Ireland’s Wild West
With 2957 hectares to explore Connemara National Park is perfect for greenlaning and wild eco camping
Connemara National Park is one of six Irish National Parks and offers greenlaning and wild(ish) camping along its unique coastline. Remote Connemara is situated in the West of Ireland in Co Galway and covers 2957 hectares of scenic coastal areas, mountain ranges, bogs, heaths, grasslands and woods – all connected with plenty of rough tracks. There’s even an island you can drive out to in your Land Rover when the tide is out.
The Connemara skyline is dominated by the spectacular Twelve Bens mountain range and the Maumturks that bring this unique landscape to life. The National Park was established and opened to the public in 1980 and boasts activities that include hill climbing, mountain biking, touring and eco camping.
The greenlanes and narrow roads zigzag their way through mountain ranges, blanket bog and heathlands and on to some cracking camping locations along the coastline. As you explore this remote landscape you will be treated to the striking purple moor grass that brings its own unique character to this colourful environment.
The tracks that we were interested in driving were the broken black-lined routes highlighted on the detailed Discovery Maps – mostly greenlanes that will take you off the beaten track and into the heart of this remote environment. Not all of these tracks are open but there are certainly enough of them scattered throughout the west coast to enjoy.
Before arriving, study the maps, plan ahead and you will not be disappointed.
One of the best detailed maps to view the network of coastal roads and tracks are the Ordnance Survey Ireland Discovery Maps. For County Galway and the Connemara National Park we used the Discovery Maps 39, 44,45 – about £7 each, but well worth the money.
Our trip started in Galway, making our way up along the Connemara coast towards Clifden and Omey Island. Clifden is Connemara’s largest town and is located on the Owenglin River, where it flows into the rugged Clifden Bay. The town is linked to Galway city by the N59 main road and is a popular tourist destination.
Head in the direction of Maam Cross along the N59 and you will approach the southern entrance to the National Park. Along this road you will go through the village of Oughterard and pass by an authentic camping, shooting and outdoor adventure shop called Rocky Mountain High, which is a must-stop. This store has some incredible camping stuff on display and you could spend a long time just browsing through the variety of products and military attire on display. Vincent Coyne, the owner of the shop, is a man who just loves his bush craft and will happily talk you through the unique stuff he has on display. Vincent had a miniature Defender proudly sitting on his till desk and that pretty much sings what this store is all about – this place is the real deal.
After a good look around, head into the National Park. As
“A real off-road treat is a couple of miles north-west of Clifden – Omey Island”
you enter this remote area an interesting track to take and pull up for some lunch is just a couple of miles on the right along the N59. You have to open the unlocked gate (a large sign is on the gate) and make your way towards the forest in the distance. There’s a lake on your left and as you drive along the track you will see some great views of the mountains in the distance.
Another interesting track that will take you even deeper into this rural landscape is located further up along the N59 heading towards Clifden, where you will see the signpost called Mam Ean – the L5136 this is a very narrow track that will take you along an interesting greenlane.
Just before arriving at Clifden make sure to pull in along the viewing area just before Dan O’ Hara’s Heritage Park. This viewing point gives you great views and is also a great spot for a picnic and a photo opportunity. We took out the Kelly kettle here, had a hot brew and just chilled out for a while; there is something very relaxing about this spot.
A real off-grid treat is just a couple of miles north-west of Clifden – the secluded Omey Island, which is a tidal island situated near Claddaghduff. It is possible to drive across to the island when the tide is out. Just follow the signs that guide you across the sandy sea bed.
At high tide the water is deep enough to cover a vehicle, so make sure you check the tide times before crossing.
If you plan to spend some time exploring the island you should also keep an eye on the incoming tide or you could end up having to camp the night on the island (not necessarily a bad thing if you have supplies).
This island is an ancient place where the locals on the mainland still bury their dead. Just over 20 years ago a team of archaeologists from University College Dublin began work to study the monastic heritage of the island, as it is known for being the site of a monastery and settlement founded by St Feichin in the 6th century. Numerous finds of national significance were unfolded during the excavation work here and this gave new and interesting insights into the life of early Christianity in Ireland.
Sadly, like many Islands off the west coast of Ireland, the population of this picturesque island has diminished significantly over the years since its heyday in the early 19th century when hundreds of people lived there. By 1988 there were just a handful of people living on the island and in more recent years the only full-time inhabitant was former Hollywood stuntman and wrestler Pascal Whelan, who passed away in February this year. During his career he performed stunts in numerous films, working with actors Peter O’toole and Paul Hogan (aka Crocodile Dundee).
After exploring this unique little island it was time to head for camp just a couple of minutes away at one of Ireland’s most picturesque and award-winning eco campsites, nestled amongst the sand dunes. It boasts beautiful Atlantic views from its own secluded private sandy beach. This is not your typical campsite and for all the right reasons.
You can choose from a mixture of glamping and wild camping-style plots where you are allowed to have private
eco campfires in the fire pits provided. All within the boundaries of an area of scientific interest that is operated on a sustainable, green, environmental and ethical basis with a zero carbon footprint making this a serene destination to unwind and camp after a good day’s touring. It was bliss.
The campsite also runs adjacent to over half a mile of coastline that has excellent, crystal clear bathing water that also provides the perfect water trail front for all kinds of sea-borne activities, including safe swimming, angling, crabbing, scuba diving, kite surfing, boating and snorkelling along the estuary of Streamstown Bay. If you happen to have a fishing rod packed in the back of your Land Rover you will have plenty of opportunities to throw a line here and catch a fish for supper, as the campsite is pretty much surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean.
The night sky over this part of the world is spectacular due to its remote location and limited light pollution in the area. Unfortunately for us, it was a cloudy night when we were there but we will be back with the camera and tripod to attempt to catch a shot of the distant stars.
The one thing about the National Parks in Ireland is that the landscapes always seem to offer something very different and the Connemara National Park certainly offered a very unique touring and camping experience. From the white sandy beaches, the blue lagoon-like inlets and the wild eco camping to the numerous greenlanes that dissect this region, this place offers a true rural touring experience on the western fringes of Europe.
This page: The white sandy beaches in this part of Ireland allowed for all sorts of sea-borne activities