For our exploration of Connemara we based ourselves just outside of Clifden, the ‘capital’ of Connemara. It’s a small town with two main streets a good selection of hotels and restaurants, a wonderful deli and bread shop, and plenty of pubs serving great food and lively with music and people. We enjoyed several nights out listening to some great acts playing both traditional and contemporary Irish music. Above it all you can see the Twelve Bens in the distance.
But undoubtedly the best feature of Clifden is the harbour. The town sits at the end of a long, sheltered inlet and on a still day the harbour is a piece of glass reflecting a stillness and serenity that just feeds the soul.
But to feed the soul even more you can head a mile or two further west on the appropriately named Sky Road. Here you will find an old Coastguard station which has been converted into delightful townhouses and it is here that we chose to stay.
The views from the property were simply gorgeous at anytime of day but particularly at daybreak and evening. Looking to the East you could see sailing boats at anchor by the sailing club and the majestic rise of the mountains further away. Before you was the glinting water of the inlet and to the west, the fractured coastline pointing with trembling fingers to the far off fabled land of Americay. It was a pleasure to wake up and look out of the bedroom window at another perfect day unfolding.
Our coastguard station was built in 1875. It was one of a ring of stations built around the coast of Ireland at intervals of 10 to 20 miles in the 19th Century. At the time, of course, the whole of Ireland was ruled by the UK and these stations were set up to counteract smuggling and duty evasion, particularly in the matter of French Cognac. Post Brexit they may need to be pressed into service again. (Sorry, I mentioned the B word there. Can’t avoid it in Eire though, where the consequences could be very serious).
The station was inhabited until 1921 when it was abandoned following the war of independence. It came into the ownership of the Wheelan family and it was Tommy Wheelan who turned it into holiday accommodation. We met Tommy on our final evening and spent a lovely hour with him in our house drinking tea and chatting. You can read more about the station here : http://www.coastguard-station.com/history.html
The Sky Road starts in Clifden with a road ‘headed up towards the sky’, as the locals used to tell visitors. It splits at the gates to Clifden Castle, built in 1818 by the D’Arcy family and now a ruin.
The lower Sky Road, which ran past our coastguard station, is narrow and twisty and winds its way to the Kingstown Penninsula, through farmland and scattered houses. Here you get close to the water’s edge and can listen to the sounds of birds, perhaps some cattle, a passing fishing boat and little else.
At Kingsdown you turn back towards Clifden on the Upper Sky road which takes you high onto the hillside above Streamstown Bay. From the carpark here you get incredible views of the coastline and on our final night the sun put on a truly remarkable display for us. The views of Kingsdown Bay with the islands of Inishturk and Turbot in the background were ‘such stuff as dreams are made on’
Or, as Flann O’Brien, my favourite Irish author, wrote (in The Third Policeman, my favourite book of all time) :
“Your talk is surely the handiwork of wisdom because not one word of it do I understand.”