If you look for Connemara on road signs, you may be looking forever, because it’s not a city or county, but rather a region—and one with a particularly distinct identity. Like the Burren in County Clare, the boundaries are a bit hazy. Most agree that Connemara is west of Galway City, starting at Oughterard and continuing toward the Atlantic. Anyway, you know it when you see it: it’s an area of heartbreaking barrenness and unique beauty, with dark bogs and tall jagged mountains punctuated by curving glassy lakes dotted with green islands. The desolate landscape is caused, in part, by an absence of trees: Most native stands were felled and dragged off long ago for building ships, houses, and furniture. As Oscar Wilde wrote, “Connemara is a savage beauty.”

It’s a varied place—in fact, you could say that there are two Connemaras. South of the Galway-Clifden road (N59) is a vast bog-mantled moorland dotted with lakes, with a low, indented, rocky coastline. North of the Galway-Clifden road, tall quartzite domes and cones form the Maumturks and the Twelve Bens (also called the Twelve Pins), rising toward the breathtaking Killary fiord—the only fiord in this part of Europe.

Note that Connemara is part of the Gaeltacht, or Irish-speaking area; many signs are in Gaelic only.