With its blue mountains, "colossal" skies, and wide empty beaches, Connemara is "a country unto itself", and the most beautiful region in the west of Ireland, said Stanley Stewart in Condé Nast Traveller. Oscar Wilde, whose father had a summer house by Lough Corrib, spoke of its "savage beauty". His contemporary Oliver St John Gogarty called it "half of heaven". And the early 20th century revolutionary Patrick Pearse – who was executed for his part in the Easter Rising – was one of a circle of Irish patriots who believed "the soul of Ireland, the essence of the country" lay in Connemara, which contains Ireland's largest Gaeltacht, or Irish-speaking area.
Several of the region's best hotels – Currarevagh, Delphi Lodge, Ballynahinch – were once grand houses; there is also the "splendidly Victorian" Lough Inagh Lodge (great for fly fishing) and The Quay House, a former harbour master's house in Clifden. You might stay at any or all of them, and explore by car, following your nose down the "narrow, meandering" lanes that criss-cross the landscape, "pitching and turning" like roller-coaster tracks around mountains and loughs, and past signposts with "musical names: Ardnagreevagh, Shanafaraghaun, Claddaghduff". They lead to "all the best places – ruined towers, roofless abbeys, tiny pubs that double as grocers – and to the smell of peat fires and the sea".
On my most recent trip, I wandered the walled garden at Kylemore Abbey, and listened at a pub in Letterfrack to a band that played "adrenaline-fuelled reels" and traditional airs of heart-melting sweetness and melancholy. On the island of Inishbofin, I cycled remote bog roads to a long sandy beach "that would have Brazilians salivating", and in Rosroe I stood at night alone on the quay, where Wittgenstein, visiting in the late 1940s, found what he considered to be ideal conditions for thinking. It was, he wrote, "the last pool of darkness in Europe".
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