Connemara, one of the finest wilderness areas surviving in Europe today, remains a bastion of traditional landscape and culture. The history of this landscape is ancient. It has taken over 750 million years to evolve. Its geology is one of the most complex and interesting in Europe. More recently the landscape has been shaped by a series of ice-ages or glaciation. The last cold period, when the mountains were topped by ice-sheets, ended only twelve thousand ago. With the melting of the ice sheets, the area was rapidly colonised by flora, fauna and finally by man. The first to arrive were small bands of hunter gatherers. They followed migrating animals, fish and fowl along the river valleys and coastline. These nomadic people left little behind except discarded artefacts and midden sites (ancient dumps) common along the Coast at Omey Island in particular.
The nomadic hunter-gatherers were in time engulfed by technologically more advanced farming communities who cleared the woods and cultivated the land. Connemara is dotted with dozens of archaeological sites dating from the stone age, many of which are recent discoveries by Michael Gibbons. Megalithic tombs are scattered throughout the western uplands. Many tombs and ancient farmsteads are being discovered by local farmers as they cut turf for fuel and along the coast. Bronze Age peoples have left us an equally impressive legacy of ritual monuments consisting of spectacularly sited standing stones, stone circles and alignments, the best examples of which are Crocknaraw and Gleninagh. They were constructed as part of an elaborate cult related to events surrounding the changes of the year; and many were erected over the cremated remains of tribal elders.
By 800BC, Ireland was coming under the influence of the Continental Celts. Troubled times led to the building of a series of barbaric forts and temples in the most extraordinary locations; on high mountain ledges and one wild Atlantic Islands.
Ireland remained outside the Roman world and developed a unique culture drawing from its pagan Celtic past and adopting it to the new Christian tradition introduced by Patrick. The numerous pagan Celtic wells, trees, groves and mountains were absorbed by the seemingly all-powerful Christian faith. A Viking warrior’s grave and armour was discovered in Connemara sand dunes at Eyreford. The Vikings founded most of our major cities including Dublin, Wexford, Waterford and Limerick and reinvigorated our artistic works in metal and stone.
Norman Barons from Wales and England pushed westwards in their efforts to capture all of Ireland. However, the remote western regions ruled by powerful seafaring clans kept them at bay, among them were the ‘Ferocious O’Flahertys’ of Connemara and the O’Malleys of Clare Island. One of the most famous clan members was a woman named Gráinne Uí Mháille (Granuaile) a captain of her clan who considered herself an equal of Queen Elizabeth I of England.
The western islands were the last strongholds to fall during the Cromwellian Wars. Following their capture, Star-shaped forts were built on Inishbofin, Coney and Valentia Islands. The Gaelic lords, defeated and broken by the wars of the 1650s, were evicted from their lands and fled to France in huge numbers, to be replaced by an influx of new landowners, in what became known as Cromwell’s policy of “To Hell or to Connacht”.
After the famon, in 1867 Kylemore Abbey was built by Mitchell Henry and 1920s run by the Benedictine Order, originally from Ypres in Belgium and used as a Secondary School for girls up until 2010.