The Connemara landscape fails to disappoint Kris Goodbody
When I find myself surrounded by the rugged beauty of the west of Ireland, I often feel I’m balancing on the precipice at the edge of the world. My mind tends to wander to the vast expanse of Eurasia, from the eastern coast of China all the way to Western France, and off there lies England and eventually Ireland, which a few hundred years ago was the last stop before the great unknown. Western Ireland must be one of the wildest places in Europe, but on a fine spring weekend I chose to go west where I met a small slice of tranquillity and sunshine – a rare scenario for a weekend surf trip.
The Gaeltacht has always been great at attracting visitors. From Americans with glazed expressions searching for a shred of heritage to Germans with an enviable command of the Irish language. I chose to visit Ballyconeely which boasts merely a shop, pub and harbour, but in reality holds such volumes of beauty that on a fine day would make the Amalfi coast look like Bray with a fancy accent. Away from the beaches are sheltered coves filled with water as blue as anything to be found in Fiji (though a 5mm wetsuit could be a reasonable idea), and small but sheer cliffs that are perfect for the odd ceremonial jump – though if neither of these float your boat, there’s a few things to do on land.
Hiking and scrambling around the coast is nothing short of spectacular, with sweeping views down the craggy western edge, and eerie ruins ranging from tiny ramshackle cottages with pots and pans still among the rubble, to sprawling Georgian mansions slowly crumbling to dust. When the tide goes out it is perfect for hunting for cockles, mussels and periwinkles to cook up for dinner, which allows for a certain sense of achievement and a quick marvel at your own hunter gatherer prowess.
For the more adventuresome non-water sports enthusiast (or when there’s no waves) there’s always rallying: much of this area is surrounded by a sort of giant grassy tundra which you are allowed to drive on. This is an undulating terrain, great for screeching around like a man possessed.
If the west of Ireland hasn’t taken a strange fancy to you and it’s raining (as is mostly the case) things to do in Ballyconeely may be a bit thin on the ground. A few suggestions would be putting on a wetsuit and going cycling, having a long chat with a friend, extra-slippery rallying around the place, or the pub – a fine place to while away the long rainy hours beside the warm fire, playing board games. There is a nice pub in Ballyconeely, but it wasn’t exactly the wildest place I’ve ever been of a Saturday night. Down in Clifton was a different story altogether though, as that weekend in particular was offering a Hannah Montana tribute show. I’m sure every weekend of the year features another treat for music lovers everywhere.