Aillebrack and Emlagharan / side roads / approx. 6.5 km / 2 hours
The Ballyconneely walk begins about 2km from Ballyconneely Village, at the road just before the old ruined seaweed factory. Ahead of us rises the mass of Doon Hill, the basalt plug of an ancient volcano, the outer cone of which has now eroded away. Traces of the foundation of a Celtic ring fort, or Dún (from which the hill and the area are named) can be seen on the summit. The landscape which we pass through here is one of rocky outcrops, with many lakes and marshy areas which support a rich and interesting flora. The geology of this peninsula is very different from the acid rock structure of most of Connemara, and this supports the diversity in plant life.
Our route passes the ruin of the seaweed factory on the right and we soon reach the shell of Bunowen Castle on the left. Begun in the latter half of the 18th century and expanded two generations later, this building remained unfinished when the Geoghegan estate went bankrupt in the 1850s. (No entry or visits to castle or grounds are permitted, the hill and castle are private property.)
Further on, we take the right turn at the sign for the Connemara Championship Golf Links. Ahead lies a landscape different from the rocky, marshy area we have just passed through. This short grass vegetation, called machair, is typical of exposed coastal areas and is underlain by the sands of ancient dune systems which are now protected by younger dunes closer to the modern shore. The flora here is rich and diverse, and especially colourful in May and June, and ground-nesting skylarks and lapwing are common. Our route turns right, following the boundary fence of the Connemara Championship Golf Links. Before turning here, looking away to the left, you can see the tower of Slyne Head lighthouse in the distance. Ahead, as you walk, lie the mountains of Connemara, with those of Mayo slightly to the north. The road passes between the golf course and the shore of Sand Lough into a landscape of small walled fields and abandoned ruined homesteads. The road becomes a track and an older, traditional farm landscape can be glimpsed beneath the modern veneer for about the next mile. Again, this area has an interesting flora. The route follows the road right at the junction and we again pass through the rocky landscape of heather and gorse back to our starting point.
If you begin and end this walk in Ballyconneely Village you can add approx. 5km (about 1 hour) walking.
Source: ‘Walking in Connemara: Shorter Walks to Explore the Hidden Connemara’, Connemara Tourism 1996.
Available at The Clifden Bookshop, Main Street, Clifden.