and then let you choose which suits you best. Here are some of the places that anyone visiting the west of Ireland from Kerry to Donegal should really consider seeing. Let us know if there is anywhere that you think should make the top ten list!
- The Skellig Islands, and Monastery
The magnificent Skellig Islands, (as featured in the latest instalment of the Star Wars franchise, The Force Awakens), lie 8 miles (12 km) off the coast of Portmagee in South West Kerry. Rising majestically from the sea, Skellig Michael, the bigger of the two islands, towers 714ft (218 metres) above sea level. It was on this Island that 1400 years ago, along the stark edge of the then known world the Monks of Skellig Michael began building what still remains today to be the most remarkable testament to human faith on Earth. They believed that through seclusion and hardship they could be closer to God. Out there on the Island one can only wonder how they survived through the magnificent storms that rage, rolling in from the Atlantic, having mercy on no-one.
A day trip can be arranged to the Island on-board Charter boats, and once on the Island, having had the compulsory safety brief from a guide (who lives out there for the Summer!) you are free to climb the 618 uneven stone steps up to the monastery. There are other guides up at the summit to give tours and answer all your questions. En-route to the top (and dependant on the time of year) you will see vast colonies wild birds such as puffins, arctic terns, black guillemots, herring gulls and many more.
What you need:
Good walking boots with ankle support are ideal. Carry with you a small backpack with some water and a packed lunch, sun cream and waterproof clothing if you have it as the weather can change very quickly! Also, be aware there are no toilet facilities on the Island at all.
Check out this safety video before you travel:
- Loop Head, and the Lighthouse
You will find a warm County Clare welcome on the Loop head peninsula! Here there are no mountains, and there are no trees, it is sheer rock out into the Atlantic ocean. No matter the mode of transport, the spectacular cliff scenery along the coastal routes are phenomenal. There is so much to see out on Loop Head; visit the Medieval castles such as the one at Carrigaholt, see the Bridges of Ross, a spectacular natural sea arch, or take in the Kilkee Cliff Walk.
There is a different kind of wildness here, the striking landscape of the peninsula cut out where the currents of the sea meet the force of the Shannon river evoke emotions in visitors and residents alike. Where else in the world could you see a dolphin or a whale from the road or meet local people as friendly?
The Loop head lighthouse stands on the edge of the rocky peninsula, jutting out into the Atlantic ocean at the mount of the river Shannon. Here at the Lighthouse visitor centre, you will be able to experience what life was like for the lighthouse keepers of years gone by and their families. From the balcony outside the light itself you can enjoy the breath-taking panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean, the Shannon river and the Loop Head peninsula.
This beautifully put together video gives you a taste of what lies ahead!
- Diamond Hill, Connemara National Park
Diamond Hill, so named for the shape it takes at its peak, can be accessed from the Connemara National Park visitor centre located near the village of Letterfrack, Connemara. The full route which includes the summit is 7km and it is recommended to allow 3 hours for the return trip. The trail is fully signposted and for the most part a surfaced track. For the final ascent to the top of the cone of the hill, (which is a more natural track) the climb steepens and becomes slightly more difficult.
The four trails of Diamond Hill with different levels of difficulty
Photo Source: NPWS
The payoff for the extra bit of climbing makes it all worthwhile! The stunning views from the top on the hill will leave you with no regrets about having included this in your itinerary.
One view from Diamond Hill
Photo Credit: Eric Pierson
What you need: Wear good footwear, preferably with ankle support and bring some water and a snack. A windproof or even better a waterproof jacket should be taken on all but the warmest of Summer days. Sun cream is also highly recommended despite frequent cloud cover.
- The Black Fort, Aran Islands
The lesser visited Black Fort or Dún Dúchathair (yet equally as fantastic as the more well know Dún Aonghus) is situated on the cliffs at Killeany on Inis Mór, the largest of the three Aran Islands. The fort is more difficult to get to and is a favourite for those who prefer to be off the beaten path. It is believed to take its name from the darker colour of the limestone on this part of the Island.
The fort itself has been left unexcavated, so exact dates cannot be given, but it is thought to be from around the same period as Dún Aonghus, and as such about 3,100 years old. It consists of a terraced wall surrounding the remains of some early dwelling houses known as Clocháns or stone houses. Many appreciate the solitude of the Black Fort, whilst other parts of the Island can get crowded. There is no entrance fee other than the walk to get there, and this can be quite beautiful too!
The Black fort on the middle peninsula between two caverns
The cliffs at the Black fort are not as high as those at Dún Aonghus, and you feel much closer to the sea there. There are two fantastic caverns on either side of the peninsula where you can watch and hear the waves hitting the cliffs. The views are magnificent and the pint of Guinness or hot whiskey back in the village of Kilronan will be well deserved!
What you need: A good pair of walking boots and a jacket.
- Black Sod Bay and the Mullet Peninsula
If you make it as far as Belmullet in County Mayo, then you must take the time to explore the Mullet peninsula. One of the lesser visited parts of Ireland, due to its remoteness, this area is home to some hidden gems that are well worth spending the time to see. The thinly populated peninsula can feel more cut off than many of the Islands on the west coast, but boasts some fantastic beaches along the eastern shoreline.
The peninsula is steeped in Irish culture, heritage and history and a wealth of information is available from places like Ionad Deirbhile heritage centre. See their website for more details on topics such as the assisted emigration of over 3300 people from Co. Mayo during the years 1883 and 1884 to Canada, or the local folklore. www.ionaddeirbhile.ie
There is an impressive sculpture situated at Fál Mór called ‘Deirbhile’s Twist’ which consists of upright granite boulders forming a spiral which gain height towards the centre. Another, called ‘Idir Dha Sháile’ is located at Mullach Rua. These form part of the ‘Tír Sáile’ sculpture trail which extends along north Mayo, commencing in Ballina and finishing up here at Fál Mór. The sculptures were constructed in 1993 to commemorate 5000 years of settlement in Mayo.
Deirbhile’s Twist – Photo Credit Alison Crummy
Blacksod Bay is a real under-rated beauty with wonderful views of the mainland and of Achill Island to the south. The Blacksod lighthouse is an absolute must for WW2 buffs being the lighthouse that delivered the weather forecasts that decided the 24-hour delay in the D-Day landings saving countless lives.
- Céide Fields
The Céide Fields is the most extensive Neolithic site in the world, and contains the oldest known field systems in the world. Using various dating methods, it was discovered that the creation and development of the Céide Fields goes back some six and a half thousand years. This attraction is another of Co. Mayo’s hidden gems, but really is a must see if you are anywhere in the vicinity! The recommendation is to take a guided tour, to ensure you make the most of the visit. The staff here are all very knowledgeable, informative and very helpful. It’s an ideal location to take in some lunch as the cafe provides some great hot food options.
The centre itself has been sensitively designed to fit into the landscape and is visible for miles around. It certainly cuts an imposing outline with its glass pyramid rising up out of the bogland. You really cannot help but be impressed by the massive tree trunk in the middle of the interpretative centre which was preserved by the bog. The amazing geology, archaeology, botany and wildlife of this North Mayo region is interpreted with the aid of an audio-visual presentation and exhibitions.
Céide Fields visitor centre
Also worth visiting whilst near the Céide Fields is the view of the sea-stack at Downpatrick Head. Especially beautiful at sunset, the layers of beautifully coloured rock are a wonder to behold.
An interesting fact about the sea stack: some years ago, a helicopter landed several people on the stack; they were the first humans to set foot there for centuries. The party included Dr. Seamus Caulfield and his late father Padraig Caulfield, Fr. Declan Caulfield, Noel Dunne, archaeologist, and Prof. Martin Downes, formerly of Castlebar. They camped there overnight and surveyed the surface where they found the remains of a medieval house, cultivation ridges, walls, and a broken quern stone (a stone used for grinding corn)!
Sea Stack at Downpatrick Head
What you need: As always, a good pair of walking boots, and a jacket to suit the weather. No need for food here as the Cafe in the Visitor Centre provides both hot and cold refreshments.
- Cnoc Suain and the Wind farm, Moycullen
Next on the list is Cnoc Suain, so under-rated even the locals don’t know that much about the place! Twenty years after its creation, Cnoc Suain has become an international award winning cultural retreat, close to nature and to the Gaelic culture that inspires it. Visitors are immersed in the vibrant heritage of Connemara through residential programmes and retreats, cottage rentals and experiences. Check out their website for a full list of experiences and activities.
Within this rural Connemara hill village, with its spectacular views of mountains, lakes, rivers and Galway Bay, Cnoc Suain cultural retreat can offer you an intimate experience in an inspiring and evocative setting. You can plan to spend either a morning or afternoon partaking in Cnoc Suain experiences, or even have an extended stay in one of the Stone thatched cottages, some dating back to 1691, nestle seamlessly into the hillside. Within the four walls of these cottages you are reminded of the simplicity with which life was lived, and the ingenuity necessary for survival, especially here in Connemara. A feeling of calmness prevails.
Stone Cottage at Cnoc Suain
A tranquil, relaxing retreat, stepping away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, easily accessible, being only a 20-minute drive from Galway City, Cnoc Suain provides an authentic experience in the restored rural hill-village.
A short 2-minute drive away from Cnoc Suain are the recently erected Windmills which overlook Galway bay and on a clear day the Aran Islands! The structures themselves, although magnificent in their enormity, are not the only attraction to this location. The view of the sky from here on a clear night produces a wonderful star-scape!
Night view, Moycullen Windfarm
Photo Credit: Eric Pierson
- Linnalla Ice-cream along the Flaggy Shore
The Flaggy Shore lies along the northern coast of County Clare. Although it is waymarked on the Wild Atlantic Way it is often overlooked by visitors to the County. The Flaggy Shore is located at Finavarra near New Quay, with Linnanes pub at one end, perfect for a pint of Guinness or a seafood lunch. It is about half a mile of rocky limestone coastline that stretches from New Quay to Finavarra Point. A Martello Tower still stands at Finavarra Point. There is a paved road which runs along the shore making it ideal for walkers and cyclists alike.
The Flaggy Shore Picture Credit: Catherine Cronin
Famous for its limestone pavements and fossils that are embedded in the rock, including sculptured rocks along the shore called ‘Biokarst’, and with the backdrop of rising undulating landscape of the Burren hills inland this place has it all. The shoreline itself is stunning but what makes the Flaggy Shore so distinctive is the wonderful views to the west and north to Galway Bay and the mountains beyond.
For a reward or a way to entice the children into the walk, consider parking the car or the bike at the Flaggy Shore car park and walking the shoreline to the Linnalla Ice-cream Cafe. Here at the Cafe the Fahy family put the produce of their dairy farm to good use making a beautiful selection of artisan ice creams. Although Linnalla ice cream is available to buy nationwide, you will really enjoy a freshly made ice cream cone while walking along the North Clare Shoreline! It could not come any fresher!
Roger and Bríd at Linnalla
What you need: A few euro for your ice-creams
- Killary sheep farm and dog trials
Overlooking one of the most outstanding bays in Ireland, and our only Fjord, the Killary Sheep Farm is a traditional working mountain farm with approximately 200 ewes and lambs roaming freely on the land. On the farm are mainly blackhead horny sheep which are most suited to survive on the mountains during the harsh winters. Here visitors can enjoy sheepdog demonstrations, sheep shearing demonstrations done in the traditional way using the slean, and turf cutting demonstrations.
Tom welcomes visitors of all ages and looks forward to introducing you to his dogs who work the farm. If you arrive at the right time of year you may be lucky enough to feed a few lambs. Or if you are feeling energetic, you can cut a few sods of turf, which is more difficult than you’d expect!
Tom and his dogs are a well-oiled team. The dogs are impeccably trained to herd the sheep at the calls and whistles of their master. Each shout will signal for the dog to turn sharply, walk or even lay down on the spot. You can watch as the dogs herd the sheep through many gates into a pen near the viewing point, for one to be sheared later on!
Sheep dog at work
With all of the of new technology available for farming nowadays, it is easy to forget the amount of hands on work that it would have been in years gone by. This sheep farm is open to the public from April to September, really giving you a true feeling of what it was like to farm using traditional methods. A must see when in the Connemara region!
What you need: Good footwear is beneficial, a pair of boots or similar, especially if you plan to partake in one of the countryside walks. A jacket is a good idea too as the weather can roll in quickly off the Atlantic!
- Enniscrone Seaweed baths and Glamping
The Enniscrone area is well known for its beauty and its beach! A 5km stretch of beach, surrounded by dunes, gives the visitor a beautiful panoramic view. The ‘Valley of Diamonds’ is one of the hidden attractions along the beach, it is the largest of volcano-like compositions among the long-grassed sand dunes, the inside of which is a mostly sandy circle-like valley, and is located near the end of the beach.
The Seaweed Baths at Enniscrone are well situated on the eastern end of the seafront. The baths here have a unique ambiance, with many Edwardian features and fittings including solid brass taps and paneled wooden shower cisterns being in keeping with the era that the seaweed bath originates from.
“Imagine relaxing back into a big bath full of hot seawater and seaweed. The heat releases all the seaweed’s rich, silky essential oils so your body feels smooth, buoyant and luxurious. Tiredness, tension, aches and pains slip away. Feel your eyes close and your whole body sigh with sensuous satisfaction. One of life’s simple pleasures. Take the plunge, you deserve it!” – seaweed.ie
Seaweed Baths on the seafront in Enniscrone
While in Enniscrone you may choose to stay in one of the many hotels or holiday villages, but why not try something very different? The Quirky Nights Glamping Village offers a peculiar array of accommodations which include a Boeing 767 (with eight en-suite double bedrooms with the height of uniqueness and comfort, where individuality and authenticity of the theme is echoed in every room), a number of boats in a shallow lake marina setting, 10 double decker buses and 3 train carriages allowing for private units with inside living space and a number of smaller taxi units! The transport theme throughout and quirky nature of the spaces really allows visitors to have a once in a lifetime experience! The park will be opening soon and is sure to be booked out in no time! www.quirkyglamping.town.ie
We hope have enjoyed our top ten picks of the ‘Best of the West’. If you are planning a trip to any of the locations be sure to check if advance booking is required. We hope to see you here soon! All the best from all of us here at www.greenmarblecycletours.com