A long road that swoops through the windswept coast of Connemara takes us through a part of the Wild Atlantic Way. Here, views are stunning, with the Atlantic to one side and rolling hills on the other. The road coasts the ocean, but also leads further inland through verdant bogs with quaint little rivers running through.
You have to be on your lookout for the best spots for photography. They are not marked here. Some of them are simply along the road, with nowhere really to stop your car. At times, the view outside seemed like a diorama that was set up specially, for no apparent reason, in the middle of nowhere. But I suppose that’s Ireland for you.
One of the spots to stop at would be the coral beach in Carraroe. Here, the “sand” isn’t actually sand – it’s bits of coral that have been smashed and ground by the forces of nature over millennia to eventually resemble sand. To be honest, it was more like the size and shape of dog food, but that sounds less romantic, so I’ll stick with sand.
In one of his more philosophical moments, Greg (our friend from Galway and unofficial guide for this trip) cupped his hands and shovelled some of the beach into them before slowly letting the coral bits pour through as he parted his palms slightly. “These were living things that died and turned into a beach”, he said.
I wondered how old the coral bits were – when was it last so warm that coral grew on the west coast of Ireland? And when did they die?
Along the road, you’ll notice a mine on the inland side. We parked here and walked about twenty or thirty meters to where there was a stone hut on the other side.
This was the most picture perfect scene depicting the pastoral nature of Connemara.
Here, sheep wandered around aimlessly, completely undisturbed on what seemed like a purposefully manicured little island hill with a couple of trees and a ramshackle bridge leading from the road to this island.
For lunch, we stopped at Ballynahinch Castle Hotel. It’s a truly impressive and beautiful property, and I think, possibly well worth the splurge for a few nights. But if you didn’t book in time, you can still enjoy the food in its pub, which is excellent.
In this part of Ireland, it’s all about the fish, and Ballynahinch Castle is a favourite with anglers, so you have to get the seafood chowder. It’s fabulous, especially so with the soda bread filled with walnut and flavoured with molasses. And of course, the glass of Guinness to round off all the tastes!
The castle is right outside a salmon fishery on the Owenmore River so you’ll see plenty of anglers with their beautiful catch of the day, fresh as fresh can be.
Along the way back to Galway, we stopped to photograph a beautiful island on Derryclare Lough, half shrouded in the grey gloom of the day. Such islands and the surrounding land could have been what inspired part of the landscape of the North in The Game of Thrones, particularly the Neck, where Meera and Jojen are from.
That said, most of the Irish filming locations were actually in Northern Ireland.
The Wild Atlantic way stretches beyond Connemara, of course – if we had more time, we’d have loved to go on farther as what we had seen, we’d found breathtaking. Connemara and the Wild Atlantic Way is an impressive and quintessentially Irish landscape you absolutely have to experience.