The scenery between courses on this itinerary is rewarding enough. But there are roadside attractions also worth your while.
Connemara: Go horseback riding in the hills and on the shore (Errislannan Riding Centre, Clifden, 011-353-952-1134) and then have lunch in the picturesque fishing port of Roundstone.
Carne: On the way to Enniscrone, make sure to check out the intriguing Céide Fields, remnant of Stone Age farms, houses and tombs built more than 5,000 years ago and then preserved when the area was overgrown by a blanket bog.
Enniscrone: Near to Ballina is Killala Bay, the estuary of the River Moy, one of Ireland's finest salmon and sea trout fishing rivers. Enquire about licenses, seasons and local regulations at themoyvalley.com, and arrange gear and guides through a Ballina tackle shop. Kilcullen's Seaweed Baths (011-353-963-6238) in Enniscrone are said to offer relief from rheumatism and arthritis. A few minutes north is Easkey, "one of the places a traveling surfer has got to visit," per Surfer magazine.
County Sligo: Visit the church at Drumcliffe just north of Sligo town and find Yeats's grave, marked by a plain slab of stone bearing these unnerving words: CAST A COLD EYE/ON LIFE, ON DEATH/HORSEMAN, PASS BY!
Donegal: Park somewhere near the "Diamond," as they call the main square, and tour Donegal Castle, built around 1505 by the O'Donnells, the Gaelic family that ruled the region for centuries.
Rosapenna: Share a good craic (i.e., conversation) with Frank Casey, owner of the Rosapenna Hotel, whose father was the restaurant manager in its earlier incarnation. Casey caddied, sometimes barefoot, at the course as a boy and later was an assistant to the hotel manager. He purchased the rebuilt hotel in 1981 when the course was a shambles—"Falling into the sea," Casey says. He's since set things right.
Ballyliffin: The village of Fahan is notable simply because the Abbey of St. Mura is so incredibly old—it was established in the early seventh century and used continuously at least until 1820, when the "new" one was built just down the road.
Ireland's reputation for lousy food is fast becoming a thing of the past. Yes, the basic diet for traveling golfers in these parts is pub grub, but there are upscale options at every stop, and even some of the clubhouse menus have improved nicely.
The Corncrake Restaurant (011-353-777-4534), in Carndonagh, a few minutes east of the two golf courses, is cozily laid out in the front rooms of an old home. They cook local ingredients in new ways here, specializing in fresh seafood and lamb, followed by terrific desserts. If you're a foodie, this will be the trip's highlight. A little farther east, in Culdaff, is McGrory's (011-353-74-937-9104), serving up live music in the pub and a modest but well-executed menu in the restaurant.
CARNE AND ENNISCRONE
In Ballina, Crockets on the Quay (011-353-967-5940) sits on the lower reaches of the River Moy and offers the compelling duo of a nice menu, well cooked, in the dining room on one side of the building and a lively pub next door. Try both.
A window table at High Moors (011-353-952-1342, open Friday through Sunday, dinners only) near Clifden sports a remarkable view of the Roundstone Bog and the sea beyond. The standouts are home-style Connemara lamb, local seafood (especially scallops) and vegetables from the owners' garden. Facing the harbor on the main road through Roundstone, O'Dowd's Seafood Bar & Restaurant (011-353-953-5809) is a traditional pub that serves a fine chowder and, locals insist, the best-poured Guinness around. In the adjoining restaurant, the seafood platter and hot-buttered lobster are justly acclaimed.
Just north of Sligo town, Yeats Tavern (011-353-716-3117) is the closest thing to a tourist trap on this itinerary, but it makes the cut because locals go there too. The reason: The food is good, and the pub has a terrific selection of Irish whiskey. The Waterfront (011-353-717-7122) in Rosses Point is locally renowned for fresh seafood and is right by the course.
Outside of Donegal town, Coxtown Manor (011-353-733-4575) focus-es on fresh seafood, sirloin from local Charolais cattle and lamb bred on the grounds (come autumn, game joins the menu). It also has a plethora of Belgian beers, owing to its Belgian owner.
There aren't many alternatives around; it's fortunate that the Rosapenna Hotel Restaurant (011-353-745-5301) is so good for both breakfast and dinner. The varied menu is strongest in seafood, since the hotel's right beside a fishing village, and there is a long, intriguing wine list as well.