Ireland at a Leisurely Pace: Walking through County Galway

Ireland, known for its laid-back hospitality and relaxed pace of life, also invigorates its visitors with fresh air, a rugged landscape, and its enchanting history and culture. A walk through western Ireland's countryside is more than simply a hike; it is a pilgrimage that divulges a land rich in wildlife and folklore, all layered into its green, peat sprawl. While you'll no doubt revel in the isolation as you pass through the undulating countryside, small villages and castles will provide lively pubs and comfortable beds at the end of each day's journey.
County Galway, on the country's western flank, lies wedged between ocean and mountain. Galway City, Ireland's third largest city with a population of 65,000, is a university town reputed to be the cultural capital of the country. While the city draws crowds in the summer months, a walking vacation at any time of the year will transport you into scenic solitude. Galway's Connemara National Park, an intricate netting of pools and islands set in a blanketed bog, spans almost eight square miles over mountainous countryside, affording impressive views of the Atlantic and Twelve Bens and Maamturks mountain ranges. On Twelve Bens, avid hikers will enjoy a rugged ascent that reaches up to the summit's 2,400-foot pinnacles. For the less hearty, the Western Way winds a more leisurely 31-mile path from Oughterard to Leenane through the Maamturks.
North of Galway, the smaller towns of Clifden, Cong, and Westport (in County Mayo) are gateways to a number of impressive historic sites. Near Clifden, one mile down the cliff-hugging Sky Road, lie the ruins of 18th-century Clifden Castle. Less than two miles from Westport, the Westport House and its expansive grounds, built in the 17th and 18th centuries, make for a popular excursion. Although the pastoral village of Cong has a population of only a few hundred, it boasts the 12th-century Royal Abbey of Cong, Ashford Castle (the location for the The Quiet Man, a 1951 John Wayne film), and Lough Corrib, Ireland's second largest lake.
For a beguiling glimpse into the traditional way of life, a visit to the island of Inishbofin will serve up Ireland as it has so often been invoked—windswept views of cloud-shrouded moorland, friendly locals, and the ubiquitous craic, the Gaelic word for good times. Ferries from Cleggan, a small fishing village ten miles northwest of Clifden, make the seven-mile cruise to Inishbofin, passing long, pristine beaches and jagged seastacks known as the Stags. Once onshore, you'll simply want to put your feet up with a good pint before tackling one or all of the island's peninsulas.

Published: 25 Nov 2002 | Last Updated: 14 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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