The name ‘Connemara’ comes from the tribal name ‘Conmacne Mara’, a branch of the early Irish Conmacne tribe, which lived near the sea in the western part of what is now County Galway. The Irish (Gaelic) word ‘Mara’ meaning ‘of the sea’. Today the term ‘Connemara’ is frequently used to describe all of mainland County Galway that lies west of Lough Corrib, between the fjord of Killary Harbour in the north and Galway Bay in the South. It is also sometimes used to just describe the Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking areas) in the west of the county.
Our longer Connemara & the West of Ireland tour itineraries start with a ferry journey and a visit to the Irish-speaking island of Inis Mór, one of the legendary Aran Islands. It is a place of secluded beaches, rugged coasts, cliffs, ancient monuments and storied history. The mainland section of all itineraries then follows the Western Way Trail from the famous angler’s town of Oughterard on the shores of Lough Corrib.
From Oughterard, the route follows the western edge of Lough Corrib, the second largest lake in Ireland, before it guides hikers further into the beautiful wilds of Connemara and towards the remote Maam Valley. From Maam it heads northwest into a wilderness of forests, mountain and bog land. The trail crosses the rugged Maumturk Mountains via the ancient pass and pilgrim site of Mauméan (meaning ‘Pass of the Birds’).
From there the route descends into the beautiful Inagh Valley and passes between the mountain ranges of the Twelve Bens and the Maumturks. A walk along forest trails leads to the charming village of Leenane on the shores of Killary Harbour, often referred to as Ireland’s only true fjord. From Leenane it is possible to take boat trips on the fjord.
The trail now leaves Leenane and County Galway at the picturesque waterfalls of Ashleigh Falls and, following the Salmon-rich Erriff River, it enters a wide, rugged landscape of mountains, forests, bog and lakes in County Mayo. Along the route hikers frequently enjoy views of Croagh Patrick, Ireland’s most sacred mountain. The trail then crosses its eastern slopes, which often offer views over the many islands of Clew Bay, before finishing in the pretty, vibrant town of Westport with its many great pubs and restaurants.
On Inis Mór the route follows local roads, tracks and trails through a limestone landscape with a total aggregate ascent over the whole route on two days of approximately 550m. The route visits Dún Aengus on the edge of a high sea cliff, but a visit there is optional, and walkers don’t have to go close to the cliff edge.
The terrain along the Western Way consists of quiet roads, bog roads, open moorland, forestry tracks and mountain paths. Several sections of the Western Way follow quiet local roads, but the overall percentage of road-walking depends on which tour itinerary you choose. Some parts of the off-road trails can occasionally be quite wet and boggy, particularly after rainy periods, when there is a fast run-off of water from the mountains.
The total aggregate ascent over the Western Way mainland route from Oughterard to Westport is approximately 2,000m, and there are almost no significant climbs with the exception of Mám Éan pass and the Sheefry Hills. The highest point of the trail is in the Sheefry Hills, near Drummin, where the route climbs to just over 475m. However, this climb can be avoided by taking an alternative route along the road. Most of the trail usually remains below 100m and only climbs over 200m in two other places.
Oughterard to Westport (following the Western Way Trail)