10 captivating Connemara businesses to watch

Businesses across the Connemara region are gems that are just waiting to be explored, writes Barry Walsh.

With Galway consistently earning recognition as one of the friendliest cities in Europe, it’s no surprise that one of its most renowned regions is experiencing a growing influx of tourists each year.

Celebrated for its inspiring landscapes, coastal access, and abundant natural resources ranging from seafood and agriculture to fresh vegetables and beverages, Connemara is a true gem waiting to be explored.

The presence of the Wild Atlantic Way has not only created new businesses but also elevated existing ones to greater heights.

In this article, we present a list of 10 standout businesses that you should keep an eye out for in the Connemara region.

Builín Blasta Cafe & Bakery

Restaurant in Connemara.

Based in Spiddal, Builin Blasta originally opened as a native Irish-speaking café. Founder Heather Flaherty realised that she needed additional sources of income. With an in-house kitchen in the café, Heather and her team went about creating homemade condiments that they could then sell to their customers and place in shops around Galway and in future around Ireland. Having developed their own smoked onion mayonnaise, homemade Caesar Salad and honey mustard dressing, the brand then joined The SuperValu Food Academy and is now placed in several SuperValu stores around Ireland.

Clifden Bike Shop

Bicycle beside sea.

Having started the Clifden Bike Shop in February 2013 the Clifden Bike Shop has grown with the times and continues to provide a quality service with its range of hybrid, road and electric Trek bikes. Based in Clifden, in the heart of Connemara, the business provides quality, friendly bike hire, from electric, hybrid and road to children’s bikes, buggies and tandems. “The Clifden Bike Shop has everything you need to enjoy your cycling experience on the Wild Atlantic Way. Satisfy your thirst for discovery and adventure on one of Connemara’s Cycle Loops. Cruise gently along the bog road, discover secluded beaches like Mannin bay and simply breathe the fresh sea air. Starting in the delightful market town of Clifden, Cycling Connemara is the perfect way to explore one of the Wild Atlantic Way’s most scenic areas.

“Against the breathtaking backdrop of the Twelve Ben’s and with the tranquil coastline at your side, you might even catch a glimpse of the wild seals and leaping dolphins out at sea.

We are here to welcome all types of visitors, from solo travellers, family day outs, Stag and Hen parties, corporate and large or small groups.”

Connemara Celtic Crystal

Crystal decanter and glass.

Established in 1972 by Mary Munnelly, Connemara Celtic Crystal is a family business known for its authentic experience, celebrating Irish craft and heritage. Located at the historic site of the old Moycullen railway station along the Clifden line, the Connemara Celtic Crystal Visitor Centre is deeply intertwined with Connemara’s history. By visiting the factory visitors have the opportunity to witness talented master craftsmen hand-cutting exquisite Celtic designs from memory using traditional stone cutting wheels. Each piece is one-of-a-kind due to the individual craftsmanship. In addition, the limited edition unique pieces in clear and colourful cased crystal, signed and dated by the master craftsmen, are available with certificates of authenticity.

Connemara Celtic Crystal’s exclusive Irish Crystal and Crystal jewellery can be found in their impressive Crystal Gallery and Shop, as well as their online store. They welcome visitors to meet their master craftsmen and marvel at their extraordinary talent, artistry, and skill.

Connemara Express Cycling Tour

People cycling in Connemara.

West Ireland Cycling, a family-run business in Galway City, led by John and Siobhan Kennedy continues a multi-generational tradition of offering cycling holidays and bike services to both locals and visitors to the west of Ireland.

They blend their passion for cycling along with Irish culture and provide an authentic and enjoyable cycling adventure in Connemara, with its stunning landscape on the west coast of Ireland. John & Siobhan, who were both chartered accountants, left work in financial service in 2015 to do something different. Recently awarded the TripAdvisor Travellers Choice 2023 award, these multi-day, award-winning experiences promise to leave a lasting impression with their exploration of charming towns, unique cultures, and breath-taking views.

Connemara Organic Seaweed

Connemara Seaweed products.

Noel Lee, originally from Lettermullen, comes from a family tradition of hand-harvesting kelp and seaweed off the Connemara Coast. Their mission at this company is to offer sustainable, locally harvested kelp and seaweed products for human consumption, emphasising their commitment to benefiting both the community and the environment. Their driving force is to introduce these edible seaweeds as a healthy, nutritious, and environmentally friendly food source, recognising the importance of balancing human use with marine life conservation. By promoting small-scale, locally sourced produce, they aim to contribute to a low-carbon economy and position seaweed as a superfood, both nutritionally and environmentally.

Connemara Smokehouse

Chef at work.

The Roberts family began the tradition of smoking wild salmon in 1979 and has continued it for over 40 years. When Graham and Saoirse took over in the 1990s they were joined by their children Amy, Keith, Ethan, and Katie. They started with an ‘Afos’ fish-smoking kiln known as ‘Old Smoky. Old Smoky’s unique flavours and the family’s commitment to quality made Connemara Smokehouse famous for its smoked fish. The company has received numerous awards and supplied renowned retailers like Harrods and Fortnum and Mason. Despite undergoing repairs, Old Smoky remains an essential part of the smokehouse.

Connemara Smokehouse is Ireland’s first Food Économusée, offering visitors a unique opportunity to explore the traditional Irish art of handcrafting smoked seafood. Guests can immerse themselves in the process, learning from the skilled team, tasting the products, and even purchasing them from the factory shop. The smokehouse hosts educational coach tours and scheduled visits during the summer, contributing to rural sustainability by creating jobs and drawing tourists to rural areas.

The company has been featured in the likes of Country Living, The Sunday Independent and The Irish Independent Weekend Travel.

DK Connemara Oysters

Man holding a tray of oysters.

Irish oysters have been farmed in Ballinakill Bay since 1893, and DK Connemara Oysters holds one of the oldest Irish oyster farm licences. David Keane and his team, who took over the farm in 2014, have seamlessly integrated the farm’s rich history and heritage into their modern operation, producing top-quality oysters. The oyster cultivation process, from seed to plate, spans three years and is carried out with unwavering dedication by the entire team to ensure the highest product quality. DK Connemara Oysters is a member of Origin Green, a sustainability program for the food and drink industry in Ireland.

They supply restaurant-ready oysters on a B2B basis in Ireland, Europe, and Southeast Asia, and they are one of the 22 food procurers involved in the Taste The Atlantic, a tasting trail along the Wild Atlantic Way. They offer private tours, allowing visitors to witness the oyster production process on one of Ireland’s oldest farms. Visitors can also enjoy the breathtaking location and observe producers in action, even if they are out at sea. DK Connemara Oysters is known for their high-quality oysters, and once you try them, you’re likely to become a repeat customer.

Killary Fjord Boat Tours

Boat at harbour in Connemara.

Now in its 22nd year of operation, their flagship vessel, the Connemara Lady, was purpose-built in 1999 for cruising the stunning Killary Fjord. The cruise offers a breathtaking view of the rugged North Connemara landscape, nestled between the mountain ranges in County Galway with the Atlantic Ocean to the West and numerous islands along the coastline.

According to its website: “The Killary Fjord is rich in aquaculture, with mussel ropes and circular salmon farms producing some of Ireland’s finest seafood. The surrounding hills are home to sheep, known for producing the renowned Connemara Lamb. Near the fjord’s mouth lies Inish Barna or Fox Rock, featuring a Victorian navigation marker made of green Connemara marble. The area is steeped in local lore and mythology, including stories of Big Ned Joyce, British and German U-boats in a storm, and the legendary Diarmuid O’Duibhne.

“As the cruise boat turns back towards Nancy’s Point, passengers often have the chance to witness a playful pod of dolphins. These magnificent creatures frequently swim alongside the Connemara Lady, sometimes leaping out of the water and racing alongside the boat.”

They have a range of prices available for small or large children, students, adults, a family with young children and a family with older children and sailing times differ depending on the season, with summer months having four sailing between 10AM to 4PM daily.

Little Green Growers

Pumpkins in an Irish field.

Little Green Growers, established in 2018 by Denise and Stephane in Ireland, began as a small organic produce business, with Denise leaving her finance career after volunteering in Haiti. As the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted their initial plans, they obtained full organic certification in April 2020 and pivoted to sell organic seedlings, plants, seeds, compost, and garden supplies across Ireland. Their transformation led to significant success and a positive impact, inspiring many to embrace wellness, sustainability, and organic gardening. Now selling everything from plants, vegetables and shrubs to compost and trowels, the garden is 100% organic and connects people in families of all ages through their ‘Granny and Me’ project, which proved very popular during lockdown.

Their story and achievements have gained recognition, including appearances on RTE’s Late Late Show and features in prominent publications like the Irish Times and Irish Independent.

The Seaweed Centre

Woman in seaweed bath.

With its extensive coastline, it comes as no surprise that seaweed products are gaining increasing popularity in this coastal region. Among these businesses, The Seaweed Centre stands out.

“The Seaweed Centre was established through community cooperation, with the primary goal of generating local employment opportunities and enticing visitors to contribute to the local economy,” the business states. “With 80% of its funding provided by Bord Iascaigh Mhara, the remaining expenses were covered by dedicated islanders who envisioned the creation of a local hub. Every day, the centre utilises hand-harvested seaweed from the nearby island of Crappach to curate a menu of rejuvenating seaweed bath treatments, designed to detoxify and soothe the body, mind, and soul.

“These tranquil experiences are offered on a weekly basis, starting at just €30 per person for an hour in the soothing baths. Additionally, a comprehensive selection of deep-therapy body massage treatments is available, with prices starting from €50. To enhance the overall experience, guests can unwind in the centre’s picturesque café space, complete with outdoor seating, and each visitor receives a refreshing serving of fresh juice and fruit salad bowls following their treatments.

“Moreover, The Seaweed Centre proudly showcases an extensive range of body products crafted from Connemara Seaweed, featuring brands such as Connemara Seaweed Products, Rí na Mara, and Voya Brands.”

Main image at top via Failte Ireland

Barry Walsh
Barry Walsh is a journalist specialising in business, diversity and inclusion and is also a content marketing specialist.