Ireland Road Trip: Mayo & Connemera Coast

We just got back from a 4 night road trip from Dublin over to Connemara.  It’s a really beautiful place  – a bit bare and not lush but still a lovely spot to vacation.  It is home to many AMAZING beaches and breathtaking coastal landscapes.  At each bend, we were captivated by the scenery.  One minute we were facing snow capped mountains, driving through cute towns, seeing amazing crystal clear beaches and driving alongside Ireland’s only Fjord  [Killary Fjord]- home to amazing mussels to the next being the only people on roads for miles (well apart from the sheep!).

First I’ll start with some humor – this donkey was insane.  We drove up and suddenly it started making all this noise.  I would have stayed but Nils started to drive away after only a few seconds as we thought the neighbors would come out and yell at us for letting it carry on for so long.

As mentioned there were loads of sheep – which I think are so cute and so I’ve taken loads of photo of them. This is the season for babies so I love when I see twins & triplets.  Oh and the brown sheep are my favorite – but not too common over this part of the country.

As we had a friend and his parents in from Boston coming to stay at our house for a few days to exerience the 100 year anniversary of the Easter Rising in Dublin, we were looking for a place to visit for those days.  The time will involve cozy pubs and lots of exploring of beaches looking for sea glass and water toes.  Having been towards to Cork and Kerry many times and spending time in Dingle this past summer, we know how lovely those areas are but we wanted to do something new.   Connemara and Mayo were on our must visit list and with a great deal on Supervalu Getaway Breaks, we had to grab it.  In looking at the map below, each green box is a hotel to choose from with breakfast and one dinner, so we had quite a bit of choice.

Luckily a fiend gave me her membership number as she has tons of points to spare and for some reason I was not able to login with my fob details at the time of booking.  The prices on their site are very reasonable – more so than going direct with the hotel.

The first day, we’re drove from Dublin (home) to the Breaffy Woods Hotel in Mayo.  The drive which is mainly highway will be just less than 3 hours so we packed up the car with snacks and put on a movie for the kids – those car DVD players are coming in very handy!

We went just beyond Castlebar and stopped off in Westport for lunch.   The pub was called The Towers Bar and was set right on the water – too bad it was too drizzly to eat outside but it was a good place for lunch.  In the right weather, it would be even better.  No Paulaner on draught, but they did have Westport White in bottle which is comparable to Allagash White so it worked.  We tried their seafood chowder which we thought was good – it was a tomato base with a pinch of spice.  Apparently the place had only just reopened after a through renovation and new ownership.

 

In the town we picked up a Wonka Bar (kids were hoping for the golden ticket) and Reece’s Pieces .. my favorite!  Oh and I got another Seasalt Bag – LOVE IT!

As both hotels had pools and pubs, I was not too stressed about the weather, as we spent a couple days in the west over the February break and the sun was shining at the Bird sanctuary and the kids removed their coats they were a bit too warm.  Plus it’s Ireland – I just have to get used to the possibility of rain daily – in fact, four seasons in one day would be possible!

The first resort has two accommodation options – a stately home hotel and a regular hotel called the Woods – we booked a family room in the Woods.  They have a leisure center with a pool and even offer a kids club called the Breaffy Buddies Kid Club.   The next one is February half term and it is full of fun things like arts & crafts, kids’ quiz, evening entertainment like movie nights and even a disco some days – which I know our two kids would LOVE!   If it’s not open, not the end of the world – but a great plus for a family booking this hotel for a holiday.

As we had a late lunch, we ended up at the hotel a bit later so we went right to the swimming pool, where Nils and I were thoroughly impressed with the swimming skills of both kids.  No floaties on their arms, they were swimming both underwater and on their backs along the pool.  These lessons are surely paying off.    No photos from the pool, but it was a good sized pool with loads of floats and things for the kids.  A professional GAA team was also in the pool, so if you fancy seeing a bunch of 30-40 very in shape lads this was your chance.  Funny as last year we were surrounded by the Donegal female GAA team in the pool.

That evening Captain Jack was putting on a show with his assistant blueberry head (due to her blue hair).  At first the kids were a bit reserved, but in no time, up on the dance floor doing all the dances – they had a blast.   I have tons of videos – so I’ll put them here soon.

 

We didn’t actually stop at the Avoca in Letterfrack – but I LOVE this store!!  Right near Letterfrack is the Connemara National Park – where there is a kids playground opposite the visitor centre.  They have trails and things to do, so perhaps a nice walk here is in order.

There are four trails for various levels:

GREEN: Ellis Wood Nature Trail  0.5 km
YELLOW: Sruffaunboy Walk 1.5 kms
PURPLE: Lower Diamond Hill Warlk (includes Bog walk) 3 kms
ORANGE: Upper Diamond Hill Walk 3.7 kms

As I have a 1/2 working lung (with a phrenic nerve palsy and a stuck diaphragm, it was not possible to take a long walk – so we opted for the 500 meter (GREEN LOOP) nature walk but didn’t realize it involved so many stairs – but I survived.

 

 

 


ROUNDSTONE
Roundstone is supposed to be a nice place to visit – it’s coined “D4-on-sea” due to the number of people from D4 (posher part of Dublin) who have holiday homes in that area.  In that same village, there is a Gastro pub called O’Dowds Seafood Bar which is supposed to have the ‘best’ seafood chowder – and as our son is the professional seafood chowder judge of Dublin, we’ll have to see how it is rated by him.  The bar menu looked great – seaweed hummus and nori bread = SOLD!!  The oysters and the steamed cashel by mussels with coconut, lime and sweet chili broth are also top of the list.
We did end up in Roundstone but only for coffee at O’Dowds Cafe.  I wish we did eat lunch or dinner at O’Dowds but we never did make it back.
talk about old school gas station
Just up the road are two fantastic beaches – Dog’s Bay and Gurteen Bay  We only ended up on the one
on the right – Dog’s Bay and it was amazing.   Had it been summer and not late March, we’d have plunked down on the sand and spent the day.  No rocks, no sea glass but amazing colored water and the kids loved it too.  I did find a bunch of shells, so I will make a photo frame using them.

 

CLIFDEN
The package deal we got at the Clifden Station House Hotel is 3 nights, breakfast daily and one evening meal.  The hotel has a children’s play area called Railway Kid’s Club suitable for kids aged 4+.  They offer daily events like Arts & Crafts at 3:00 pm, Swim at 4:00 pm, Dinner at 5:00 pm and DVD in the playroom at 7:00 pm.  Not sure our kids will want to attend, but having the option is great!
Here is my Tripadvisor review:

We have just spent 3 nights in Station House over the Easter Break.

The staff was simply fantastic – from Anne Marie, the General manager, the front desk staff, to Ellen who served us dinner and was running the show in the breakfast, Kalen in the kids club, down to the cleaning staff, each and everyone we dealt with were kind and considerate and went the extra step to make our vacation that much more special. The food in the restaurant was very good and while the ambiance could be improved, it is hard to find fault with the food. The Killary mussels were the best ever hats off to the chef – would love to have the recipe!

We had a family room which was an excellent value for money and have everything you need to have a comfortable stay. Easy walk from the hotel up to local bars and shops to listen to the live music – some places have early sessions which are family friendly. Although our kids LOVED the kids club so much they preferred to spend both days from 3-8:45 pm which included arts & crafts, swimming, dinner, dancing, theatre, – they were safe and made loads of friends,

The location is perfect for the local shops and bars and the stunning Sky Loop Drive is only a short drive away. If we return to the area again, we’ll surely return here but for now I’ll tell all my friends to check this place out.

It is a 3-star hotel with 5-star service

There was traditional live music on Easter Sunday from 6;30 – 9:30 pm at Lawrys  so while the kids were in the club (their choice!) Nils and I headed up the street.   The two guys there were okay – I think they are the “off season” guys.  Then again, what tourists want to see is live music so these guys were just fine … but in the summer and true busy season, I suspect more talented crew would be there.
The next day, we tried Mannion’s Bar as they had live music playing at 6:30 pm so we arrived early to have a pint and eat dinner but it was a bit of a disaster.  The two guys with guitars and banjos were not good.   No good beer – unorganized waitstaff.  Example they give the bill to a family and then when the family wants coffee/tea.  When Nils asked for his bill, the guy takes his credit card and runs it and says all set buddy… Nils then says but I wanted to add in a tip but now it’s too late!  All in all not a place we’d return to eat or drink – so many other better choices in the town.
I thought it would be good to pop by the Connemara Heritage Centre for some information and knowledge and perhaps some apples to feed their donkey donks bu they open in April and we’re there just a few days before April.

One of top things to do/see is Omey Island.   It is possible to cross the firm sand on the beach by car or foot by following the poles in the sand which mark the way.  I’m sure there are many who forget o check the tide timetable before and get stuck.  Like this UNLUCKY lady and her six dogs!!  Currently there is ONE person who lives on the island year round – a few holiday makers during peak season.

We didn’t actually do it for a few reasons, but did witness others.

As we were about 1/2 hour way, we checked out of our hotel and spent some time driving out on Achill Island.    There we found Keem Beach which was very lovely.

The Wild Atlantic Way is Ireland’s first long-distance touring route, stretching along the Atlantic coast from Donegal to Kinsale in West Cork.  The overall aim of the project is to develop a route that will achieve greater visibility of the coast of Ireland in overseas markets.  Well, the plan has worked as we’re trying to take in as much of the Wild Atlantic Way as possible as it has a lot of breathtaking views and cool sites.  (Maebh might not agree as she has been getting sick with too many windy roads, so he has to look out the window.)  I just found this “150 Secrets of the Atlantic Way – where the locals go” off to read it tonight.

A friend spent a week there with her extended family and loved very minute of it.   It’s the largest Irish Island with some interesting ancient sites, multiple blue flag beaches and offers a surfing school. But unlike Barley Cove in West Cork, it would be a great place for the kids in the summer as you’ll actually get waves!   I just found a pub, Gielty’s, on the island with a shuttle service so you can go out and enjoy the pub and they’ll drive you home!!   At one stage, this island was know for shark fishing, basking shark in particular was fished for its valuable liver oil.  We met up with a very friendly shep farmer who told us that the area is declining – and most people only come for a day trip and that visitors stick with Bunduron in Donegal, Westport in Mayo or Killarney in Kerry for the big cities.  They also struggle with wifi so people cannot work at home.  He shared more knowledge of that area and that Achil Island has a huge connection to many Irish who settled in Cleveland, Ohio.

Here are some photos – we loved Keem Bay and see the attraction there but the rest of the island was nothing really too interesting.  Perhaps it would be different if we were there for a week and explored more but we’d probably skip that.

 

Sadly, I never made it to the Connamera Seaweed Baths which I really wanted to do.

How it works:  They run a bath of boiling salt water over fresh sustainable harvested seaweed while you retire to the steam room to get your pores open.  When you return to your bathing room, you add as much cold water until your desired bathing temperature.  You then soak in this bath and absorb all the minerals.  When you are finished, you pull a string overhead which releases 30 seconds of ice cold spring water to close your pores.   There are six single baths and two double baths – but I don’t see that working as Nils could fit and we have no one to mind the children 🙂

Another fun thing we didn’t get to do was visit the Glengolwa Mines.  The mines were operational from 1850-1865 producing around 390 tonnes of lead, which 28k of silver was extracted,

They give an underground tour, entrance to the museum, the kids can pan for gold, and they show you how they contribute data to the Irish Seismology Network.  As our kids LOVED  Aliwee Caves, this could be very cool.   And if you wish, you can book a Sheep Sheering and Bog Tour onto your package – not sure if we’ll do it, we’ve seen many sheep sheered these past four years.

It was recently recommended that we take a trip out to Inishbofin Island via ferry from Cleggan.  The journey takes 30 minutes and sometimes Baskin Sharks are spotted – Soren and Nils would LOVE that!  The sailing on Monday would be going over at 11:30 am and come back on the 5 pm boat.  I’m now off to see what exactly would we do while there…  Seems like a long time with kids at a cost of €60 for the four of us.  Perhaps best for a warm summer day at a later visit.   Same deal with the Letterfrack water tours and glass bottom boat – late March might not be the best time of the year.

I know horseback riding on ponys would be SO much fun for the kids when they are older.  For now I took a video of a girl around 9 on a horse on the beach.

I found what looks like the best bar ever in Sligo. Doubtful we’ll get there during this trip,  but we must go back in the better weather.  Thatched Roof – Pub & Beach!

This post will be a constant work in progress as I continue to research hidden gems and cool places to explore during our trip which involve eating delicious oysters and seafood chowder, cozy Irish Pubs, great beaches, fantastic ruins and scenery.  My hope is that if I post them here, as we venture around we can revert back to this post for our ideas.

The same weekend the Galway Food Festival is going on but I’m pretty sure we will NOT venture down that far…on Easter Monday.

This might give me some ideas as to places to go for short trips this summer.  Was hoping to go the the US for a few weeks, but the costs to get there and quite frankly the return on the investment is really not there.  Hard to explain but it’s a bit one-way at the moment – just find it hard to dish out 2500 euro in flights alone and get nothing in return but blank stares and zero effort.  A two week stay in Orlando in the winter with the family would be a much better option. We’ll see!!

The Irish Independent came out with a bucket list of 30 things to do in Ireland before you die – yes a bit extreme but some of them we have done, others we will…

After this trip a few things are for sure:

1).  We really love West Cork & Kerry
2). Our kids need to continue their swim lessons as they are great swimmers already.
3). Both kids need good cameras as they enjoy taking photos as much as I do.

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