West of Ireland/Aran islands, Ireland
Value for Money:
Personality Types that Like it Best
Did You Know … ?
- The Burren in western Ireland is home to more than 70% of Ireland’s native flora.
- A 16th century pirate queen, Grace O’Malley, patrolled Ireland’s Atlantic waters for 50-plus years.
- The Ceide Fields are the world’s oldest known field systems, nearly 6,000 years old.
- The 1952 John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara movie, “The Quiet Man,” was shot in Maam Cross.
- An Aran wool sweater can absorb 30% of its weight in water before feeling wet.
Ring forts and cable stitches
The Cliffs of Moher. Fiddles and traditional Irish music. St. Patrick. Medieval banquets. The Gaeltacht. W.B. Yeats. King Brian Boru. Ancient cairns and ring forts. Aran sweaters. These words conjure a mental image of Ireland, but that image is even more on point when describing the West of Ireland.
The West includes seven coastal counties, listed north to south: Donegal, Leitrim, Sligo, Mayo, Galway, Clare and Limerick. Also in the West and listed north to south, Roscommon, Offaly and Tipperary counties parallel the coast but don’t touch the sea. The Aran Islands are in Galway Bay.
The country’s Atlantic-facing coast is known for a shoreline often battered by rough seas. The Cliffs of Moher epitomize this often-rugged coastal terrain.
The seaside village of Doolin is deemed the traditional music capital of Ireland promising visitors nightly opportunities to participate in lively music sessions at local pubs.
Croagh Patrick, a sacred mountain associated with the fifth century St. Patrick and now a pilgrimage destination, is in County Mayo.
The famed Bunratty medieval banquet is in the West, near Shannon; other castles in the West stage similar period events.
The Gaeltacht, the areas of Ireland where Irish is spoken, is more extensive in the West, encompassing large parts of counties Donegal, Galway (including the Aran Islands) and Mayo.
The poet, W.B. Yeats, lived in County Sligo and is buried there while the remains of a fort identified with the famed 11th century king, Brian Boru, are in County Clare.
Ancient ruins include more than 500 ring forts, mostly in the Burren, a vast area of naturally exposed limestone. Other forts have names, such as the 4,000-year-old Grianan Ailigh in County Donegal and the 3,000-year-old Dun Aengus in the Aran Islands. Aside from its archaeological significance, Dun Aengus offers great views in Galway Bay from a perch about 300 feet above the water.
The Aran Islands gave their name to the quintessential Irish sweater, the color of sheep’s wool and designed with cable and other stitches that have special meanings.
Ireland’s West beckons with a wide variety of attractions and activities that can be paired with all personality types.
Things to do for Venturers
- Work on your rock climbing skills, taking advantage of the rough terrain in Ireland’s West.
- Combine a desire for outdoor activities with the pilgrim’s instinct: Climb the 2,510-foot Croagh Patrick, the sacred mountain near Westport where St. Patrick fasted.
- Watch Gaelic games when opportunity presents. Note: County Mayo is particularly known for women’s Gaelic competitions. Also, go to the horseraces at Galway.
- See something of the Aran Islands traveling by pony and trap, or rent a bicycle for the purpose. Include the Dun Aengus fort and its vantage point on the itinerary.
- Devote an evening, or many evenings, to pub food and the pub experience, which may include singing. Or, just for unusual eats, try Sligo’s edible seaweeds carrageen and dillisk.
- Collect easel and brush, and stop moving around the countryside long enough to paint some of it.
Things to do for Centrics
- Plan to attend a Galway Oyster Festival. Or, plan your travels around another seafood festival on the Atlantic coast.
- Be impressed by some of Ireland’s really old stuff. The Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery, County Sligo, is a burial site with more than 60 tombs dating from nearly 4000 B.C., and Ceide Fields, County Mayo, are archaeology’s oldest known enclosed fields, from about the same era.
- Fish for salmon in the River Moy in Ballina, County Mayo.
- Amble along the edge of the Cliffs of Moher, taking some care while admiring their 700-foot drop to the ocean. Then, have a look at another natural wonder, also in County Clare, the Burren, an extensive area of huge limestone rock slabs — with a wide array of flowers that grow and bloom from the cracks in the rocks.
- It’s a sobering choice, but consider spending time at the National Famine Museum at Stokestown, County Roscommon. It offers documents and images designed to interpret the 19th century famine.
- Time your visit to accommodate the Galway Comedy Festival, held in October.
Things to do for Authentics
- Attend a medieval banquet at a restored castle, either Bunratty or Knappogue.
- For the perfect memento of western Ireland, buy a wool sweater that was knitted in the Aran Islands.
- For a scenery-rich journey, travel through Connemara, noted for a rugged landscape that ranges from Twelve Bens mountains to the lakes of Roundstone Bog. Travel through villages where Irish is still spoken, and drop in at Maam Cross to see a replica of the cottage used in the filming of “The Quiet Man.”
- Look for the Connemara ponies in Connemara National Park.
- Take a sightseeing cruise from one of County Clare’s coastal sites in order to get a better look of its beautiful coastline. Alternatively, or in addition, cruise on the River Shannon and Erne Waterways, Ireland’s largest waterway.
- See a performance of traditional Irish music, song and dance, such as at the Corn Barn in Bunratty Folk Park or at any of several annual festivals such as the Feile Chois Chuain in Louisburg, County Mayo.
For more information, consult Tourism Ireland at www.ireland.com