The Twelve Bens (sometimes called Twelve Pins) take in the many of the highest mountains in the West of Ireland. The Glencoaghan horseshoe, taking in six of the Bens, is one of the best known and most popular walks in Connemara. In contrast to the Wicklow mountains – which are mostly covered in raised bog and heather – the Connemara summits, and Twelve Bens in particular, are quite barren and rocky quartzite peaks.
Located just over an hours drive from Galway, the horseshoe can be walked in 7-9 hours. On a good day the hiker can get views north to Mweelrea and Achill, west to Clifden, east to the Maamturk Mountains and south towards Galway Bay and the Aran Islands.
The walk is not technically difficult, though anyone attempting it should be in good physical condition, as it is quite a strenuous undertaking. There are several vertical drops in the area and numerous opportunities for scrambles and rock climbs. Connemara tends to get quite an amount of mist and rain with consequent deterioration in visibility so a compass and map reading skills are essential when undertaking the trip.
The main Galway Clifden road (N59) runs directly by the south of the horseshoe. Galway city is about an hour and twenty minutes drive from the Bens. There are also a number of B & Bs and hostels in the area. If coming from Galway city, after passing through the village of Recess, take the second right hand turn onto a bohereen and follow it for about a kilometer. There are a number of unofficial parking spots in the area, though do take care not to park in a farmer’s yard or block the road.
There are no permits or fees of any kind required for this walk. Much of the lower slopes are actually private land and be aware that you cross it at the landowners permission.
When To Climb
This walk can be done at any time of year.
There are a number of hostels, B& Bs and campsites in the general vicinity.
During winter, there may be ice and snow to be aware of on the Bens. Connemara gets an average of 225 days of precipitation a year with the result that mist and rain is often the prevailing weather condition. Mist and cloud will quite often descend lower then 500 m so navigation can at times be quite difficult. Bear in mind that Irish weather is defined by its changeability, however, and the chances are that even the nastiest of days will contain at least one clear spell. On a clear day, the views are phenomenal. Climbers are strongly advised always to take waterproofs and a fleece with them. There is no route marking to speak of apart from the occasional stone cairn.