On an island celebrated around the world for creativity, one spot stands out for its inspirational beauty. Connemara, on the west coast, is famous for the variety of beautiful, traditional Irish gifts made here. It is a quiet, sprawling haven for artists and craft makers. Jewelry, musical instruments, ceramics and other Irish gifts are made here or inspired by the region’s stunning scenery. Many writers, particularly those writing in the Irish language, have found their muse in this wild and windswept corner of County Galway.
It’s magic how so much creativity is packed into one section of one county that can often feel almost desolate if you are passing through in a hurry. But passing through Connemara in a hurry is a huge mistake. Framed on three sides by the Atlantic, this rugged region is a place to slow way down and observe. If you are looking to check off items on a long list of things to do in Ireland, head south down to County Kerry. But if you want to slow down and savor Ireland, to explore an area where modern technology sits comfortably next to traditional craft making techniques, come to Connemara.
Connemara’s beauty is not just on the surface. Beneath the soil, hundreds of millions of years ago limestone was heated and compressed, picking up various minerals and other types of rock in the process, and slowly evolving into marble. Connemara marble is a metamorphic rock that lives up to saying about Ireland’s 40 shades of green, with many hues of grey in the mix. This unique, dazzling gem is the star of many Irish gifts, particularly jewelry.
Other Gems of Connemara
Connemara marble isn’t the only beautiful gem to be found north of Galway City. Connemara National Park is the place to really explore the region’s natural beauty, but ironically it is also full of man-made heritage. The park was created on lands that were formerly part of Letterfrack Industrial School and Kylemore Abbey. It also includes megalithic tombs. While many wild animals including fox, badgers and rabbits live in the park, it is also home to a herd of Connemara ponies.
Not all of Connemara is on the mainland. Tiny Inishbofin lies seven miles off the coast of Galway, and it is a special area of conservation. It’s looped walking trails offer a chance to enjoy amazing views of its coast and perhaps even spot rare native birds such as the corncrake.
Kylemore Abbey’s majestic visage graces many postcards. Nestled where the mountains sweep down to the shores of Lake Pollacappal, this magnificent building is one of the most romantic and extravagant Irish gifts of all time. Mitchell and Margaret Henry honeymooned in Connemara in the 1840s, when famine made life here grim. But Mitchell saw past the devastation. When an inheritance made him one of the richest men in Britain, he returned and built a home for his family that resembles a fairy tale castle.