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Places to Visit in the West of Ireland

Places to See in West of Ireland

The West of Ireland is the region encompassed by the province of Connaught, although in tourist brochures the West specifically means the counties of Galway, Mayo and Roscommon.

This remote area of the country contains much wild and beautiful countryside and scenery, although its land is not so fertile. Thus, the17th Century British invader Oliver Cromwell threatened the agriculture-dependent natives who resisted him to go either "to Hell or to Connaught", a phrase that lives on in the popular culture today.

Many of the older elements of Irish culture - including the Irish language - still thrive in the west. Traditional music can be found in local pubs, for example, and community and cultural traditions remain strong.

While prices throughout the island do not vary greatly, visitors may find that the West of Ireland is arguably the cheapest. Car hire visitors will also enjoy relaxed, scenic drives on quiet country roads. Look out for the following areas of interest: Galway City

Ireland's third largest city, Galway is its bohemian capital, a magnet for artists, writers, musicians and journeymen. One of Europe's fastest-growing cities, Galway's population swells greatly during the summer months, when visitors flock to attend its Race Festival and Arts Festival.

Indeed, visitors flock to Galway all year round, though it is not "touristy" as there is a vibrant local scene, helped by the large numbers of students attending the city's various third level colleges.

Galway's crooked and colourful streets and laneways have retained a character that dates from the Middle Ages. Indeed, it has been observed that a map of Galway from the 1700s could still be used to get you round today!

A short stroll from the small city centre is the Claddagh area which just out onto Galway Bay, and leads to the popular Salthill promenade.

Connemara

In the words of the famous Anglo-Irish poet Oscar Wilde: "Connemara is a savage beauty." Many visitors come to Ireland simply to visit this savage beauty of this area, but are surprised to discover that they may not find it on a map. This is because Connemara (like the nearby Burren in County Clare) is a not an administrative entity like a town or county, but simply a region stretching from just west of Galway City, continuing North and South toward the Atlantic.

Connemara is renowned for its barrenness and beauty. Connemara is a Gaeltacht - Irish-speaking - region. The state's only Irish television channel, TG4, is based here.

The area includes a highland region of quartzite domes and cones and twelve mountain peaks, known as the Twelve Bens. North of these again, on the Galway-Mayo border, is the beautiful Killary fjord - the only natural fjord in Ireland (there are none, as it happens, in Britain).

Other beautiful visitor attractions in the region include Kylemore Abbey near Letterfrack, the towns of Clifden and Spiddle (see below), the beautiful beaches of Dogs Bay and Gurteen Bay near the equally picturesque village Roundstone, and the popular Aran Islands.

Spiddal

Spiddal is a small village located around ten miles west of Galway City, on the cosat road. It overlooks Galway Bay, providing views of the Aran Islands.

Spiddal has two fine beaches, one by the roadside and directly visible from the village, the other behind the pier, accessible via a narrow road west of the village. The latter is known as Tra na mBan, and is one of six Blue Flag (EU-approved) beaches in county Galway.

Each year students from the rest of Ireland come to Spiddal's summer school, where they learn the Irish language directly from native speakers. Summer is also a busy time for tourism in the region, as visitors from all over the world come to sample the region's scenery, culture, music, traditions and craic. Spiddal is also home to many skilled artistans. Crafts practiced include Celtic jewellery making, bodhrán making, candle making, pottery, screen-printing, weaving and wood-turning.

Achill Island and Clare Island

The largest island off the coast of Ireland, Achill Island in County Mayo is linked to the mainland by a swing-bridge and is easily accessed. The coastal route around the island, favoured by visitors, is known as Atlantic Drive, which comprises over 40 kilometres of fabulous scenery, and can be enjoyed by car. Achill is one of Ireland's beauty spots and boasts a total of five EU blue flag beaches. The island also offers stunning seascapes and landscapes that feature rugged sea-cliffs, mountains and beautiful open moorlands.

Dolphins and porpoises are regular visitors to the shore. Achill is also home to Ireland's only lizard, which feeds on insects found on local bogs and sand dunes.

Achill is rich in ancient history. There is evidence that the island was inhabited as far back as 5,000 years ago, as evidence by the island's megalithic tombs and promontory forts. Other historical relics include Kildamhnait Castle, used by the legendary pirate queen Granuaile (Grace O'Malley).

Granuaile was born on the nearby smaller island, Clare Island, in 1530. Granuaile became a fearless leader and is reputed to have struck a deal with Queen Elizabeth 1 in 1593. She died circa 1603 and is buried in the O'Malley family tomb on Clare Island.