Kinvara - "The Head of the Sea", and gateway to the Burren in County Clare, is County Galway's only prominent sea village on the southern shores of Galway Bay. Situated at the head of Kinvara Bay, it once was a thriving port to which the necessities of life, such as turf fuel, were brought by the traditional Connemara sailing craft in the 19th century. This trade is recalled each Summer in Cruinniu na mBad, as sea festival organisd by the village, which sees the old boats compete in a host of exciting races and events. Kinvara has been described as a small fishing village with a big drinking problem, meaning Kinvara people like to have fun and drink. One of Kinvara hotels (Merriman) has the biggest thatch roofs in Ireland, The Pier Head beside Kinvara’s pier and Keoghs pub all lend Kinvara character. The town of Kinvara has all you need for a weekend out like pubs, hotels, b&b, launderette, shops and a bicycle shop to rent a bicycle.
Dunguaire Castle (pictured above) guards this end of the bay, and is one of the most popular tourist spots in County Galway. Kinvara’s Dunguaire Castle is one of the most enchanting and picture-perfect castles in the West of Ireland and, with the added appeal of its waterside setting, it is also one of the most photogenic. Kinvara Castle has a curious and colourful history, having changed hands many times since it was first built in by the O Hynes in 1520. Once upon a time the High King of Connaught, “Guaire”, was feasting with his warriors at the castle when the hermit Saint Colman, who had been fasting on the mountain for forty day, called on God to provide sustenance. Miraculously Guaire’s food was seen to fly from the plates in the castle up through the air to the saint’s altar in Carron. And perhaps this story is true, and perhaps it is not, but whatever the circumstances behind the tale, it has held fast over the centuries in Kinvara, and is told to this day with a straight face all the solemnity of a high mass.
Medieval-type banquets are held each summer in this old 16th century tower house, and recall the stirring times when the O'Heynes, O'Shaughnessy and Martin clans were lords of this impressively restored castle. This tradition of feasting in Kinvara Castle continues to this day with opulent medieval banquets being held nightly throughout the summer months. You can enjoy the very same kind of food, merriment and music, as did Guaire and his followers all those years ago. Guests gather in Kinvara’s great hall to be welcomed to the extravaganza by costumed entertainers and the sounds of tinkling harps. And then it’s off to the banqueting hall for a night of feasting, music, and debauchery (well feasting and music anyway). And local micro-brewed “meade” does battle with wine, and wax dripping candles light the medieval chamber. Let the feasting begin….
The prolific hosts at Kinvara Castle introduce each of the four great courses, weaving in stories of local tradition and folklore that work seamlessly and sometimes hilariously. After the meal, a very entertaining mix of poetry, music and storytelling is in enacted, the highlight being the awarding of a special souvenir Claddagh ring to some unsuspecting visitor in the audience. The whole event is a wonderfully atmospheric evening which should not be missed.
Just to the east of the building are the probable remains of the dun or earthen fort of Guaire, the 7th century King of Connacht, who gives his name to the present castle.
To the west of the village stands the early 19th century church which contains restored paintings by Count de Basterot, a famous writer and traveller of the time. His residence, Doorus House, now a youth hostel, lies 5 km further west again and it was here that W. B. Yeats and Lady Gregory, in association with Edward Martyn, planned the foundation of the Irish National Theatre.
Getting to Kinvara
By bus, or car. Bus Eireann Route 423 provides a regular service from Galway to Kinvarra. Alternatively follow the N6 south from Galway to Kilcolgan, and then the N67 to Kinvara.
Follow The coast
Kinvara is surrounded by beautiful coastal towns. Don't miss Clarinbridge and Galway if you are travelling north, and Ballyvaughan, and The Burren, if you are travelling south.
Where to Stay
Kinvara offers a range of accommodation types, from guesthouses, to holiday cottages, and home B&B's.
Explore the Farmers Country Market which is held in the Square most Saturdays throughout the summer months.
Explore the shores of Kinvara Bay. Follow the walking trails both to the south and the north of the village.
Enjoy dinner in “The Pier Head”, Kinvara. Popular with yachties who tie up out front, this modern restaurant and pub has views over the brine. Food includes local lobster cooked in garlic, mussels and oysters – lots of oysters. The pub has live music at weekends.
Visit Keogh’s Pub and Restaurant, where you’ll often hear Irish spoken. Traditional music sessions take place on Mondays and Thursdays, while Saturday nights swing with old-time dancing.