We will start this coastal tour by travelling through the mountains known as ‘Joyce’s Country’. This Irish speaking region takes its epithet from the high population of families with the surname of Joyce who originate here. Heading to the coast from Ashford Castle, we will be driving through the charming, historic villages of Cong and Clonbur.
Further on you will see Lough Mask, nature’s guide through the undulating Finny Mountains. This range plays host to Lough Nafooey, a glacial lake that is set in a steep-sided valley and surrounded by the rugged mountains of Galway to the south and Mayo’s Partry Mountains to the north. And there will be plenty of time for photo opportunities, or a breath of brisk sea air, whilst surrounded by this striking scenery that is so representative of the ‘Wild Atlantic Way.’
Leenane – ‘the Gateway to Connemara’ — is famous for its vital fishing industry; and perhaps as much so for being the backdrop to a film that hit like a bolt of lightning in 1990, courtesy of a brace of talented Irish men: film director Jim Sheridan and playwright John B. Kean. The film was The Field and starred Limerick’s own Richard Harris and an international cast that included Tom Berenger, Sean Bean and John Hurt.
Harris received a Golden Globe and Academy Award nomination for his depiction of Bull McCabe and visitors can see many of the locations used in the film.
It is also the setting for acclaimed Irish playwright Martin McDonagh’s Tony Award-winning masterpiece The Beauty Queen of Leenane.
The only fjord in Western Ireland can be viewed as we stop at Killary Harbour. This glacial fjord is situated in the heart of Connemara and it forms a natural border between counties Galway and Mayo. Nearby lies the so-called Green Road, a rough road running along the side of the fjord back east towards Leenane at the head. This was part of the famine relief program during the 19th century.
Aquaculture is particularly important locally with salmon farms and mussel rafts being a common sight. As we drive toward Kylemore Abbey keep your eyes on the fjord as you might just spy a dolphin in the bay.
‘The View that launched a thousand postcards’, it has been said – and we challenge you to differ as you approach the Connemara jewel that is Kylemore Abbey. This unparalleled building steals focus from its wooded surrounding and will have you chomping at the bit to go exploring.
Founded in 1920, Kylemore Abbey is a Benedictine monastery on the grounds of Kylemore Castle, which was originally built as a private home for the family of Mitchell Henry, a wealthy doctor from London. The construction of the castle first began in 1867, and took one hundred men four years to complete. There were 33 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, 4 sitting rooms, a ballroom, billiard room, library, study, school room, smoking room, gun room and various offices. Other buildings erected on the site include a Gothic cathedral, walled garden and family mausoleum containing the bodies of Margaret Henry, Mitchell Henry and a great grand-nephew.
In 1920 the Irish Benedictine Nuns purchased the Abbey and up until 2012 they offered education to Catholic girls. The abbey boasts a number of lunch opportunities including a restaurant and tea rooms.