Connemara and the Western Way takes in part of the Wild Atlantic Way – translated as “the Conmaicne” or Tribe of the Sea” – even the name is wildly inspired!
Stretching from Galway Bay to Killary Harbour and bounded on the east by Lough Corrib and Lough Mask, the principal range of mountains is the Twelve Bens and the smaller Maumturks. Grey quartzite peaks shimmer majestically over bogs and small loughs. The Western Way is a wild and wonderful place with some of the finest scenery Ireland has to offer. This self-guided walking vacation is the perfect way to explore the west of Ireland.
Early settlements were mainly on the coast, the interior deemed too infertile and wet for any useful occupation. The area suffered huge population loss in the mid 19th century due to the Great Famine, but through the guidance of the Irish Land Commission, land leases were offered to tenant farmers and fishing in the area was slowly rejuvenated. Today, much of the valley land is now under forestry schemes and intensive fish farming fills the coastal loughs. The predominance of hills and water means a relatively small road network but despite this, a strong native population remains.
Route: The Western Way walking trail takes you from Oughterard in Co. Galway to Westport in Co. Mayo. Our itinerary covers the south and central section – often distinguished in literature as Western Way Connemara and Western Way Mayo. From the Pass of Mám Éan, the Way descends to the beautiful Lough Inagh Valley, with the Maumturk Mountains on one side and the equally awe-inspiring Bens on the other. Then from the shore of Killary Harbour, the Way enters County Mayo.
The Western Way continues into County Mayo and the lower Sheeffry Mountains before reaching granite hills, crossing forest and bogland. It is truly wild and the landscape is some of the most stunning in the country. Under the towering bulk of Croagh Patrick, the Western Way meanders to the island-studded Clew Bay and the historic town of Westport, where there is still a strong tradition in Irish music and rural way of life.
Prices / Dates
Price: €637 per person sharing
Single Supplement: +€350
Tour Dates: 15 March to 31 October
Tour Grade: Easy to Moderate
Accommodation: Guesthouse or B&B
Included / Excluded
Travel to Oughterard where you will be picked up and taken to your guesthouse. Oughterard is a traditional village, nestled beside Lough Corrib (the largest lake in the Republic of Ireland), at the start of the Connemara Mountain Range and only 17km from Galway City.
Your first walk takes you along the south-western shore of Lough Corrib, one of the great western lakes of Europe, known for its trout and salmon fishing and its myriad of islands. You will continue into the townland of Curraun More, across the Owenree River and through the forest of Folore to join the Maam Road. From here, you will enjoy your first glimpses of the breathtaking mountains of Connemara. This is a perfect introduction to the Connemara countryside, where you will see the landscape change from picturesque to truly wild. It has largely been untouched by the modern world. You will stay overnight in Maam Cross.
Distance: 24 km / 15 miles, Ascent: 270 m / 810 ft, Approximate walking time: 5 / 6 hours
On the first section of today’s walk, you will pass by the site of the famous movie “The Quiet Man” starring John Wayne & Maureen O’Hara, a John Ford’s classic movie, filmed in 1952.
You will witness the transformation of the landscape from yesterdays delightful scenery to the increasingly untamed, as you walk amidst the splendour of the Maumturk Mountains (The Pass of the Pig). The trail follows an old pilgrim route that rises gently between mountains at Maumeen (the valley of the bird), passing St. Patrick’s Church and Holy Well as you travel.
It is said that St. Patrick rested in this spot on his way to “Croagh Patrick”, a sacred mountain that you will be passing on your way to Westport. Crossing the spine of the Maumturk Mountains, you will be presented with some fantastic views in both directions, back into the Maam Valley and ahead to the “Twelve Bens” mountain range. On the far side of the Inagh Valley, you will enjoy stunning views of the lake dotted with islands and a Crannog (an ancient man-made lake dwelling). You will stay overnight in Lough Inagh.
Distance: 25 km / 16 miles, Ascent: 570 m / 1710 ft, Approximate walking time: 5 / 6 hrs
You depart Lough Inagh by walking directly from your accommodation via an old road that dates back hundreds or possibly thousands of years.
The trail contours the base of the Maumturk Mountains, passing some old ruined deserted settlements as you travel. This area is now completely uninhabited and has been since the time of the great famine of 1845. This is one of the most remote parts of the trail where you will find a great sense of peace and distance from the bustle of modern life and its conflicts.
As you descend into the village of Leenaun, you will enjoy some fantastic views of Ireland’s only fjord “Killary Fjord”. Glaciers moving off the mountains over ten thousand years ago, carved this fjord from the underlying rock and was subsequently filled by the Atlantic Ocean. Your day finishes in Leenaun, a village nestling on the shore of Killary Harbour and backed by the mountains. Leenaun was brought to fame because of the famous John B. Keane literary work “The Field”, first performed in 1965. It was adapted into a film in 1990 by Jim Sheridan. It tells the story of a family and a community torn apart by conflicts over the ownership and control of land, a theme very common in Irish history. You will stay overnight In Leenaun.
Distance: 16 km / 10 miles, Ascent 245 m / 735 ft, Approximate walking time: 4 / 5 hrs
You could take a taxi and visit Kylemore Abbey and its Victorian walled gardens, or do a walk along the old Famine Road from Leenane to Rossroe harbour, a picturesque rural fishing community. Ludwig Wittgenstein took up residence here after World War II, taking advantage of its peaceful and remote setting, to concentrate on his writing.
The famine road runs for 9 km along the edge of Killary fjord. During the 19th century, this road was built as part of a program to provide food in exchange for labour during the famine. As you travel this road, bear in mind the history that lies beneath your feet. You will again stay overnight in Leenaun.
Today’s trail takes you northeast from Leenaun to the head of Killary Fjord and across the county border into Mayo.
Here you will have an option to take a short detour to visit the famous Aasleagh Falls, where the Erriff River (world-famous for salmon fishing), cascades to meet the inlet of Killary. When the rivers are full in late summer, you often see the salmon leap as they travel upstream to spawn.
The route takes you through some open farmland where sheep farming is the predominant activity. You will cross the Sheeffry Hills from where you can enjoy wonderful views of the Erriff Valley and your last glimpse of the Connemara Mountains. Your day finishes in the quiet hamlet of Drummin, where you can relax over a pint of your favourite tipple. Your overnight stay will be in Drummin.
Distance: 21 km / 13 miles, Ascent: 280 m / 840 ft, Approximate walking time: 5 / 6 hours
On your final walking day, you will walk in the shadow of Ireland’s Holy Mountain, Croagh Patrick. This mountain is a spectacular sight and many pilgrims from around the world come to climb it every year, many barefoot or on their knees. It is believed that the saint fasted here for 40 days and 40 nights. The mountain was crucial to his campaign to convert Celtic people to Christianity.
Following a small country road, the trail leads you to the wild and beautiful townlands of Bartaglanna and Glencally. Here you will have the option to take a detour to climb to the summit of Croagh Patrick or continue along the Western Way into the picturesque, yet lively and award-winning, town of Westport where a strong tradition in Irish music and rural way of life still prevails. Your overnight stay will be in Westport.
Distance: 23 km / 14 miles, Ascent: 420 m / 1260 ft, Approximate walking time: 5 / 6 hours
After a hearty breakfast, you will depart for home.