Staycations in Ireland: Exploring Connemara in County Galway & Mayo

Green and Gorgeous.

As staycations are still the only way to get out of Dublin and have a little break away, I recently made a trip across the country to Connemara. Hitting up areas of County Galway and County Mayo I’d not been to before while revisitng spots after a decade or longer, it was a foggy but fun and memorabe staycation.

TRAVEL & ACCOMMODATION DETAILS

Myself and Lorna (of Fashion Boss) headed towards Clifden, Co. Galway on a Monday morning with a 4 hour drive ahead of us. We first stayed in Clifden, then headed to Newport, Co. Mayo the next day, which was a 2 hour drive. The main and country roads were fine, many of which are newly surfaced though some are not as wide as you may think, whilst others have zero public lighting around them. Bí cúramach (be careful) if driving at night!

As we were staying in different areas and counties, I actally booked two different B&Bs for our short trip, both via Booking.com – this then worked out cheaper!

We stayed at Waterfront Rest B&B whilst in Clifden, run by owners Lydie & Pierre, a lovely French couple whose aesthetic reflects that of their French background. Our room looked across the lake, and featured a comfortable double bed, vanity table & stool, armchair, coffee/tea machine as well as extra blankets and pillows in the small wardrobe space. The bathroom had a standing shower, toilet and sink with a handful of spots to hang towels too. Though the hot water temperature and pressure was decent, the shower doors were rather narrow parting open on the corner, which I felt was slightly unnerving stepping out from.

We availed of breakfast in the morning, which is served 8.30am-9.30am. The breakfast room had well spaced tables and we nabbed one by the window. Lydie had asked us upon arrival whether we’d like the Irish Breakfast or Pancakes, and both myself and Lorna opted for the latter. At breakfast we were each given three mini pancakes (store-bought) cooked in butter, with maple syrup on the table. To be honest, I was expecting something more, perhaps some fresh fruit or yogurt. We were then given tea and toast with a rhubarb & aniseed compote on the side. There was also a selection of cereal and nut & seed country bread, but overall there were just too many carbs, and personally it was too heavy a breakfast for me.

We were able to check in and out very easily, and the on-site parking was very good. Our B&B was a 10-minute drive to the main centre of Clifden town. Lydie was a wonderful host and although I didn’t manage to capture sunrise due to the heavy fog, I can imagine waking up here is a spectacle.

We then stayed at the Anchor House, a family-run B&B that looks onto the Newport River. It was very similar to the previous accommodation as our room had a very comfy double bed, vanity table & stool, armchair and wardrobe but this time also a television and balcony. The bathroom featured a shower cubicle, toilet and a very low-placed sink, which I found rather peculiar and awkward. The hot water took a while to reach temperature but its pressure was decent. I will note that the walls are very thin – I could hear almost word-for-word the television in the next guestroom, as well as every sneeze or cough. (Really hope they don’t have anything more than allergies!)

Again, similar to our previous stay, we were asked upon arrival of our preference for breakfast. At Anchor House they have a decent selection to choose from, and I opted for the Scrambled Eggs and Bacon. The Breakfast Room was well laid out and bright, though distancing could be better. The eggs and bacon were plentiful, well cooked and complimented by the tea and toast. Cereal and fruit juice were also available.

Check-in and out was simple and straightforward; the girls with whom I dealt with were polite albeit a tad awkward, but overall it was a nice stay – the on-site parking was helfpful too. This B&B was only a 5-minute from the centre of Newport, which was great for our evening’s dinner.

PLEASE NOTE DURING ALL CLOSE-PROXIMITY ACTIVITIES ON MY TRIP, I DID WEAR A FACE MASK, WASH MY HANDS AND/OR USE HAND SANITISER TO ABIDE COVID-19 GOVERNMENT GUIDELINES

RECOMMENDATIONS – SIGHTSEEING

There are so many places to visit and experience whilst exploring Connemara. Although we weren’t blessed with the sunshine as when in County Clare, we made the most of our days out in nature. Connemara is very photogenic, with plenty of tree-clad spots to venture through, parks and wildlife. Before taking refuge in Clifden, we visited a number of stops including Kylemore Abbey, a truly stunning sight to see. This castle was first built in 1868 before the Benedictine nuns made the Abbey their home in 1920, which you can visit alongside its Walled Victorian Gardens. We also had tea & cake at Mitchell’s Café (more below!), because when at Kylemore Abbey, right!

I’m sure you’ve seen Twelve Pines Island on Derryclare Lough on your social feeds, also known as Pines Island. This viewpoint is a 20-minute drive from Kylemore Abbey, a petite island situated on the freshwater lake of Derryclare at the foot of the Twelve Bens mountain range. The views are usually quite stunning (see Fred/@RawDublin)…but unfortuantely for us the fog and rain was coming down strong, and with the heavy rainfall in the week before our visit, the usual walkway from ‘mainland’ to the island was now under water. Though it didn’t stop us getting out for a quick snap!

Next we drove 20 minutes to Roundstone, a cute little Connemara village. With colourful buildings, small businesses, the Roundstone Bay and harbour, it’s situated opposite the island of Inishnee. We popped into O’Dowd’s for a crabby lunch (more below!), and took a walk along the pier before heading onwards.

As Gurteen Bay was on the way to Clifden and a short 5-minute drive from Roundstone, it was only fair to make a quick beach stop and dip our feet in the Irish Sea. The waters are very clear and the sand soft, it’s an idyllic spot for a swim, but again as it was rainy I didn’t fully emerse myself this time.

Our next two days were all about County Mayo, from Westport to Achill Island and Castlebar too. The drive from Clifden to Westport was just over an hour, with a handful of cute villages to pass through as well as a number of rainbows and mountain ranges. We also passed by Killary Harbour, one of three glacial fjords in Ireland, where you’ll spot mussel rafts and salmon farms, and if you opt for the Killary Boat Tour you might even swim alongside dolphins!

As it was September 8th, which would’ve been my Mam’s 63rd birthday, we visited Westport for a few hours in her honour, and for elevenses. Westport was not only one of her favourite Irish towns to visit but also one of her former hometowns, when she worked at Allergan twenty years ago. Here they have such beautiful flowers planted around the town, colourful buildings, smiley happy folk and with the many visitors sights such as Westport House, Westport Quay and its multitude of seafood establishments, I know why my Mam loved living here.

Visiting Achill Island had been on my list for quite some time, especially after visiting Westport again. An hour’s drive from Westport town, you’ll cross the third Michael Davitt Bridge to arrive on the famous island. In 2008 this latest bridge was built, designed by Malachy Walsh & Partners to a design based on a Spanish Calatrava architectural design model; and replaced its two predecessors of the same name, as well as illuminating at night. On Achill Island, there were a few locations we wanted to visit including Minaun Heights (see Alistair Timothy below/@AT__Photo_) and Keel Beach, however by the time we got to the top of Minaun Heights…we could not see a thing! It was just thick fog, rain, wind and a few dozen sheep. So we turned around and went to the pub! Sin Éire!

Keel Beach view from Minaun Heights / Photo: Alistair Timothy

Thankfully on our last day of adventures, the sun and blue skies came out for our morning visit to Castlebar. The county town (or capital) of Mayo, it has some very pretty scenery notably the Mayo Peace Park and Castlebar Park, as well as the ‘Believe’ wall art. We had a little wander around all its side streets amongst the many boutiques and cafés, or as I noted “Castlebar. A town of Stauntons, Vaughans, butchers and barbers!” Oh and if you’re looking for a good coffee to go, I highly recommend Swirl at Gavins on Spencer Street – their barista made the most delicious Coconut Chai Latte for me!

We were making our way to Carrowniskey Beach for some surfing, and typical Ireland there is only the pretty scenic route. We stopped at Old Head, which is a 40-minute drive from Castlebar (or a 20-minute drive from Westport), where the beach was as inviting as Gurteen back in Galway, with views of the giant Croagh Patrick and a quiet atmosphere. There are public toilets and picnic benches by the beach too making it a nifty spot for a day’s break.

After a handful of snaps and a little dip in the sea, we continued our way to Surf Mayo, run by Elvis Beetham at Carrowniskey Beach. I had never been surfing before, and I am absolutely delighted to now tick that off my Bucket List! Surfing has been something I’ve been wanting to try for a while but I was a bit scared to do so as I have a fear of being submerged under water. But thanks to Adrian & Tadhg, their guidance, patience and all round awesomeness I managed to get on the board and ride a few waves! The lesson cost €30 for 2 hours which included all equipment (wetsuit, booties, board and lesson). Lorna and I had a blast in the waters, and in the words of Elle Woods… “we did it!”

RECOMMENDATIONS – FOOD & DRINK

Mitchell’s Café at Kylemore Abbey, Pollacappul, Connemara, Co. Galway: Tucked away from the spectacle of Kylemore Abbey is this nifty café, which serves up cakes and scones, sandwiches as well as hot food and drinks. Both of us ordered the country Apple Pie, which was very tasty and served with a lot of custard, as well as a Rocky Road square that Lorna and I shared. I would’ve preferred were the pie and custard hot but with a cuppa and a window seat it was a lovely pre-lunch break.

Tried & Tasted: Apple Pie, Rocky Road Square. Cookie FM Rating – 4/5

O’Dowd’s Seafood Bar and Restaurant, Main Street, Roundstone, Co. Galway: I’d heard many great things about this seafood eatery, so we stopped in for lunch. I ordered one of the day specials, Crab Meat Salad, which was nice but to be honest it wasn’t much. Yes, the crab meat was excellent and flavoursome, but I did find a few too many pieces of shell, which is not ideal to crunch on. The salad elements of lettuce, tomato slices, carrot shavings and red onion were very basic. Overall my experience was a bit lacklustre and disappointing, though Lorna enjoyed her Crab Claws. We only had a 45-minute table (as we had not booked and nabbed an in-between table), and when we finished our meal we took our pints (Bulmers for me, Erdinger Alkoholfrei for Lorna) outside, which was a nice change.

Tried & Tasted: Crab Meat Salad. Cookie FM Rating – 3/5

Clifden Seafood Restaurant at The Ardagh Hotel & Restaurant, R341 Ballyconneely Road, Clifden, Co. Galway: My Dad had visited and stayed at the Ardagh Hotel a few weeks before our trip, and was raving about the food. Naturally I had to book us in! I was so glad I did because the Wild Connemara Scallops I ordered were truly divine and I relished every bite of my meal. Four king scallops in a rich Champagne & garden herb sauce, accompanied by scallion mash and fresh garden-grown vegetables. Delicious! Then I had the duo of Honeycomb Semifreddo & Panna Cotta; a delectable dessert with salted caramel sauce and nut brittle that was an idyllic finish to dinner. I further complimented my dishes with a glass or two of Champagne. The service at The Ardagh was excellent, friendly and an overall wondrous experience.

Tried & Tasted: Scallops, Honeycomb Semifreddo & Panna Cotta Duo. Cookie FM Rating – 5/5

Ted’s Bar, Café & Venue, Cashel, Achill Island, Co. Mayo: Amidst the fog, rain and wind, we headed down from Minaun Heights and into Ted’s for lunch, a popular spot on Achill Island. I love how spacious this pub is with all its different sections. We nabbed a fireside table and ordered Fish & Chips for two with a can of Orchard Thieves for myself. The fish was well cooked, on top of a bed of chips and a small salad, and little pots of mushy peas and tartare sauce. There was a bit more batter than fish, though crispy and enjoyable nevertheless.

Tried & Tasted: Beer Battered Cod with Tartare Sauce. Cookie FM Rating – 3.5/5

The Gráinne Uaile, Medlicott Street, Newport, Co. Mayo: The number one spot for gastro pub grub and seafood when in Newport is the Gráinne Uaile, named after Mayo’s famed Pirate Queen. Well, the food here sure meets seafood royalty standards, where I enjoyed the day’s special of Baked Cod that served with a sauce reminiscent of a savoury Zabaglione. It was a delightfully light piece of cod with a sumptious crust – and I’m such a fan of pistachios! I asked for this with double vegetables instead of chips or mash, which was a lovely accompaniment along with my few glasses of Mateus Rosé. I then followed with the Lemon Tart, another personal favourite, that was a generous slice of zingy lemony goodness. Lorna ordered the Chicken Curry and the Chocolate Brownie, the latter which I tried and was delish! The service and atmosphere of The Gráinne Uaile was lovely, even if it was a quiet Tuesday night.

Tried & Tasted: Baked Cod with Herb & Pistachio Nut Crust, Lemon Tart, Mateus Rosé. Cookie FM Rating – 4.5/5

Nirina xx

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Photographs © Nirina Plunkett, Booking.com

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