5 Enchanting Trips Steeped in Legends Along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way

The Wild Atlantic Way

Breathtaking Landscapes with Enchanting Legends

When I went to Ireland for the first time I was surprised, utterly shocked at the notion that, every local I asked about Irish legends offered a vague retelling of a random ambiguous place. The only direction I was getting was the one leading me to our next pint. I was so frustrated! How in the world was I finding it so difficult to pinpoint places related to Irish legends when Ireland is exploding with them?

Driving along the Wild Atlantic Way in the Connemara region. Here the mountain peaks are many and the valleys are deep. This coastal road hugs craggy cliffs and sandy shores, and it never gets old.

Driving along the Wild Atlantic Way in the Connemara region. Here the mountain peaks are many and the valleys are deep. This coastal road hugs craggy cliffs and sandy shores, and it never gets old.

I was starting to think there were no places in Ireland related to these legends outside of book shops and fireplaces. Then, I went on a journey along the Wild Atlantic Way and what I discovered was so much more than what any local could ever share over a pint in Dublin. What I found was the legends themselves lived in the very earth that I stood on. In every valley. On every cliff, and in every moss-covered woodland. They were intangible and scattered, they were literally everywhere.

You can see the stone walls right to the cliffs. Imagine standing here, pelting winds and freezing sea spray. It's harsh conditions like these that brought people to gather, warm by the fire, and tell stories to entertain.

You can see the stone walls right to the cliffs. Imagine standing here, pelting winds and freezing sea spray. It’s harsh conditions like these that brought people to gather, warm by the fire, and tell stories to entertain.

Now before you go mapping your itinerary, there is something you need to understand about Irish legends. For many years the Irish lived in very harsh conditions, especially along Ireland’s western coast. The earth was a crucial element to Irish Mythology with an irregular landscape that spawned curiosities. Many Irish legends and myths served to rationalize things the people could not explain, and often still can’t. With the western coast of Ireland being such an isolated land, these mystical, magical and enchanting stories were preserved well. They made a natural transition into modern times especially in the most distant parts of Ireland like Achill Island, the Connemara region, the Burren and the Dingle Peninsula.

The animals are many, but the humans are spread out. I kinda like that...

The animals are many, but the humans are spread out. I kinda like that…

There are so many sites, monuments, and locations that are tied to Irish Legends I would have to write an entire book on my findings. From the magpies to the sea cliffs, there is an echo in the air. Here are 5 really cool, enchanting and stunning trips to take along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way that are rich in legend and will leave you mystified.

Wild Atlantic Way, Achill Island Co Mayo

I honestly never knew the water could be so blue in this part of the world. Keem Bay, Achill Island.

I honestly never knew the water could be so blue in this part of the world. Keem Bay, Achill Island.

Fairy Legend and Entrances to the Other World

Ireland is home to countless mystical monuments dating back thousands of years. According to Irish folklore the fairies dwell in these prehistoric megalithic sites. In part, this can be attributed to a means of rationalizing obvious questions like, “How were these made?”, and moreover, “How were they placed along astrological alignments?” That’s not to say if you asked around, you wouldn’t hear a tale or two about a malevolent fairy.

Mermaid Legend - A man with family from Dooagh was thought to be a descendant from a mermaid. Legend has it that if you a mermaid sees you before you see her, you will soon be dead.

Mermaid Legend – A man with family from Dooagh was thought to be a descendant from a mermaid. Legend has it that if you a mermaid sees you before you see her, you will soon be dead.

These ancient sites of tombs, cairns, forts and mounds were also believed to be the entrances to Tir Na Nog (the Other World), a perfect place where no one fell ill or aged. Magical right? So why not set out and explore some of these ancient enchanted sites! With a sense of adventure, boots, and the desire to hike, you can take a tour of these places with the Achill Archaeological Field School. Like how cool is that? Gearing up with archaeologists to find enchanted prehistoric sites, yes please!

Some Other Interesting Legends on Achill Island

Beautiful ruins are scattered all over Ireland. These stand next to Grace O'Malley's Castle also known as Granuaile's Tower at Kildavnet.

Beautiful ruins are scattered all over Ireland. These stand next to Grace O’Malley’s Castle also known as Granuaile’s Tower at Kildavnet.

The Banshee – A type of fairy that warns people of pending death in their family. It is said that she can be seen on the Sidh Groigin, the raised bog mounds which are NEVER ever cut by man. These are thought of as homes of the Banshees, and a sitting place for them to cry.

Booley Sites – Remote sites known to be haunted by fairies, Banshees and even the Devil, and every local will tell you so. No one is brave enough to hike to the booley huts and spend a night.

The Children of Lir – A tale of the four children of Lir banished by their jealous step mother for 900 years to 3 different places in Ireland,  Lough Derravaragh, the Sea of Moyle and on the waters of the Bay of Erris near to Inishglora Island which borders Achill Island.

Grace O'Malley the Pirate Queen - She's known by locals as the, "Wild Atlantic Woman". She braved the wild waters to the 15th century castle known as, Granuaile's Tower at Kildavnet which, takes a seat to the stunning view of the Sound.

Grace O’Malley the Pirate Queen – She’s known by locals as the, “Wild Atlantic Woman”. She braved the wild waters to the 15th century castle known as, Granuaile’s Tower at Kildavnet which, takes a seat to the stunning view of the Sound.

If you’re looking for some local tales I can recommend you visit the Achill Island Hotel’s Pub and ask for Edward McNamara. He is the pub manager and just the right type of local to bring you into the legends of the land.

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Wild Atlantic Way, Westport Co Mayo

During the season you can also enjoy the Pirate Adventure Park. This is a great stop off for kids to flip out and run themselves into a coma! WIN!

During the season you can also enjoy the Pirate Adventure Park. This is a great stop off for kids to flip out and run themselves into a coma! WIN!

Grace O’Malley the Pirate Queen

Home to the Pirate Queen, you can visit the Westport House which was built on the ruins of Grace O’Malley’s home. With 30 antique rooms and hallways, a Grace O’Malley Exhibit and even a dungeon, this is an exciting place to explore for all ages. Check out their Pirate Queen Festival for a full on pirate experience.

Wild Atlantic Way, Connemara Region Co Galway

Driving through Connemara is like driving into "Neverland".

Driving through Connemara is like driving into “Neverland”.

Tuatha De Danann

According to Irish Mythology, this was a race of magical demigods born of the Goddess Danu. It is said that they came in from the western sea and succeeded the Fir Bolg on the shores of modern-day Connemara. A drive along the Sky Road will lend a portal for you to imagine the mythical invasion of these ancient people. The 7 mile loop at the foothills of the Twelve Bens Mountains is not only exhilarating, but enchanting. If you still have your boots on, you can brave the trails for an outdoor adventure. You will find that this region has some of the most breathtaking views that Ireland has to offer.

This is the oldest court tomb in all of Ireland. I was taken here, to the cliffs of Cleggen Head by Archaeologist Gerry MacCloskey. Could this be the tomb of a lost soul of the Fir Bolg?

This is the oldest court tomb in all of Ireland. I was taken here, to the cliffs of Cleggen Head by Archaeologist Gerry MacCloskey. Could this be the tomb of a lost soul of the Fir Bolg?

Check out Walking Connemara, Brian Hughes and Gerry MacCloskey are amazing guides and can show you the most enchanting places off the beaten path.

Hotel Recommendation

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In Clifden Brian also runs the Abbeyglen Castle Hotel if you are looking for an enchanting evening to top your magical day in Connemara. Complete with dinner, pub and breakfast with a view of the mountains.

Wild Atlantic Way, the Burren Co Clare

The Burren is a vast sea of confusing and irregular limestone formations wrapped with ancient man made stone walls. There are so many ring forts here (thought to be where fairies live) that you can just count them as you pass along.

The Burren is a vast sea of confusing and irregular limestone formations wrapped with ancient man made stone walls. There are so many ring forts here (thought to be where fairies live) that you can just count them as you pass along.

Fairy Legend

Visit the Poulnabrone Dolmen, a Neolithic portal tomb dating back between 4200 BC and 2900 BC. This is one of the few megaliths that actually have a car park. It is maintained by the OPW, (the Office of Public Works) because it is a protected site.

The Poulnabrone Dolmen in the Burren

The Poulnabrone Dolmen in the Burren

To learn more about Ireland’s protected heritage sites click here. 

Hotel recommendations

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Near the Cliffs of Moher I love the Sea View House in Doolin and its owners Niall and Darr. This luxury B&B with gourmet breakfast overlooks the Atlantic Ocean and is rich with comfort and Irish hospitality. This is the charming view from the balcony overlooking to tiny village of Doolin. It was so nice to rest here, exhausted from our adventurous journey. They treated us like family, and holy cow their beds are comfortable!

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Near Limerick in Newmarket-on-Trent I felt like an absolute princess at Dromoland Castle Hotel! I kept thinking, “I wish I was staying longer, this place is amazing!” This five-star property is a real life fairy tale. I’ll never forget this completely magical experience of elegance and luxury.  A member of the exquisite Preferred Hotels & Resorts brand.

Wild Atlantic Way, the Dingle Peninsula Co Kerry

Ancient beehive hut on the rocky cliffs of the Dingle Peninsula

Ancient beehive hut on the rocky cliffs of the Dingle Peninsula

Fairy Legend

Much like Achill Island and the Burren, the Dingle Peninsula has a great deal of fairy legend that remains in the shadows of their dense population of archaeological sites. Dingle is one of those places where you can feel the echo of ancient Ireland in the sea sprayed air. Its sloping mountains, water-laced valleys, craggy sea-beaten cliffs and ancient ruins recall a much more tumultuous Ireland, one that gave a foundation for the very legends that we know  and love today.

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For a scenic tour of the best of the Dingle Peninsula get with John and Elaine of Dingle Coastline Tours. They are amazing and know the area well. Plus, now that they have met me, they know exactly what you’ll be looking for!

Hotel Recommendation

 

Ballyseede-Castle-Hotel-300x225 In Tralee If you’re looking for some extra enchantment why not try Ballyseede Castle Hotel just outside of Dingle. This finely appointed property is a member of the Manor House Hotels of Ireland and delivers excellence in both quality and service. It’s not stuffy at all. I totally felt like I lived there. We even walked around for a late night adventure in our pajamas!

To plan your Wild Atlantic Way trip, please visit www.Ireland.com 

Resources

Achill Island, Theresa McDonald I.A.S Publications 2006

The Sacred Mythological Centres of Ireland, Jack Roberts, BANDIA Ireland 1996

Peter Curtain, Burren Tolkien Society

Philip Byrne, Storyteller at the Food, Folklore and Fairies Dinner Show at the Brazen Head in Dublin

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About Christa Thompson

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Christa Thompson is the Founder and Senior Editor of The Fairytale Traveler. Christa has been traveling the world since 2003 when she attended a summer abroad study at the University of Cambridge in England. Since then, her wanderlust has been fierce. Her three passions in life are her son, traveling, and being creative. The Fairytale Traveler brand gives Christa the opportunity to do all of these things and to live intentionally every day. "It's never too late to believe in what you love and to pursue your dreams." -Christa Thompson

69 Comments on this post

  1. Stunning photos as usual. I love the idea of “Tir Na Nog (the Other World).”

    Elena / Reply
  2. Love it! I’d be thrilled to travel to Ireland someday, and this post is awesomely helpful and inspiring!!! Thanks 🙂

    bookishashlee / Reply
  3. I can’t believe how gorgeous it looks! And totally laughed at the horse picture 🙂

    Charlie on Travel / Reply
  4. What a great piece! When I was researching the West coast of Ireland it was really hard to figure out which areas to focus on– this is such a perfect guide! I loved Connemara (Neverland is a perfect description!) but there is so much I didn’t see. Next time I want to hit Dingle and see those magical beehives! Your photos are making ready to pack my bags!

    Kristin Francis / Reply
  5. OMG I love your blog so much! I am planning a trip to Ireland & Scotland with my mother and we are obsessed with myths, fairies & folklore and this info is exactly what we are looking for 🙂

    Marie / Reply
    • I love that you love my blog. Please, if you want any further info don’t hesitate to email me via my contact page. I am sorta enthusiastic about sharing great travel tips with people 😉

      There is so much more to know! If you get a chance, check out http://faemagazine.com and buy the downloadable magazine with my article about where the fairies are in Achill Island. It will blow your mind! xoxoxox Thank you for the kind words!

  6. I really enjoyed your blog and despite being Irish and visiting most of these places before, I got re-enthused when I read about them and have decided that I need to revisit them all over again! Just loved your images too – loved the inquisitive donkey! : )

  7. […] Looking for more on the Cliffs of Moher from the Fairytale Traveler? […]

  8. I’m with Niamh on this too, I went to tonnes of these kinds of places as a kid, but i’ve sort of forgtten them at this stage! Need a re-intro. Niamh, let’s Ireland roadtrip?

    PurpleTravelKate / Reply
    • Oh I’m inspiring road trips now, well then. My job here is done! HA! I loved road tripping Ireland. There is so much to see, so many adventures to be had. Just roll with the wind and the beer!

  9. So. Much. Beauty! I love that sheep and his punk rock colours!

  10. Oh Christa! What a beautiful post… I can almost feel as if I was on one of those windy moors, surrounded by banshees and demigods. I loved all the hotel recommendations, and how you’ve also added tips on how to find locals to tell you the stories. I would love to meet Edward McNamara!

  11. So many beautiful locations with history and legends. I remember looking at depictions of banshees when I was young and learning about their history. Would love to visit Ireland.

  12. I’ve been to the west coast a number of times on family holidays, mainly around Doolin, the Ring of Kerry, Dingle Peninsula – and those beehive huts! Amazing. But I’ve never been to Connemara; not yet. I love the history of the west coast, the wilderness, and the closeness with all the myths and legends – in this land you can easily believe them to be true.

    Rachel / Reply
  13. Wooow! This really makes me feel like I’m in a fairytale!

    Urska / Reply
  14. Brilliant post! I have been to a fair few of those places, and some of them are truly magical! Love your photos too! 🙂

    bavariansojourn / Reply
  15. I’m always searching out stories or legends of places I visit. I also love a dolmen and go to as many as I can find! Great article.

    cvail / Reply
  16. Achill Island looks absolutely incredible and the photos are stunning! I love the story about banshees – I’m always told I scream like one but never actually knew what they really were! 🙂

    Sabina @ Girl vs Globe / Reply
    • HAHA! My mom used to say that too. I don’t even think she knew what one was. Old New York women for you lmao. I’m glad you liked it! I learned even more awesomeness about Achill Island after I returned. I interviewed this lovely Transformational Coach and Bio-Energy Therapist Agata Nowicka. She shared with me all of the places where she feels the fairies on Achill. Sounds silly to some, but you’d be amazed at what she shared.

  17. Thanks for making me miss Ireland EVEN MORE than I already do! 😛 It’s such a magical place, isn’t it? Seriously gorgeous pics, too! One of these days I’m going to have to learn how to use my camera…

  18. I’ve only been to Dublin and Cork; now I wish there’d been time on my trip to see some of these beautiful places you highlighted.

    Ming Lim (@OnALim1) / Reply
  19. Achill Island looks absolutely stunning I need to look up Grace O’Malley, as her story sounds fascinating. Beautiful shots of the coastline!

    Dave Cole / Reply
    • I’m telling it it’s awesome! May and September are the best months to visit. Grace O’Malley has sites from Westport to Achill, several castles that she owned and even a history in Howth and with Queen Elizabeth! A good one for sure!

  20. Really lovely piece Christa! The photos are stunning and it’s given me some lovely inspiration for when I visit Ireland – it’s on my 25 aims for my 25th year 🙂 x

    Harri / Reply
  21. […] ups, you can join mine here the Sunday Traveler. This gives great comment love, link juice and traction with social media and traffic which builds […]

  22. Wow, these are some of the most beautiful pictures of Ireland I have ever seen! And I love the legend stories to go with them. I especially love the picture of that fuzzy sheep!

    Anna | slightly astray / Reply
  23. I love all of your photos, I can’t believe how blue the water is in that one photo, too!

    Lauren / Reply
  24. Breathtaking photos! “The animals are many, but the humans are spread out. I kinda like that…” I often feel that way too when traveling 🙂

    Dana Newman / Reply
  25. Aww that horse is adorable and looks super friendly too. It’s so cool to find places seeped with so much lore and stories. It makes you wonder how they got started in the first place.

    Adelina | PackMeTo / Reply
  26. […] Looking for more on the Cliffs of Moher from the Fairytale Traveler? […]

  27. “In Tralee If you’re looking for some extra enchantment why not try Ballyseede Castle Hotel just outside of Dingle. This finely appointed property is a member of the Manor House Hotels of Ireland and delivers excellence in both quality and service. It’s not stuffy at all. I totally felt like I lived there. We even walked around for a late night adventure in our pajamas!”

    Wow, that is a hotel I’d like to go to 🙂 Thanks for the post, very informative!

    Sergio / Reply
  28. […] rocks. I remembered this kind of Ireland from earlier in the year when I made my journey along the Wild Atlantic Way. The Antrim Coast is so peaceful and picturesque it hurts. I couldn’t tell you how far we […]

  29. Great post, beautiful photos – I’ll return to this when planning my next visit! Write that book 🙂

    Kirsten / Reply
  30. […] way winding through flower-lined sea cliffs along the Pacific Coast Highway. It reminded me of the Wild Atlantic Way in Ireland. It was rugged, fresh, untouched nature, like a painting we somehow managed to teleport […]

  31. Hey. That is a great article presenting that part of Ireland. Photos are amazingly clear and great. I am in for adventures and this trip seems worth doing it. Thanks.

    chris / Reply
  32. […] Burren and the Dingle Peninsula, you can find more sacred fairy sites than you can count. Here are 5 trips along what is called Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way that will leave you […]

  33. Awesome photos! Tir na Nog is the name of an Irish pub where I live (Raleigh, North Carolina) so I’m pumped that you’ve solved that mystery for me and now I have some secret knowledge to share with everybody around here!

    Rachel / Reply
    • Oh my goodness! A long time ago when I was doing some research, I came across that pub. I thought, “what a cool name for a pub”. I’m glad you now know the truth behind Tir na Nog! Surprise, it’s not just shotty spelling! It actually DOES have meaning LOL!

  34. […] forget the magic. Last year I explored fairy sites, castles and beautiful landscapes along the Wild Atlantic Way. This year I went back to Glendalough to the place where the very first Irish legends were […]

  35. Amazing post Christa and incredible photos! There are so many amazing places in the earth and you have just revealed to me one more! Thanks!

    George / Reply
  36. Ireland is such a magical place. I’m heading down the country to experience these places you have mentioned this summer with my mother, her 70th Birthday present. Being from Donegal, it is my favourite, and so undiscovered, we’re on the edge of Europe and rife with ancient monastic sites older than stone henge and legends and lore a plenty. You should check out the Connecting Colmcille experience in August, we’ll be going on an archeological expedition and telling the story of Ireland. You would be most welcome as our guest of course. Great blog. I look forward to more adventures.

    Moira / Reply
    • Thank you so very much, I will be sure to come see you next time I am there! Again, thank you 😉 Ireland is where part of my soul is.

      • Hi Christa, a wee question for you, or rather your opinion. I’ve just crafted a boutique adventure holiday for two American travellers, they’re into energy and and faeries. Its all in Donegal, Dunlewy, Glenveagh, Ardara, walking and ebiking, staying in boutique B&B’s, they don’t know yet but I’ve arranged local storytellers to meet with them in key places along the way, especially the pagan sites they’ll be passing. So my question to you, is what to call this experience. So far I have Footsteps, faeries and folklore. What do you think? With all your experience I thought I’d ask you … and you’ve been to these parts. They are so excited. This is all completely customised, so it deserves a title. You know. Moira – Thanks a million for any thoughts.

        • HI there! So I’ve seen some things done like this before and it’s been along the lines of just that… Folklore, Faeries, Enchantment… Maybe Storytelling, Folklore and Fae in Enchanted Ireland. Sounds like a great trip. you nailed the spots too, although most of Ireland is enchanting!

  37. […] for the adventure family like mine! I visit some of the farthest corners of the world like the fairy sites in Ireland. Who wouldn’t want to have a picnic at a fairy […]

  38. […] Tombs, cairns, and megalithic sites may have also been thought to be entrances to the Otherworld. There are a number of these closer to Dublin, such as Fourknocks and Newgrange. Perhaps I will actually get a chance to visit these on my trip to Ireland. […]

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