Ireland`s Wild Atlantic Way by Motorcycle - Part 5: The "Wild West", Connemara and Mayo


County Connemara captivates with its original rocky landscapes. The barren land offered the farmers only a meagre income over the centuries, because farming was difficult and the pastures for the cattle were stony and meagre. 

Fishing was probably a slightly better business, but quite risky in the stormy Atlantic Seas.

"There were many stones and little bread" sums it up in a nutshell. The rocky landscape was correspondingly lonely and sparsely populated in the past.

Rocky Meadows at the Connemara Coast Rocky Meadows at the Connemara Coast

Today the landscape is still wild, but much less lonely. From Galway, tour buses offer day trips to Clifden, Kylemore Abbey and many other beautiful corners of Connemara. 

If you want to be alone here in the summer months, it is best to drive on the small narrow roads off the beaten track.

Connemara Pony Connemara Pony

Less well-known than Connemara, but no less beautiful, is the Mayo Highlands further north. The high moorland mountains are reminiscent of the Scottish Highlands - only smaller, of course. On the border of the two counties is the long stretch of sea called Killary Harbour.

The Killary Harbour or Killary Fjord

Killary Harbour is an elongated bay that sheltered ships from the stormy Atlantic, then as now, and is a natural harbour.
In fact, it is a fjord and the only fjord in Ireland. It is about 15 kilometres long and up to 45 metres deep!

Motorbike at Killary Fjord

The long rows of buoys are evidence of shellfish farms and there are also salmon farms in the clean waters of Atlantic Bay.
The shores are lined with wild rhododendrons and green, boggy mountains rise on both sides of the fjord. 

The south side of the fjord belongs to County Connemara, the north side to County Mayo.

Killary Fjord Killary Fjord

The borders meet at the end of the fjord. There is the village of Clog and nearby are the beautiful Aasleagh Falls.

Kylemore Abbey

The N59 country road winds southwards through the green hills, on whose flanks peat is still cut. The sporty motorcyclist could almost do a bit of leaning, but the sheep are just everywhere, especially along and on the road.

A little further on, one of Connemara's most important sights comes into view: Kylemore Abbey. The castle was built around 1870 by a major industrialist as a residence and has served as a convent school and monastery for nuns since 1920.

Kylemore Abbey Kylemore Abbey

The magnificent monastery castle cannot be visited from the inside, but the beautifully landscaped monastery gardens can.

In any case, the location of the castle is beautiful and well worth a photo stop!

Kylemore Abbey Kylemore Abbey

The town of Clifden and the Sky Loop

Clifden is the pulsating heart of Connemara and its capital. The bustling, typically Irish town is bursting with colourful houses, pubs, shops and accommodation. 

In summer, parked motorbikes line the main street and people wave and greet everywhere. If you book early enough, you can easily find a B&B or hotel for the night.

Clifden Castle Clifden Castle

From Clifden, a small road leads west, around a landfall and curves back to the N59. This is the Sky Road or the famous Sky Loop. 

This little road is a highlight for motorcyclists! Past Clifden Castle, it leads directly along the rugged cliffs.

Clifden Bay Clifden Bay

Again and again you see small bays, fishing boats, steep cliffs and hills. In places it goes steeply uphill and downhill. 

Like a roller coaster with many incredible views! A dream for motorcyclists. Don't believe it - try it out!

Motorbike on the Sky Loop road Motorbike on the Sky Loop road

Connemara`s Coasts and Mountains

Once you've rattled off the well-known highlights, you're done with Connemara, aren't you? 

Far from it!  Even and especially away from the tour buses and tourist attractions, there are always scenic gems to be found.

Connemara backcountry mountains Connemara backcountry mountains

Follow the coastline on small roads or drive through the mountains, you can't go wrong here. 

And if you are exhausted from taking so many photos, you can relax for a while on one of the beautiful beaches.

Island`s Viewpoint at the coast of Connemara Island`s Viewpoint at the coast of Connemara

Another "insider tip" is the R344 through the mountains. Close to the Pines Viewpoint, it leads north past Lough Inagh.

Pines Viewpoint Pines Viewpoint

Wrong direction? Never mind, you can turn around again after a while, the valley is beautiful in both directions!


Barren, rocky and rustic with magnificent mountains and rugged coasts, this is how the "Wild West" of Ireland presents itself. 

Motorcyclists get their money's worth here and should therefore plan at least one full day for Connemara. 

If you are still in the mood for a colourful and lively nightlife, we recommend the city of Galway - and then there is the south. 

Old stone cottage Old stone cottage

But more on that in the next episode of this series of articles on the Wild Atlantic Way ....

To WAW part 6 - click here

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Ulrich Knüppel-Gertberg, September 2022
Picture credits: all pictures by Cover photo: sailing ship in Killary Fjord.