Hill Walking in Connemara
5 Great Walks in the West of Ireland
Walking and Hiking in Connemara
Written by Gillian Duggan
Hill Walking in Connemara: Recently, we put together our 5 best walks for beginners in Wicklow, cranking up the difficulty one to five. While talking about grades of difficulty and where to go from there, we decided to pick the 5 best hikes in Connemara and sort them in order of difficulty.
Unanimously, Diamond Hill came in as no 1 starter Connemara Hike and putting the Western Way aside (it is a long-distance trail) we were struck by the remoteness of all the chosen routes and each one could be as difficult as the other given the quirky Wild Atlantic Way weather conditions. With this in mind, we decided to include Omey Island.
Top Tips for Hill Walking in Connemara:
- Good Waterproof Walking Boots and Rain Gear are essential.
- Bring a good hearty lunch, stop at the peak (weather permitting), enjoy the views, listen to the skylarks, watch the sheep, look at the clouds!
- Take a picture of any map/route information if available at the trailhead. (Not usually available in Connemara.)
- Watch out for heavy machinery warnings in the Coillte Forests.
- A new by-law means all dogs must be kept on leads at all times..
- Be prepared by brushing up on your navigational skills, having lots of layers, food and water.
- Hilltoptreks offers Guided hikes in Connemara and the West of Ireland
There are some notable differences between hill walking in Wicklow and hill walking in Connemara. For a start, the mountains are steeper and routes usually start at sea level so an 800m mountain is an 800m climb. Secondly, the remoteness means fewer people, fewer paths and limited phone signal. Thirdly, the weather is influenced by the Atlantic Ocean and they don’t call it the Wild Atlantic Way for nothing. All of these points suggest navigational skills are required in most cases.
Do let us know how you get on and don’t forget Hilltoptreks offers guided walks throughout Ireland along with Mountain Skills and Navigation Courses too!
Warning: This part of Ireland can be wonderful to explore but challenging at times for novices so if you are unsure and the weather is not in your favour, choose an easier walk or route.
Respect the mountains – Check the weather, plan your route, bring a map and know how to use a compass, let someone know your plan and wear the proper gear.
Connemara – Its Name, Geography and Folklore.
The name Connemara stems from the early Gaelic tribe/family called Conmhaícne who lived in what is now the province of Connaught in the west of Ireland. This area west of Galway City became known as Conmhaícne Mara, which basically means where the descendants of Conmhaícne who live by the sea. It is also home to the largest Gaeltacht (Irish speaking area) in Ireland.
Connemara has the wild Atlantic Ocean is on one side with the mountains in the middle and the great Lakes Corrib and Mask separating it from the rest of Ireland, all topped off with a constant stream of Atlantic clouds.
Connemara has the power to ignite emotions, conjuring up images of cloud-capped mountains and misty wilderness. It has ever-changing light, vast bogs of every colour – purple, orange, brown, dotted with sheep as likely to be on the road as on the mountains. Immense lakes, cascading streams and brown rivers, rugged coastline, deserted white, sandy beaches and, of course, mountains.
Whenever I look at this unforgiving landscape, at the remains of lazy beds and stone cottages, at the trees all wind bent and pointing in the same direction, I wonder how anyone could have lived and survived in this wilderness. And they did and in their thousands until the mid-19th C famine meant emigration offered an easier life elsewhere.
This is the Connaught of the infamous Oliver Cromwell quote “To hell or to Connaught”– between a rock and a hard place.
To really appreciate this savage landscape, you have got to put on the hiking boots, climb a mountain and take in the spectacular views.
The main walks in Connemara are in the Connemara National Park, the Maumturk Mountains and the peaks of the Twelve Bens dominating the centre of Connemara.
They are not the tallest mountains in Ireland but the combination of their steepness, the prevailing on-shore Atlantic winds and stunning vistas make them challenging, invigorating and tremendous fun.
Having said that the Maumturks and Twelve Bens are strenuous and formidable mountains – prone to sudden mists and rain. There are few paths so navigational skills are a must.
Hill Walking in Connemara
- Diamond Hill – Loop Walk
- Omey Island – Loop Walk
- Derryclare – Linear Wlak
- Benbaun – Linear Walk
- The Western Way – Long Distance Linear Walk
Warning: No 3 & 4 are high mountain routes and should only be undertaken by those who are fully equipped with waterproof rainwear, warm clothing, food and proper footwear with navigational skills.
These routes have longer and more difficult versions so, for starters, we chose the simplest and most enjoyable trails to ease you from hiking in Wicklow to hiking in Connemara. It is a whole different barrel of fish!
Hill Walking in Connemara – Diamond Hill Loop Walk.
Start: Visitors Centre, Connemara National Park – Car park free
Walk Length: Approx. 7km
Height Gain of 510m, Time Approx. 2.5/3hrs
Markings: Follow the Red Trail
Type: Moderate (Not to be attempted in high winds)
Map: Connemara National Park – Diamond Hill Walks
Mapping: OS Discovery Sheet 37
• Family Friendly,
• Large Public Car Park,
• Coffee, Snack shop and toilets at the trailhead
• Shorter loop walks from the same location.
It is safe to say there are no diamonds here, the name stems from the glitter of the quartz crystals on the mountain peak especially after rain.
This is a moderate walk over a well-maintained track followed by a short but steep climb to a rocky summit. Starting at the Connemara Park Visitors centre, follow the Blue signs for the ‘Lower Diamond Walk’ and after a while you come to a Red sign pointing left to the ‘Upper Diamond Walk’ at the Halfway Stone.
Follow this rough, zigzagging path hewn out of the Quartzite, take care because it is quite steep and you will reach the summit in no time.
At the top, you will see triangular Mweelrea between you and the wild Atlantic Ocean, the Twelve Bens and Kylemore Abbey, Barnaderg Bay, Ballynakill Harbour, the Atlantic Islands of Inishbofin and Inishark and the ancient Maumturks.
Follow the trail passed the cairn and around in a loop back to the Halfway Stone. Parts of this path are quite steep so take your time. Turn left here, following the Bog Trail back to the visitors’ centre.
Hill Walking in Connemara – Omey Island Loop walk
Start: Claddaghduff Church
Walk Length: 8km
Type: Easy but mind the tides.
Mapping: OS Discovery 37
• Family Friendly,
• Public Car Park,
• Coffee, Snack shop and Pub toilets in the nearby village
To say that this route is an easy 8km loop around a small tidal island doesn’t do it justice. For a start, you have to watch the tides. It is accessed over a sand bar, submerged for 3 hours either side of the full tide so visiting takes a bit of planning. Check in with Sweeneys Pub in Claddaghduff just to be sure like!
Omey Island has a wealth of antiquities and is a great destination for history enthusiasts. The ruins of 7th C Teampaill Feichin – Feichin’s Church, which lies close to the northern shore was covered in sand until 1981 and is surrounded by the remains of a village lost to An Gorta Mór – the Great Hunger of the mid 19th c. Omey Island is also home to the local graveyard and I admit the sight of a funeral crossing the beach is quite spiritual.
My first visit to Omey Island was with my father in the early 70’s and I got a real sense of stepping back in time. We walked across the beach to the Island and met a ‘Batchelor farmer’ as aged single men were called in those days. Dad got talking to him and he invited us into his cottage which was ancient, thatched and spartan.
He told us his great grandfather had built it with his bare hands. While the men talked, I played with the dog outside (honestly, I thought inside stank!) and around the back, I found a huge stack of empty stout bottles. So far so what, I hear you say! Well, it just so happened that my father worked for a Guinness bottling firm at the time and getting his bottles back was a constant issue. Of course, I ran back to tell Dad that I had found all his missing bottles.
The two men laughed at my statement but Dad did investigate because the farmer said lots of strange bottles and things washed up on his beach. I found a 1930’s commemorative embossed Guinness bottle and I got to keep it. I also found hand blown glass fishing net floats of so many colours that Dad offered our new friend £5 for my booty and a bag.
Only recently the embossed Guinness bottle and all but one of the floats were sold at auction following the sale of my now deceased parents’ home. That remaining float is in my memory box.
Heading across the sand and onto the island, we are going to do an anti-clockwise loop. Soon on your left you will pass the aforementioned graveyard, Ula Bhreandáin – St Brendan’s Altar. The path hugs the north coast from beach to beach, any of which are great for a weather permitting swim. The hill on your left is actually an ancient midden or rubbish dump and the local rabbits are forever revealing the eating habits of our ancestors.
About halfway, you will come to a fence on your left, turning away from the beach. Following this up onto the grass and into a hollow, you will find the remains of the 7th C Teampaill Feichin -Feichin’s Church. Incidentally, St Feichin also founded abbeys on nearby High Island and in Cong.
Returning to the beach, we continue left up to the farthest point on the island and an ancient graveyard from which, I am reliably told, human remains often protrude after storms.
You can continue onto another tidal island provided you checked the tides……!
Otherwise, we continue hugging the coast, past a stoney beach called – Trá na n-éan – Beach of the Birds. You will see High Island to the north which has a fantastic monastic site founded by the busy St Feichin.
Soon the path turns east and we come to another stony beach with a lovely holy well called – Tobar Feichin,. You may see bits and pieces laid about the place. These are wishes and prayers left by believers to bring good health, recovery to loved ones or just in memory of those passed.
From this point you can head back northward and inland to visit the famous Omey Island machair habitat. These sand dunes form a fertile grassy plain which explains why such an exposed island was populated from the earliest of times.
Heading roughly back the way you came but to the far end of the beach, you will come to an underwater bog aka evidence of rising sea levels, depending on the tides!
Here you turn east (left) up the grassy hill, past another midden, and onto the road. Keeping to this road we return to the sandy connection to the mainland.
Hill Walking in Connemara – Derryclare Linear walk
Start: L845 499 (Coillte Forestry Road) or Google Connemara Mountain Hostel.
Walk Length: Approx. 9km
Height Gain: 700m, Time Approx. 5 hrs
Markings: None – Navigation skills required.
Type: Difficult – not to be attempted in poor visibility
Mapping: OS Discovery 37 and 44 or Harveys Connemara
- Shorter loop walks from the same location
There is space for 4 or 5 cars at the Forestry Gate which leads to the Derryclare forestry plantation, nature reserve, lakeside fishing and the south-eastern part of the Twelve Bens.
There are no trail markers here so start to measure your distances from the gate to keep track of the turns and twists. Take photos of the track junctions for your return journey. This road soon crosses a stretch of river and you continue straight at what is the first of three forestry road junctions. At 1.1km, turn left, at 1.7km, turn right, at 2.1km you are out of the woods at L832 508. Up above you, to the west is Derryclare.
You will be taking the ridge on the right-hand side called the East Ridge. Leave the path and climb a grassy spur to the top of the ridge at about 300m. You will be able to see the Maumturks on the other side of the Inagh Valley.
This ridge is weather worn and can be slippery underfoot in wet weather. Continuing on in a westerly direction along this ridge towards Derryclare, the ascent is gentle at first, getting steep for the final climb to the summit. On a clear day, you will see your entire route below you as well as the glacial Inagh Valley and the Maumturks.
Your descent is simply to retrace your steps.
Hill Walking in Connemara – Benbaun Linear Walk
Start: L796574 off the R344 Leenaun-Recess Road.
Walk Length: Approx. 10km
Height Gain of 700m, Time Approx. 5 hrs
Markings: None – Navigation skills required.
Type: Difficult – not to be attempted in poor visability
Mapping: OS Discovery 37 or Harveys Connemara
Benbaun is the highest of the Twelve Bens, situated right in the middle of the mountain range in the Connemara National Park. At 729m, it is the 72nd highest peak in Ireland and the county top for Galway with all the main ridges and peaks of the range radiating around it.
Benbaun (Binn Bhán means White Peak in Irish) could be said to be the Mont Blanc of Ireland but references the mass of white, quartzite rock which forms most of the Connemara mountains.
Underestimate Benbaun at your peril – In bad weather, it is a navigational challenge.
Due to its position, hiking Benbaun is usually done as part of The Glencorbet Horseshoe loop to include Benbrack, Benfree and finally Benbaun before descending via the Kylemore River. It is a formidable Connemara hike with two substantial ascents, several shorter but still steep climbs and a difficult descent. And that’s before we mention there are few noticeable paths and lots of proper Connemara bog to get through. Navigational skills and good fitness are a must.
The total ascent is over 1000m, it is 13km long, will take 6 to 7 hours and involves a river crossing which is not always possible after heavy rain.
It may literally be a walk in the Connemara National Park but it is definitely not a walk in the park as they say.
However, the 360d views from the highest point of the Twelve Bens are stunning and you can see the Maumturks to the east.
To bag Benbaun on its own, park at L796573 by some houses and a holy well. Benbaun is south of you. There is a pole marker and a path along an old road beside the Kylemore River. You will pass the ruins of some old cottages on your right. Keeping the stream on your right, following it as it swings south by a small house with grey corrugated roof. Turn left here starting another climb in a general south easterly direction towards a mountain stream.
You will reach a rough area (L792 548) which becomes a boggy saddle near 456m at Lugrevagh then keeping slightly right of the spur, ascend towards a small cairn over loose rocky terrain in a SSW direction. At this cairn, turn left up a gentle ascent to reach the summit of Benbaun.
To descend, retrace your steps carefully back to your car.
Hill Walking in Connemara – Western Way Long Distance Trail walk
Start: Oughterard town
Walk Length: 200km
Time: HilltopTreks offers 5, 7 & 8 day Self-Guided tour options
Markings: This is a way-marked trail
Type: Moderate – long distance trail
Map: The Western Way
Mapping: OS Discovery 45 and 38
The Western Way is a long-distance walking trail through the spectacular scenery of counties Galway and Mayo in the west of Ireland.
The trail begins in Oughterard in Co. Galway and continues north to Maum, through the glacial Inagh Valley to Killary Harbour. From here, it enters Co Mayo at Aasleagh, continuing north across the slopes of Croagh Patrick, to Westport and Newport. Then through the Nephin Mountains to Derry, Bellacorick and Sheskin to Ballycastle. The final stretch is along the North Mayo coast through Killala, Ballina to the Co Sligo border near Bunnyconnellan, an impressive 200km from the start in Oughterard.
NOTICE: Some of the property traversed by the Western Way is private property. Access is available by kind permission of all the landowners/holders on the route. It is understood that persons entering do so by permission with the consent of the landowner and no matter how often they enter, or in what numbers, they do not do so as of right.
For more information on the Hilltoptreks self-guided tours and itinerary options, please see: The Hilltoptreks Western Way itinerary options.
Walking and local information:
Map: For this section of Connemara and Ireland, we recommend OSI Sheets 37, 38, 44, and 45 and Harvey’s Map Connemara.
Hill Walking in Connemara can be quite remote so be sure to let someone know where you plan on walking.
Food and Drink: There are many places to eat and stay while exploring Connemara such as Leenaun, Clifden, Oughterard and Westport to name a few.