Letterfrack is a small village on the Atlantic coast of Connemara, County Galway. In Irish Leitir means a rough hillside and fraic means speckled, referring to the bright quartzite rocks. The main reasons to visit are Connemara National Park and Kylemore Abbey and Gardens.
Letterfrack is on N59 between Clifden and Westport in County Mayo.
There's only one direct bus a week from Galway: Bus 419 plies every hour or two between Galway and Clifden but usually sticks to the direct road N59. On Tuesday morning it follows an indirect route from Clifden via Letterfrack and Leenane, taking two hours to Galway, and returns that evening around 18:00.
Clifden is 14 km from Letterfrack so a taxi from there shouldn't cost that much.
You need a car, as much for shelter from the wind and rain as for transport.
- 1 Connemara National Park, Letterfrack, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Park 24 hr, Visitor Centre daily 09:00-17:00. The Park covers some 2000 hectares of mountains, bogs, heaths, grasslands and forests. Purple moorgrass cloaks the terrain; it's poor soil where many plants are nourished by eating the insects. The bugs also draw a lot of birdlife, but there's limited land fauna. The Visitor Centre sometimes puts on exhibitions and guided walks and talks. No park fees.
- 2 Diamond Hill is the one of the "Twelve Bens" that you can't help seeing, as it's so prominent near the highway. Like the others it's quartzite, so "diamond" refers both to its glittering crystal and its etched shape. In Irish it's Binn Ghuaire, meaning "the peak of Guaire" who was a 7th C king of Connacht. At 442 m / 1450 ft the peak only counts as a "Marilyn" but its easy access and grand views make it popular. Almost too popular, as it had to be closed 2002-05 because of erosion. There's now a stout boardwalk and stone path; the trail starts from the Park visitor centre.
- St Joseph's Church is in Letterfrack next to what is now the Old Monastery Hostel, see Sleep. It's an attractive neo-Romanesque building of 1924, but in 2020 is not in use; the history of its site mixes farce and tragedy. In the mid 19th C the landowners (Quakers from Bradford, Yorkshire) sought to alleviate post-famine poverty by developing the village. They sold the site in 1857 to a supporter of the Irish Church Mission, dedicated to converting Catholics to Protestanism. After 25 unsuccessful years that mission gave up and sold on, but made sure to sell to an equally staunch Protestant. They were duped - it was the RC Archbishop of Tuam under a false name. He set up the place as St Joseph's Industrial School, run by the Christian Brothers, and from 1887 to 1974 it was a temple to physical and sexual abuse. It's reckoned 147 boys died here at the hands of the Brothers. Letterfrack was isolated - not only troublesome boys but dysfunctional priests could be consigned to oblivion here - but see Tuam for what was happening right under successive bishops' noses.
- 3 Kylemore Abbey & Victorian Walled Gardens, Pollacappul. Daily 10:00-16:30. The castle is a grand cod-Gothic affair built from 1867 with a Manchester textile fortune. Its estate included much of what is now the National Park. In 1920 it was bought by a community of Benedictine nuns who'd been evacuated from Ypres during the First World War, and it's been an abbey since then. It was also a school, but that closed in 2010. You park at its visitor centre then a shuttle bus takes you on. Only a few rooms of the castle / abbey are on display, plus the church and family mausoleum. The big attraction is the extensive gardens, which will take an hour or two to explore. Adult €14.
- 4 Renvyle Peninsula is north of Letterfrack, follow the lane towards Tully Cross. There's the scrappy ruins of a castle and chapel, and a sprinkling of B&Bs. Renvyle Hotel was owned by the multi-talented Oliver St. John Gogarty; the IRA torched it in 1923 but he rebuilt.
- 5 Inishbofin Island is reached by ferry from Cleggan.
- Hike the Twelve Bens. Only keep a careful count, as no-one is sure how many there are: the original Irish name Na Beanna Beola means "the peaks of Beola" who was a legendary giant. The highest, 6 Benbaun (Binn Bhán, "white peak"), is only 729 m / 2392 ft, but like the others it rises sharply from lower country, with a pointed quartzite peak. It's not a difficult climb but it's a 9 km (4-5 hr) slog, either up Gleninagh valley or by climbing Knockpasheemore and then traversing the long ridge; and then there's the getting back. A more popular hike is "the Glencoaghan Horseshoe" - a line of peaks around the head of that U-shaped glen, which doesn't take in Benbaun. There are other "horseshoe" hikes around the other valleys, and their glaciated U-shapes provide some challenging rock-climbing. The "Twelve Bens Challenge" is a circuit of 28 km, 2530 m / 8300 ft elevation, and taking a rufty-tufty hillwalker 12–14 hours to complete.
- Drive or cycle the Wild Atlantic Way. Coming from Clifden the suggested route is to follow the Sky Road until it loops back to N59, then branch west along the lane to Claddaghduff (for Omey Island) and Cleggan, then return to N59 to reach Letterfrack. From here take the lane north to Tully Cross and along the shore east to Killary fjord and Leenane.
- Scuba dive off Renvyle. Scubadivewest are a PADI centre so you can learn here, but it's cold water - drysuit territory. Most divers would recommend that you learn in warm water eg Red Sea then venture into cold water once you've gained a basic qualification.
- The village store on N59 is open daily 08:00-22:00.
- The nearest filling station is Circle K 6 km east, pumps 24 hr.
- Veldons Seafarer, Letterfrack H91 FD28 (on N59 in village centre), ☏ . Daily 10:00-23:30. Pub with good sea food, bar serves all day, restaurant all main meals.
- The Park Hostel has a public restaurant, see Sleep.
- Molly's Bar is a traditional no-frills bar in village centre.
- 1 Connemara National Park Hostel, Letterfrack (On N59 in village centre), ☏ . Run by the park management, they have a hostel dorm, hotel rooms and self-catering. B&B double €65.
- Cloverfox in village centre has a bar, restaurant, hostel dorm and private rooms.
- 2 Old Monastery Hostel is a small independent hostel.
- 3 Mitchell's Cottage, Dawros More, Letterfrack H91 C7YR, ☏ . Self catering cottage rented by the week, Sat to Sat. Four bedrooms, sleeps 8. Electricity is by a €2 coin meter, reckon one coin per day. Dogs and many other beasts welcome. From €700 / week.
- 4 Rosleague Manor, Letterfrack H91 CK26, ☏ . Upscale hotel in Georgian country house, fine dining. Open mid-Mar to mid-Nov. B&B double from €230.
- 5 Crocnaraw Country House, Moyard H91 EF82, ☏ . Splendid small B&B in Georgian house, open May-Oct. B&B double £100.
- As of June 2020, there's mobile coverage along N59 with Eir, Three and Vodafone. 4G is patchy, and don't be relying on a signal up in the hills.
- East brings you to Leenane on one of Ireland's few fjords. North of there is County Mayo.
- At nearby Cleggan there are ferries to Inishbofin Island.
- N59 west winds around the coast to Clifden and eventually to the city of Galway.