On Connemara’s Coral Beach / Sur la plage de corail du Connemara

For the first evening of our Easter road trip in a camper van, we stopped at Trá an Dóilin, also known as the Coral Beach, along the Wild Atlantic Way

Picking up our hired camper in Roscommon, we could have explored some of Ireland’s midland counties. But Connemara beckoned.

So we followed Galway Bay’s rocky southern shore into Connemara’s Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking area).

Driving the camper van across the Carraroe Peninsula (An Cheathrú Rua) on narrow, windy roads was nerve-wracking for our first day, but the stunning tones of blue and turquoise of Greatman’s Bay (Cuan an Fhir Mhóir) and its intriguing beach made it all worthwhile.


Le premier soir de notre road trip irlandais en camping-car, nous avons fait étape à Trá an Dóilin, ou plage de corail, sur le Wild Atlantic Way

En ayant loué notre camping-car à Roscommon, nous aurions pu choisir d’explorer les comtés de l’intérieur de l’Irlande. Mais le Connemara nous appelait.

Alors nous avons suivi le rivage sud de la baie de Galway jusqu’à la gaeltacht (région où l’on parle le gaélique irlandais) de Carraroe dans le Connemara. 

Manœuvrer le camping-car sur les routes tortueuses de la péninsule de Carraroe (An Cheathrú Rua) ne fut pas mince affaire pour un premier jour, mais les tons bleus et turquoise de Greatman’s Bay (Cuan an Fhir Mhóir) et sa plage singulière valaient le déplacement.

In the changing evening light, so typical of the west of Ireland, the acorns explored the rockpools, clambered over the smooth granite boulders, and even dipped their toes in the crystalline Atlantic water.


Dans la lumière changeante de fin d’après-midi, typique de la Côte sauvage d’Irlande, les graines de chêne explorèrent les trous d’eau, crapahutèrent sur les affleurements de granite entre les murs de pierre sèche, et trempèrent même leurs orteils dans les eaux atlantiques parfaitement limpides.

Sand or coral?

Answer – none of the above.

This is maërl, a collective name for detached coralline algae (Phymatolithon calcareum). This seaweed grows underwater in Greatman’s Bay. When it dies, its myriad fragments of various shapes and sizes wash up on the shore to form the so-called Coral Beach, even though it has nothing to do with animal corals. 


Sable ou corail ?

Réponse : ni l’un ni l’autre !

Ceci est du maërl, un mot breton qui désigne des fragments d’une algue rouge corallienne (Phymatolithon calcareum) qui pousse sous les eaux de Greatman’s Bay. Quand elle meure, une myriade de fragments de toutes formes et tailles se dépose sur le rivage, formant ce qu’on appelle la plage de corail, même si elle n’a rien à voir avec de véritables coraux.

For our first night in the camper van, we ‘wild camped’ on the flat-ish car park near the Coral Beach, beside a starkly evocative sculpture by Edward Delaney (1930–2009). Made of steel coated with sand and creosote as you might find on the skin of a currach, the Shadows of the Boats (Scáileanna na mBád) “echoes the black forms of the boats found on the shores and in the bays of Connemara”.

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Pour notre première nuit en camping-car, nous nous sommes posés en “camping sauvage” sur le parking plat, ou presque, de la plage de corail, à côté d’une sculpture d’une austérité évocatrice signée Edward Delaney (1930-2009). Composée d’acier enduit de sable et de créosote comme l’enveloppe des barques locales (currach), Les Ombres des Bateaux (Scáileanna na mBád) “imitent les formes noires des bateaux qu’on trouve sur les rives et dans les baies du Connemara”.

A few weeks prior to our trip, I had bought the acorns a head torch each, and they used them every night of our camper van holiday to explore the nighttime world.

After dinner, they donned them and out they went for a spot of rock-pooling at dusk. Nothing compares to a bit of wild time to kick off a camping holiday. Now our camper van adventure had truly begun…


Quelques semaines auparavant, j’avais acheté aux graines de chêne une lampe frontale chacun, et ils les ont utilisées tous les soirs de notre escapade pour explorer le monde de la nuit.

Après le repas du soir, ils les mirent et s’en furent à la découverte nocturne des trous d’eau. Rien de tel pour démarrer en beauté notre road trip ! Notre aventure en camping-car avait bel et bien commencé…

The next day, my birthday, we went back to the Coral Beach immediately after breakfast. The April sun was already high in the sky, enhancing the tropical blues in the bay and the warm rose colour of the strand. It looked like we had been transported overnight to some far-flung holiday paradise… had it not been for the nippy bite of the onshore breeze!


Le lendemain, jour de mon anniversaire, nous sommes retournés à la plage de corail immédiatement après le petit déjeuner. Le soleil d’avril, déjà haut dans le ciel voilé, rendait éclatant le bleu tropical et le rose délicat de la plage. Sans la fraîcheur indéniable du vent du large, on se serait cru transportés sur une lointaine île paradisiaque. 

Red coralline algae grow in Greatman’s Bay. When they die, they lose their colour and break up into hard grey, white and brown pieces that are washed up on the beach. Those remains are called maërl. It is what you can feel beneath your feet.

While I read out the information panel to Squirrel and Pebbles, Mermaid and Jedi headed down to the shore. It wasn’t long before they came back up to the camper looking for their water shoes. 

For footwear is a necessity on the Coral Beach – something that even the hardy author of Wild Swimming in Ireland warns the reader about.

Properly “booted” at last, they ventured knee-deep into the ice cold Atlantic waters.


Des algues rouges coralliennes poussent dans les eaux de Greatman’s Bay. Quand elles meurent, elles perdent leur coloration et se brisent en fragments gris, blancs et marron qui se déposent sur la plage. Ces débris se dénomment maërl. C’est ce que vous sentez sous vos pieds.

Pendant que je lisais à voix haute le contenu du panneau d’information à Ecureuil et Caillou, Sirène et Jedi descendirent au rivage. Ils ne mirent guère de temps à remonter au camping-car, en quête de leurs aquashoes.

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Car les chaussures sont indispensables sur la plage de corail. Correctement chaussés, les graines de chêne s’avancèrent enfin dans les eaux atlantiques glaciales de la baie.

Underwater photography / Photographie sous-marine

With the memory of Achill Island still fresh in my mind, I wasn’t even tempted to roll up my trousers and wade in with them. Wild swimming would have to wait another few months.

Marine wildlife

Instead I followed Brian up on the rocks to look for wildlife in the tidal pools and crevices. The acorns’ Seashore (Usborne Spotter’s Guides) book came in handy. In the crystal-clear water, it was easy to see the blue spot below each tentacle of the red beadlet anemones (Actinia equina). Around the limpets, whelks and other periwinkles, the pinkish coralline algae that feeds the Coral Beach swayed gently in the shallow water.


Avec les souvenirs de Achill encore frais à mon esprit, je ne fus même pas tentée de retrousser mon pantalon et d’aller patauger avec eux. La baignade sauvage devrait attendre encore quelques mois.

Faune marine

Je décidai plutôt de suivre Brian sur les rochers, à la recherche de faune marine dans les trous d’eau et fissures. Dans l’eau cristalline, je repérai aisément le point bleu à la base de chacune des tentacules des anémones de mer, ou actinies rouges (Actinia equina). Tout autour des berniques, bulots et autres bigorneaux, les algues roses qui créent la plage de corail frémissaient doucement dans l’eau du rivage.

Beadlet anemones / Actinies rouges (Actinia equina)

Live coralline algae / Algues corallines (Phymatolithon calcareum)

The acorns had clambered out of the water when Brian spotted a well-camouflaged shore crab (Carcinus maenas), which he poked with Jedi’s lightsaber.


Les graines de chêne étaient ressorties de l’eau quand Brian aperçut un crabe vert (Carcinus maenas) admirablement camouflé, qu’il taquina avec le sabre laser de Jedi.

Shore crab / Crabe vert (Carcinus maenas)

Soaking wet and shivering with cold, the acorns soon needed to change into dry clothes. So we made our way back up the Coral Beach to the camper van, before heading on to the next stage of our motorhome adventure…


Trempés et tremblant de froid, les graines de chêne avaient besoin de passer des vêtements secs. Alors nous avons quitté la plage de corail pour remonter au camping-car, avant de partir pour la prochaine étape de notre aventure…

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18 Responses to “On Connemara’s Coral Beach / Sur la plage de corail du Connemara

  • That beach is just beautiful. My husband wants to do a road-trip this summer. We live just south of London so the plan is North Wales to the Lake District onto Scotland and back again…. Sarah #ExplorerKids

  • Wow, this looks so beautiful! #ExplorerKids

  • Your photos are beautiful. I think my family would love that beach, especially the rock pools #wanderlustkids

  • So beautiful! (I think you’ll get lots of those comments!) Also – happy birthday. 🙂

  • I’ve always wanted to do a road trip in a camper van!

    It looks like you’re doing it right too, judging by these beautiful photos!

  • You captured some really amazing photos of your trip. Despite navigating the narrow and winding roads it looked like had a lot of fun. #ExplorerKids

  • I admit to being somewhat skeptical about sleeping in a camper van, but seeing your acorns with their headlamps, and those amazing photos of the anemone and the crab… I think I may be convinced that this would be a wonderful getaway for all. Sign me up! #farawayfiles

  • The formation of maërl is so fascinating. I’ve never seen anything like it before. Your 4 acorns are very brave to take a dip into the cold sea! I love your photos. As always they are so beautifully captured.

    Thank you very much for linking up with us on #ExplorerKids x

    • Maërl is fascinating, isn’t it? Neither had I ever seen anything like it before and I can totally understand why this beach, and a handful of others are designated areas of conservation.
      Thank you for commenting 🙂
      Annette

  • Sounds like a wonderful adventure. Your photos are beautiful, especially all of those at the beginning with that light. I love head lamps for kids – mine used to have some and I’m not sure what happened to them so we need to rectify that! #farawayfiles

  • Wonderful post. I was wondering what the ‘coral’ was like to walk on but you answered it later on. I’ve never heard of maerl, every day’s a school day! Great photos too, so much of Britain looks Mediterranean in the right sunlight. Do you use a filter for the rockpool shots? #AdventureCalling

    • No, no filter for those rockpool shots, only crystal-clear and very calm water. Thank you for the lovely comment 🙂
      Annette

  • What an incredible beach! Those shells/sand are amazing never seen anything like it! #MondayEscapes

  • What a pretty place to wake up on your birthday. I really like the idea of hiring a camper and doing a bit of wild camping in luxury #MondayEscapes

  • Aw such stunning photos, it does look like an absolute paradise there, a camper van is something I never thought I would consider but I have to say it looks idyllic, a perfect way to travel. Thanks so much for linking up #MondayEscapes x

  • I love the maerl and have to admit that this is the first time I’ve heard of it. Your campervan trip sounds brilliant. I’m very jealous. We had talked about hiring a campervan for the summer but we’ve already booked ourselves up with various adventures. Thanks for joining us on #adventurecalling , I hope you can when we open for posts again in the morning.

  • I love the idea of a campervan trip, might have to look into it for this year. Not sure if we could find such a spectacular backdrop as you though-the photos are stunning. We love rockpools, the water looks cold but beautiful! Thanks for sharing with us #AdventureCalling

  • Oh my word Annette, this sounds amazing. It is many, many years since I’ve been in Connemara and your post makes me long to go back. Unfortunately we won’t be in the West of Ireland during our road trip next month but I think a few weeks next summer might be in order to show our son this beautiful and rugged part of Ireland. West of Ireland might be just the destination for a road trip next summer, so thank you! #wanderlustkids

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