Travelers searching for the essence of Ireland will inevitably wind their way west, toward the farthest reaches of County Galway. There’s a lot for any scenery-happy motorist to take in out here, too, as the 1,600-mile Wild Atlantic Way offers some of the finest landscape and sea views of any place in the world. Doing the whole trail is a bit ambitious for this particular trip, but today I’ve opted to meander along one of my favorite sections, the area surrounding Connemara National Park.
I begin my drive at Ballynahinch Castle, set on a 700-acre estate about an hour west of the city of Galway. Formerly the home of the Maharaja Jam Sahib of Nawanagar (better known as Ranjitsinhji), a cricket star who lost an eye in a shooting accident, the historic property is positioned along a rich salmon fishery. I’m tempted to send a few casts waterward, but I decide to stay on solid ground.
First, I head south, descending into bogland on uneven tarmac. This is no place for low-riding sports cars; fortunately, I’m behind the wheel of the posh yet rugged Bentley Bentayga S, a lightfooted SUV with an air suspension system that compensates for the bumps and a first-class navigation display that isn’t fooled by tongue-twisting Gaelic road signs. Soon I reach Roundstone, one of the prettiest fishing villages in all of Ireland. I cruise down the high street and pop into O’Dowd’s of Roundstone, a pleasant seafood restaurant and bar, where I warm up with steamed Killary mussels in coconut milk and chili broth, along with a pint of Guinness.
After lunch I make my way northwest, passing through thick bogs and the town of Clifden, which every August hosts the lively Connemara Pony Festival. Shortly thereafter, I find myself at the entrance to Connemara National Park.
Home to several of the mountains that make up the famous Twelve Bens, this is a place of savage beauty, and I take a few minutes to appreciate it with a short walk from the visitor’s center along the Diamond Hill Loop trail.
It’s blustery outside, so I pump the heat in the Bentley on the way to my next stop, Kylemore Abbey, where I take in the mid-19th-century granite Benedictine monastery building, reflected in its own shimmering lake, and then go for a brief stroll through the walled Victorian garden. Past Killary Fjord, an inlet that’s famed for its mussels, I exit the N59 and head east toward the village of Cong, where much of the classic 1952 John Ford movie The Quiet Man was filmed. I pop by The Quiet Man Museum and snap a photo of the statue of John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara outside. Inspired, I continue on to nearby Ashford Castle, whose bar was a favorite watering hole of the two Hollywood stars. Instead of cocktails, I opt to take afternoon tea; over freshly baked scones and a pot of Earl Grey, I ponder how the Duke is said to have fallen in love with Connemara. I can see why. Perhaps I’ll stay another night.
2022 Bentley Bentayga S
While the 12-cylinder Bentley Continental GT Speed may be faster, the luxurious, nimble Bentayga S, with its eye-catching 22-inch alloy wheels, tinted lights, and assertive stance, is the brand’s sportiest SUV. Not that the Bentayga putters along, mind you: Its sublime 4-liter, twin-turbo V8 engine churns out 542 horsepower and 568 pound feet of torque, sending it from zero to 60 in 4.5 seconds and all the way up to a top speed of 180 miles per hour. The leather and wood interior, meanwhile, is a masterclass in handcrafted British opulence.
From $229,325, bentleymotors.com
Next Up: Cruise to a Little-Known, Uninhabited Island Off Ireland’s Malin Head