Uncovering the soul of Ireland along the wild Atlantic waters of Connemara

Written by Travel Adventures

Yet another stretch leads me past the shores of Lough Fee, its surface bronzed by an afternoon sun, then down through a deep wood to the quay at Rosroe. A plaque on a cottage records the stay of the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, who came here from Cambridge in the 1940s. Wittgenstein believed that the clamour of the modern age – progress, machines, cars, the whole catastrophe – restricted our ability to understand both ourselves and the world. He claimed that he could only think clearly in darkness. In Rosroe, he said that he found “the last pool of darkness in Europe”. I imagine him here at night, in that splendid dark at the end of the road, chatting, as the locals claimed, to the seagulls.

Bedroom at the Lough Inagh Lodge Hotel

Bedroom at the Lough Inagh Lodge HotelToby Mitchell

Lunch at The Sea Hare in Clifden

Lunch at The Sea Hare in ClifdenToby Mitchell

Down an even smaller road, I am briefly delayed by an old man with a stick shepherding two sheep. The road leads me a couple of miles round the shore of the peninsula to the beach at Glassilaun. A doe-eyed cow, grazing on salt grasses, watches me as I follow a path through the dunes and come out onto a wide horseshoe strand. A boy runs with a kite and a girl is building a sandcastle. Two women, small figures far off, walk barefoot, arm in arm, along the edge of the incoming tide.

I don’t recognise it immediately, and then I do. This is the beach of that first visit to Connemara, when I was six. I stand looking up to the dunes where my mother had been, and at the tumult of clouds around the head of Mweelrea mountain above. Then I follow my six-year-old self round the curving length of the shore, along the edge of this place where sky and sea and Connemara meet, to the faraway end of the bay. And just for a moment I feel again that thrill of adventure and escape. This is the sensation, I realise, that has been the destination of all my travels ever since.

Where to stay in Connemara

Bedroom at Ballynahinch Castle

Bedroom at Ballynahinch CastleToby Mitchell

Ballynahinch Castle Hotel & Estate, Recess

Once the grandest house in the west of Ireland, Ballynahinch is a gracious establishment set in a 700-acre private estate. With their books and slumbering sofas, the drawing rooms spell tranquillity, but the hall bustles with action. There are cycles at the door, ghillies waiting to reveal the mysteries of fly fishing, a wonderful walled garden, riverside walks, moorland hikes and a proper pub to come back to. Ballynahinch also has two self-contained properties: the spacious five-bedroom Lettery Lodge and six-bedroom Owenmore Cottage. Doubles from about £260

Loch Inagh Lodge Hotel's dramatic setting

Loch Inagh Lodge Hotel’s dramatic settingToby Mitchell

Lough Inagh Lodge Hotel, Lough Inagh

Set alone on the shores of Lough Inagh, this former fishing lodge dates from the 1880s and remains splendidly Victorian. Crimson walls, leather button-back armchairs, polished mahogany floors and corner cabinets of chinaware make it feel like an old-fashioned rectory. You don’t need to be a fisherman to enjoy Inagh – general manager Dominic O’Morain is on hand with plenty of other Connemara suggestions – but it’s part of the Great Fishing Houses of Ireland association, with great catches on the doorstep. Doubles from about £167

The Bird Room at the Quay House

The Bird Room at the Quay HouseToby Mitchell

The Quay House, Clifden

More than 200 years old, The Quay House began life as the Clifden harbour master’s house before becoming a Franciscan monastery in the late 19th century. When Paddy and Julia Foyle bought it in 1992, it was in a dilapidated state. Now it’s a snug and delightful 14-bedroom property, and their warmth and good humour permeate every room. Paddy ran an antique shop in London for some years, and the house is furnished with a Victorian eccentricity reminiscent of a King’s Road emporium – from a tiger skin to antique model ships. I had a four-poster bed and French windows opening onto a small balcony overlooking the harbour. The bust of a disapproving woman eyed me in the bath. Doubles from about £163

Travel feature 'Half of heaven'. Delphi Lodge at the Lough Inagh Lodge Hotel.

Travel feature ‘Half of heaven’. Delphi Lodge at the Lough Inagh Lodge Hotel.Toby Mitchell

Delphi Lodge, Leenaun

This grand, rambling Georgian house sits on the edge of a lough with its back to the mountains. There is a boot room full of fishing gear and wellies, huge bedrooms overlooking an immaculate lawn sloping towards the lake, old-fashioned baths that could contain a family of four, a well-stocked library and a long drawing room with crackling fires. Drinks are taken at 7pm before everyone troops into the dining room to the candelabra-topped table that sits 30. If it sounds formal, it’s not – a casual Irishness and sense of mischievous fun reigns. Doubles from about £297

Curraravagh House bedroom

Curraravagh House bedroomToby Mitchell

Currarevagh House, Oughterard

A rambling 19th-century house on the edge of Lough Corrib, Currarevagh is the kind of place that features in Edwardian children’s books, with hide-and-seek along the passageways, swimming from the docks and mysterious locked rooms housing benign ghosts. Warm owner Henry Hodgson’s ancestors built and opened Currarevagh as a fishing lodge in the 1880s; an old brochure from 1900 boasts that it is 15 hours from Euston station by train and ferry. Ably supported by a long-serving team, Henry is always on hand with a map, a drink, a pair of wellies, a story about the tiger on the grand staircase or just sound advice about touring the area. It’s worth taking a boat and a picnic across Lough Corrib to the island of Inchagoill to wander among the haunting ruins of the 12th-century monastery. Doubles from about £300

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