© Dominion Post March 2013

"But I didn't mean for the blanket to go on fire!" I implored my alarmed father. How had a simple lesson to my three wide-eyed little brothers on "how to strike a match" gone so wrong?

It was many years ago in a little family caravan overlooking the impossibly long Dog's Bay Strand, but my love affair with Connemara has never faded.

My enduring fascination is for this Irish gem. Conamara (its Irish spelling) is the part of County Galway lying west of Lough Corrib and bounded on its northern coast by Ireland's only fiord, Killary Harbour.

On a more recent night in the little Quaker-founded settlement of Letterfrack, I heard Michael Gibbons, celebrated Irish archaeologist, giving a talk at the Connemara National Park Centre about "The first 10,000 years of life in Connemara".

"Let your Kiwis know they'll be going on a field trip with me - no ordinary walk in the park," Mike advises me later, over a glass or so of Jameson in the pub, when I ask him if he will guide for us. I am bringing group of fellow New Zealanders on a walking tour.

Later, walking through a peat bog on Inishbofin, off the Connemara coast, one of us comes upon an exquisitely carved white quartz heart-shaped arrowhead lying exposed on the bog surface. It is perfectly preserved by the oxygen-free peat bog, and had been unearthed by heavy rain and a wandering Connemara black-faced sheep.

This astonishing find would have been last used in the Bronze Age for hunting wild fowl.

"About 4500 years old, a beautiful specimen, barbs and all intact," marvels Michael holding it up to the light.
Later, wandering along white beaches lapped by turquoise waves we are taunted by the blueness of the majestic Ben Mountain and Maamturk Range on mainland Connemara, our next destination.

We hear of monastic communities who came to this Western seaboard of Europe seeking inspiration and guidance. To Inisbofin came Colman fleeing with his little troupe of monks from Iona after the Synod of Whitby in 663AD, where he had the audacity to stand his ground on the dating of Easter, at odds with the Church of Rome.

In Saint Colman's Church we gaze on an ancient rounded bowl-like object fashioned of rock lying on its side at the base of the altar - a quernstone used by those learned and skilled monks for beating gold and further precious metals for their intricate vessels of ritual. Ireland in the Golden Age: the land of Saints and Scholars: a storehouse of knowledge and learning when the rest of Europe was running riot.

That evening I am walking the fuchsia-framed byways of Inishbofin in solitude and am brought to a halt by the sound of the rare corncrake, rattling the night air like a sewing machine, and that brings me right back to the here and now.

On mainland Connemara, with the Irish tricolour flying, we pass Oliver Cromwell's astonihing 16th-century star-shaped garrison, and head for Cleggan, where our car awaits. We've got smoked salmon from a smokehouse near Ballyconneely owned by Graham Roberts, one of Rick Stein's food heroes, and we hurtle past castle ruins of the pirate queen Granuaile (Grace O'Malley, in English), on to Clifden, the Georgian "capital" of Connemara. Here you can see the annual Pony Show, showcasing the worlds top performance pony.