Day 4: Westport to Galway (98 miles)
Connemara is the wildest part of Ireland’s wild west, a mountainous region where the bogs are boggier, the crags craggier, the silence silenter. The town of Leenane, clinging to a strip of land between mountainside and bay, serves as a kind of gateway. When I drop in to a small shop to ask for directions to a hiking trail, the man at the counter replies not with a brogue but an Eastern European accent: “Sorry, I not from here. Maybe you ask in pub.”
At Connemara National Park, the parking lot is nearly empty. Though I’m skeptical—the place seems too touristy, too easy, too close to the small but jarring commercial core of Letterfrack—I decide to take a quick peek at the trails before I drive on. After an hour and a half of strenuous walking, I find myself atop the 1,300-foot Diamond Hill, taking in views of Ballynakill Bay to the west and Kylemore Lough to the north, with the peaks known as the Twelve Pins to the south and east. It’s my first taste of a moderately lengthy Connemara hike, and it is exhilarating. The rocks, mottled with lichen and striated with veins of quartz; the sky, once again performing its dramatic mood shifts; and the rampant mountain heath—green and red and brown and purple—combine to create a series of 360-degree panoramas.