Ballyconneely – Baile Conaola
No visit to Connemara or to the West of Ireland would be complete without a visit to Ballyconneely. Ballyconneely is a small village, 10km South of Clifden the capital of Connemara. The entry point to the Errismore Peninsula, is an ideal place from which to explore the most tranquil, unspoilt and interesting countryside to be found anywhere in the country.
It’s name translates from the Irish as Conneely’s Village, and is based on the old civil parish of Ballindoon which in turn was named from the old fort or Cashel on Doonhill built by the McGeogegan family to celebrate the restoration of free trade in the 18th century.
Ballyconneely is renowned for its breeding of the world famous Connemara Pony, with numerous home and overseas champions being produced here. Legend has it that the breed originated as a result of a number of Arab Horses coming ashore from the Spanish Armada shipwreck, near Slyne Head and breeding with the small native pony. An Annual Ballyconneely show and sale is held in the village on the 3rd Sunday every July.
The low lying area of Ballyconneely lies exposed to the Atlantic waves. The peninsula is ringed by beautiful white sandy beaches. Extensive sand-dunes flank the lovely beaches with numerous shell middens. The most unusual of these being the Coral Strand at Derrygimbla, a rich golden beach which skirts the main road between Clifden and Ballyconneely village. More popular beaches are Mannin beach at Mannin, Dunloughan beach, Trá Eel beach (harbor beach), Dolan beach, Trá Mhor (below golf club) in Aillebrack. Some of theses beaches provide excellent bases for shore fishermen., Pollock, mackerel and occassional Bass.
Recently, evidence of early coastal settlement stretching back 5,000 years. Shell middens of burnt stone, charcoal, shells, as well as the stone blades have been found along the shorelines deposited by the shore-dwelling communities who lived along those beaches going back to 2000 B.C. Dunloughan and Truska beaches contain separate deposits of Dog Whelk shells which were not used as food, but to produce a purple dye much sought after by the Romans. Pottery fragments from those sites indicate their habitation at some stage by the Beaker Folk, a migrant continental people also skilled in metallurgy and who are recorded in Ireland and England around 2500 to 2000 B.C. It all adds to the excitements of exploration. As well as providing excellent bathing they have an abundance of edible shellfish and mollusces accessible at low tides. These include Mussels, Shrimps, Clams, Cockles, Scallops, Sea Urchin and with local knowledge, the occasional lobster.
The large mass of Doonhill, the basalt plug of an ancient volcano, the outer cone of which has now eroded away. Traces of the foundation of a Celtic ringfort, or Dun (from which the hill and the area are named) can be seen on the summit.
In sharp contrast the rocks and craggy islands off the western tip of Ballyconneely have threatened many passing boats and fishermen in the area. The location of a lighthouse at Slyne Head in 1863 has given a safe passage to many and been a friendly light in the night sky to the surrounding areas.
Today the area is home to a vibrant, thriving community and boasts many attractions for our visitors. If you want to experience something special while visiting Connemara head to Bunowen Pier near Ballyconnelly and visit the award winning Connemara Smokehouse. Every Wednesday at 3pm during June, July and August they have a guided tour of the Smokehouse where you can see Graham Roberts hand fillet and prepare the salmon for smoking, slice the finished product and then pack it. Learn about the various methods of smoking and sample some Smoked Salmon. Delicious combined with soda bread. Apart from Salmon some of the other products at the Smokehouse include Smoked Tuna which is delicious, Smoked Mackerel and many more. The Smokehouse is open Mon to Friday 9am to 5pm and closed for lunch. The Smokehouse is a family business using traditional methods and high quality products. Pre-booking is advisable as it very popular. www.smokehouse.ie
Ballyconneely has been to the forefront in many historic projects and events. As early as 1854 the first Salmon farming operation in either Britain or Ireland was carried out on the Dohulla Fishery. William Young and J.K. Boswell built a dam at the western outlet at Barrowen Lough reversing the flow of water into Maumeen Lough via a man-made river known as the New Cut. Spawling beds and rearing ponds for salmon were built along its banks and with the help of a scientist a Mr. Ramsbottom from Clitheroe in Lancashire, the locally reared fish were tagged and released to sea, and were documented returning to the fishery up to 1863.
On Sunday June 14th 1919, the first non-stop transatlantic flight ended in the Derrygimbla Bog just two miles from Ballyconneely, Capt. John Alcock and Lieutentant Arthur Whitten Brown had flown their twin-engined Bickers Vimy plane from St. Johns Harbour, Newfoundland, Canada, in sixteen hours and twenty seven minutes.
They landed virtually within yards of the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Station, set up by Guiglielmo Marconi, the Italian pioneer of wireless telegraphy in 1905 and from where the first transatlantic wireless message was sent to Cape Breton in Nova Scotia in 1907.
On the 3rd of July 2005, the intrepid Steve Fossett together with Mark Reboltz co-pilot navigator flew a replica Vickers Vimy Atlantic bi-plane from Newfoundland to Clifden along the same flight path, landing on the 8th Fairway at Connemara Championship Golf Links course, Ballyconneely. A massive crowd were gathered at Connemara Championship Links to greet the two pilots on their landing. It took them over 17 hours to complete the historic journey and they felt very relieved when they landed safely on the 8th fairway. Watch out for the commemorative plaque located close to the famous 8th fairway in tribute to remarkable and unique event. It also visited again in 2009 for the Connemara Air Show.
Nestled between the scenic splendor of the Twelve Bens mountain range and the rugged Atlantic ocean, lies the 27 hole Connemara Championship Golf Links. From the testing dog leg opening hole through to the breathtaking back 9, which have been acknowledged as the “equal to any in the world”, Connemara is an enduring monument to its designer Eddie Hackett.
To the West is Doon Hill the derelict 1939-45 coast-watching post is on the side of a folly which was built in 1780 by Richard Geoghegan to commemorate the winning of freedom of trade by Grattan’s volunteers. There 53 number visible above a very indistinct on top of Doonhill. During the war years, a number of coastal look out points were built around Ireland to monitor shipping and air traffic. Ireland had declared itself neutral. In total, 84 of these lookout points were constructed. They consisted of what can best be described as a little concrete bunker. About 50 of those structures have left footprints or are still standing. They are built of concrete, and most of them are in a state of disrepair. There was a tiny fire place in it, and otherwise it was pretty much open to the elements. Volunteers were assigned to each of the look out posts on eight hour shifts, Part of this was linked to the risk of an invasion of Ireland, a neutral country. An interesting read on the Plan W.
Less than 1km West, near the road to Bunowen Quay, in Aillebrack is the Well of the Seven Daughters.
On the outskirts of Ballyconneely there is a vast expanse of Moors, Lakes and streams, teeming with undisturbed wildlife and rare plants, an area which is almost haunting in it’s serene tranquility, especially in the early morning and late Summer evenings.