See also Connemara National Park
Galway City sits at the head of the Connemara area that is separated by Galway Bay and Lough Corrib, Ireland’s second largest lake, from the rest of the county. The area is deeply indented with many bays. Here are the Maumturk mountains, the Twelve Bens mountains, and Connemara National Park.
The Connemara, a Gaelic speaking region on Galway’s western seaboard, is justly famous for its scenery. Coast, mountain, lake, river, woodlands, and a national park all vie for attention. Roads run along the southern coast and the N59 heads through the centre of the area and doubles back towards county Mayo. A detour at Leenane leads to Galway’s Joyce Country and back to Lough Corrib. The area is replete with castles, ancient forts and ecclesiastical remains, and sandy beaches. Here is traditional Ireland.
Galway City’s population is around 70,000. It’s the country’s third city after Dublin and Cork. Its location on the mouth of the Corrib river and Galway bay makes it important as a port. Eyre Square is the focus of the modern part of the city.
The Galway city museum by the Spanish arch has historical, archaeological, and culture displays as well as a film on Galway. Medieval St Nicholas church is the only remaining Church of Ireland in the city. Its building ranges from the 14th through the 16th centuries. Look for the gargoyles on the exterior and the medieval font in the interior.
Lynch’s castle is 16th century and is decorated with a number of gargoyles. The Roman Catholic cathedral is 20th century and is made of local limestone. The Galway Irish Crystal Heritage Centre makes traditional leaded crystal objects. The methods of crystal making are depicted in a tour that also includes an AV show on Galway’s culture.
East of Galway city, at Oranmore is Rinville Park estate, site of an ancient castle and historic home. There are woodland walks and birds and otters to view. Just south of Galway, 16th century Dunguaire castle on the bay at Kinvara is a four storey tower house. Medieval banquets are held in the restored rooms. At Lackagh, 10 miles north-east of Galway off N63 near Turloughmore, is the Lackagh Museum, a cottage with artefacts set up to display past ways of living. There is a collection of farm machinery at the site.
Athenry is a heritage town east of Galway city. Still standing are some of the town walls with towers and entrance gate. In the town square is a 15th century lantern market cross and the Athenry arts and heritage centre in a former church. An AV presentation and displays are offered for the visitor.
Three storey Athenry (Bermingham) castle dates from 1238 and retains its curtain walls and towers. There’s an AV presentation and exhibition. The ruins of a 1241 Dominican priory complete with tombs and window traceries are found in the castle grounds. The Fields of Athenry is a thatched heritage cottage recreated with artefacts. On Wednesday and Saturday traditional music events are held.
The visitor centre in the village of Aughrim gives details of the battle between north and south. Near Aughrim in southeast Kilconnell is one of the finest Franciscan friary ruins in Ireland.
Dartfield Horse Museum and Park at Killreekill near Aughrim on the county’s eastern border tells the story of the relationship between man and the horse. One gallery tells the history of the evolution of the horse and how breeds developed. There is a display of farm machinery and carriages. Live Irish horses are in the stables. An art gallery highlights the horse as the subject of paintings and prints. An AV presentation, shop, café, and walks complete the entertainment.
The attractive town of Portumna, at the head of Lough Derg on the river Shannon, lies on county Galway’s south-east border. The ruined (a fire in 1826 caused its abandonment) Portumna castle, built in 1618, is now part of a forest park. The castle has had ongoing restoration work in the 20th century. In the 18th century the castle had elaborate gardens. A ruined Dominican friary church and remains of domestic buildings are also located here. At Clonfert are the ruins of a bishop’s palace and old cathedral.
In the far south of the county near Lough Cutra, Gort is a heritage town and home to traditional music. Riverside walks and an ancient mill are in the town. Historical places in the area include the Kilmacduagh monastic site. The monastery was founded in the 7th century. Still standing are the glebe house, church of St John the Baptist, a round tower, and a cathedral. The cathedral dates from the 11th-15 centuries. St Mary’s church dates from 1200.
Three miles north of Gort, Coole Park and Visitor Centre is a nature reserve complete with deer, walks, a lake, exhibitions, an AV presentation, and a tearoom. At Kiltartan the Gregory Museum gives all the local history. Thoor Ballylee is a four storey 16th century tower house. The outer walls were seven feet thick and a spiral staircase built into the walls led to the four floors. It was a home for a number of years to the poet W. B. Yeats (he moved into it in 1919) and is now a museum with an AV presentation.
North of Galway off the N84 is Annaghdown with the ruins of an abbey, a cathedral, and a Norman castle. At Headford is Ross Errily friary. It dates from 1351 and is one of the most extensive and best preserved friaries in Ireland.
On the N17, the large town of Tuam has several buildings of interest: the Church of Ireland cathedral (look for the Romanesque chancel arch and Italian choir stalls); the remnant of O’Conner castle; and a restored corn mill housing a museum with an AV presentation and a tourist information centre. Seven miles south-east are the ruins of Abbeyknockmoy abbey, dating from 1189. Continuing north leads to Milltown, a tidy town award winner on the Clare river with a heritage park.
In the centre of the county, the town of Loughrea, on the lake of the same name, dates from medieval times. It’s complete with a moat and a well preserved abbey. St Brendan’s Cathedral and Museum offers arts and crafts and stained glass windows.
Leaving Galway city and heading along the south coast, the first stop is at Spiddal. Its stone church, traditional pubs, sandy beach, and craft village make for plenty to see and do. The Oceans Alive Visitor Centre at the town of Connemara, promotes the marine heritage of the area with an aquarium, museum, AV show, and display. On a sandy cove, the centre has sightseeing cruises, a craft shop, and a tearoom. The village of Carraroe does much to promote the Irish speaking culture. The harbour at Kilkieran is home to a seaweed industry. The picturesque fishing harbour of Roundstone is a holiday resort.
For a rundown on the heritage and history of the area, visit the tourist centre in Clifden’s town square, location of the Connemara Heritage and History Centre. The town is located at the far western end of the N59 past the Twelve Bens mountains. The town’s claim to fame is its tweed weaving and lobster fishery.
The Sky Road scenic drive, north of Clifden, is steep and narrow and runs along cliffs on the north side of Clifden Bay. The Clifden castle ruins are located on the road. East of Cleggan, on this scenic drive, is a large collection of prehistoric monuments. A ferry runs from Cleggan to Inishbofin Island with its promontory fort.
Off the N59 is the Connemara National Park. For detailed information on the park, and an AV presentation, stop at the visitor centre at Letterfrack. Further on, Kylemore Abbey estate, on Kylemore Lake is home to a community of Benedictine nuns who welcome visitors to their six acre Victorian walled garden, abbey, church, visitor centre with video and exhibition, restored gothic church, restaurant, and shop.
Heading back east towards Galway city the road leads along Lough Corrib. The lake, second largest in Ireland, has a number of islands. 90 minute cruises on Lough Corrib to Inchagaoill Island depart from the Lisloughrey and Oughterard piers. Oughterard is a golf and fishing town on the western shore of Lough Corrib.
Near Oughterard is Glengowla lead and silver mine, where underground tours are offered. Surviving parts of the six storey 16th century tower house Aughnanure castle include a circular watch tower, the east wall of a banqueting hall, and the six storey keep. It was a stronghold of the Irish chieftains.
Off the coast of Connemara are the Aran islands: Inishmore, Inishmaan, and Inisheen. On Inishmore on a cliff overlooking the ocean is Dun Aonghasa/Aenghus, a prehistoric stone fort with a visitor centre. In the village of Kilronan is the Aran Heritage Centre with displays on the islands. Ruins on the island include St Brecan’s church, an ancient monastic site; St Kieran’s church; Arkin’s castle; St Brenen’s church; and St Eany’s church.
Dun Conor is a huge prehistoric fort in the centre of the island of Inishmaan. Dun Moher/Fearbhaigh is a small stone fort. The local museum has artefacts and old photos. Dun Formna stone fort is on the island of Inisheen along with the ruins of St Cavan’s church and St Gobnet’s church.
For opening times and full details of attractions see the Attractions section of our website.
Aran Heritage Centre
Kilronan, Inishmore, Aran Island
Tel. 099 61355
Athenry Arts and Heritage Centre
Atheny, in the square in former church
Tel. 091 844661
Tel. 091 844797
Tel. 091 552214
Connemara Heritage and History Centre
Connemara near Clifden
Tel. 095 21246
Web: Connemara Heritage and History Centre
Connemara National Park Visitor Centre
Letterfrack, Galway, on the N59
Tel. 0 95 41054
Coole Park and Visitor Centre
Tel. 091 631804
Dartfield Horse Museum and Park
Killreekill, near Loughrea
Tel. 091 843968
Web: Dartfield Horse Museum
Dun Aonghasa/Aenghus Visitor Centre
Kilmurvey, Inishmore, Aran Island
Tel. 099 61008
Inishmore, Aran Island
Tel. 099 73009
Kinvara, on the bay
Tel. 061 360788 or 091 637108
Fields of Athenry
Tel. 091 844113
Galway City Museum
Galway at Fishmarket near the docks
Tel. 091 567641
Galway Irish Crystal Heritage Centre
Galway City, N6 Dublin Road
Tel. 091 757311
Web: Galway Irish Crystal Heritage Centre
Glengowla Lead and Silver Mine
Oughterard, on N59
Tel. 091 552021
Kiltartan Gregory Museum
Tel. 091 632346
Kylemore Abbey Estate
Kylemore, on edge of Kylemore lake
Tel. 095 41146
Web: Kylemore Abbey
Lackagh near Turloughmore, on N63 Galway-Roscommon road
Tel. 091 797444
Web: Lough Corrib Cruises
Tel. 093 24141
Oceans Alive Visitor Centre
Tel. 095 43473
Portumna Castle and Gardens
Tel. 090 9741658
Tel. 091 509000
Sheep and Wool Centre
Leenane village, Connemara
Tel. 095 42323
Spiddal Craft and Design Studios
Eleven miles west of Galway city
Web: Spiddal Craft and Design Studios
St Brendan’s Cathedral and Museum
Loughrea, on the lake
Tel. 091 41006 or 091 41212
Gort, off Gort-Limerick road N66
Tel. 091 631436
County Galway Tourist Information Centres
Open all Year:
Aran Tourist Office
Tel. 099 61263
Galway Tourist Office
Tel. 091 537700
Oranmore Tourist Office
Tel. 091 790811
Oughterard Tourist Office
Tel. 091 552808
Ballinasloe Tourist Office
Tel. 090 9742604
Clifden Tourist Office
Tel. 095 21163
Salthill Tourist Office
Tel. 091 520500
Thoor Ballylee, Gort
Tuam Tourist Office
Tel. 093 25486/24463
Galway East Tourism
Galway County Council
Photos of Kylemore Abbey, abbey and lake, Dun Aenghus, ruined Inishmore abbey, Inishmore cliff view © by Barbara Ballard
Photos of Connermara National Park and Dunguaire castle, courtesy Tourism Ireland
Other photos courtesy Geograph Britain and Ireland as follows:
Eyre square by louise price; St Nicholas Church, Galway cathedral, Thoor Ballylee by James Yardley; Irish crystal, Lakagh museum, Athenry town centre, Athenry town gate, Athenry castle, Loughrea lake, Loughrea town, Connemara National Park visitor centre by Graham Horn; Athenry priory by Ian Edwards; Kilconnell abbey ruins by Peter Allen; Portumna castle, Aughnanure castle interior by Mike Searle; two photos of Kilmacduagh monastic site by Adrian King; Headford main street by Robert Bone; Tuam High St, Lough Corrib, Oughterard town by Trish Steel; Tuam cathedral by Neil Theasby; Cong abbey by Joseph Mischyshyn; Spiddall craft centre by P Flannagan; Kilkieran seaweed factory by Jonathan Wilkins; Clifden from the south by Ian Taylor; Clifden castle ruins by Roger Diel; Sky road by Oxana Maher
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