Complete Guide to Derrygimlagh: First Transatlantic Flight & Marconi

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Derrygimlagh is a signature discovery point on Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way. While not as famous as the Cliffs of Moher or Malin Head, Derrygimlagh is an unusual and remote bog that is home to two fascinating pieces of history: it’s the landing spot for the First Transatlantic Flight by Alcock & Brown, and the site of one of Marconi’s signature radio signalling locations.

If you’re coming to Galway or Mayo on a trip, or staying in nearby Clifden (7 mins), then Derrygimlagh is a day trip location that you won’t easily forget, not only for its history, but also for the remote beauty of this place and the sense of big sky that you get here.

What is it?

At Derrygimlagh, there’s a five kilometre looped walk that allows you to explore the area made famous by the First Transatlantic Flight and by Marconi. A looped walk means walking a pre-set circuit that minimises any doubling back on the same route. The route has been carefully planned, but I’d still call this a Medium Hike. Parts of the walk are on raised slats, part on a trail, and there are some steps to reach the Alcock & Brown Monument.

Tours that visit Derrygimlagh

You can visit Derrygimlagh on a self-organised trip (as I did), take a half-day guided tour, or as part of a longer day trip from Galway that stops at Derrygimlagh. Scroll further down to read about my experience, but you could choose from these popular options for trips:

From Derrygimlagh Car Park – Half-Day Guided Derrygimlagh Bog Tour
(make your own way to Derrygimlagh, then – 2.5 hours tour in English with a local expert)

From Galway – Full Day Tour including Connemara, Kylemore Abbey & a stop at Derrygimlagh
(9 hour day trip hitting all of these major Wild Atlantic Way attractions)

From Clifden – Self-guided Wild Atlantic Way bike tour
(Derrygimlagh is easily achievable by bike from Clifden on a day trip for a moderate cyclist).

Why is it worth visiting Derrygimlagh?

Derrygimlagh is known for two things:

  • Marconi built a permanent transatlantic telegraph station here in 1905, at the time the largest in the world.
  • Alcock & Brown, aviation pioneers, successfully landed the first ever transatlantic flight right in this bog.

Both histories are explored through a number of interpretative stands, which extend beyond photographs and text to innovative and interactive ways of playing music or listening to eyewitness accounts. Scroll down to read more on both Marconi and Alcock & Brown.

How to get to Derrygimlagh

I travelled from where I was staying in Clifden, County Galway, a gorgeous town in Connemara that everyone loves. Derrygimlagh is only a 7 minute drive from Clifden. The route to Derrygimlagh, R341, takes you a bit off the beaten track as you head towards Ballyconneely on a single carriageway road for a couple of kilometres and then, suddenly, there’s a gravel car park that almost appears from nowhere. For my trip, I keyed in the coordinates (given at the top of this post) to reach the car park. In summer, there is usually a charming food van with chatty owners and a scattering of other vehicles.

Parking and Facilities

Patrick's campervan is shown, with a blue bicycle leaning against it.

When you reach Derrygimlagh, there’s a large gravel car park suitable for regular cars, small vans or camper vans. It’s free to park at Derrygimlagh, but keep a few euros on hand to buy an artisanal coffee or lunch at the food truck (when it is there, seasonally). I brought my bike with me and decided to cycle across Derrygimlagh, which worked out just great.

What to expect at Derrygimlagh

Your visit to Derrygimlagh will be a hike. The sites that you’ll want to see are approached through Derrygimlagh Bog on tarmac path, over gravel and on grass. I’d recommend hiking boots and, if you watch the associated video, a waterproof jacket and warm clothing. You may want to read my Packing List for Ireland!

The skies were extremely heavy on my visit and it absolutely poured rain, but it was still worth it.

A tarmac path through the bog is shown, which is where a railway line once ran.

The path follows along the location of Marconi’s old railway line, long since gone, which ran between the buildings of his wireless station.

Derrygimlagh – The Marconi Connection

Why did Marconi set up a listening station on a bog in Derrygimlagh? Two answers might be easily worked out with a little through: proximity to North America and the ready availability of fuel at Derrygimlagh to power steam and heat needs. I did wonder what drew Marconi to this rural bog, a man who was born in Bologna in Italy in 1874.

Marconi’s parentage might offer a clue. His father was Giuseppe, an Italian gentleman and his mother was Annie Jameson, a descendant of the Irish Whiskey Jamesons (I am indebted to this article). When he began work on ‘listening stations’, his transatlantic route was unreliable, the distance between Massachusetts and Cornwall was problematic. Shortening that distance would increase reliability and other relay routes could carry messages further onwards. Thus, Marconi chose a connection with greater proximity, establishing new centres in Newfoundland and Derrygimlagh.

Layout & Surfaces

The site is set out as a looped 5km walk of moderate hiking intensity (some parts may be difficult for wheelchair users). I took a bike and it was able to handle all surfaces: tarmac, gravel and grass path.

A series of 7 interpretative signs can be found along the loop, pointing out areas of interest. The majority of these relate to Marconi. Try out the metallic instrument which is a helpful tutorial in sound waves as well as the crystal radios built into one particular sign. The remains of buildings lie in the landscape, including concrete slabs or partial foundations.

This is ‘big sky’ country. Derrygimlagh is exposed to Atlantic weather patterns, including the very heavy rain I encountered on my trip. One or two of the interpretative signs offer a little covered alcove to hide in!

Marconi – The Power House

The most obvious remnant of the Marconi era at Derrygimlagh is the location of the old Power House.

I believe the rusted remains you can see in the photograph above are an original part of the generator machinery.

The signage provided at the site is genuinely helpful. It’s also lovely to see it in both Irish and English.

I don’t know why I look so perplexed. Although it looks sunny, I was drenched AND it was cold at this point!!

Derrygimlagh – Alcock & Brown: First Ever Transatlantic Flight

A few years later, on the morning of 15th June, 1919, Alcock & Brown cemented their place in aviation history as the first people to successfully fly continuously across the Atlantic. To some extent, many stars aligned to make their mark on history, after they put down in Derrygimlagh Bog in spite of the many failures of their aircraft.

The pilot, John Alcock was responding to a competition with a substantial prize to be awarded to the first transatlantic aviator. Competing against the clock and working with his navigator, Arthur Brown, they took off from Newfoundland on 14th June 1919. In a journey of more than 16 hours, flying at an average 120 mph, the two men had to endure freezing temperatures when their heated suits gave up, severe fog and a damaged airspeed dial.

They mistook Derrygimlagh bog for a field and crash-landed, while their plane started to sink. The workers at the Marconi telegraph station had tried to wave them away from the bog. In a fascinating turn of events, the Derrygimlagh Marconi station sent out the following message, allowing Alcock & Brown to claim their place in history as the first transatlantic aviators: “Vickers Vimy aircraft landed Clifton 8.40 GMT from Saint John’s. Alcock” (source).

The New York Times

Alcock’s account was published by The New York Times:
“LONDON, June 16. (By telegraph from Clifden, Ireland.) We have had a terrible journey. The wonder is that we are here at all. We scarcely saw the sun or the moon or the stars. For hours we saw none of them” (source)

The Flying Knights

The news was so historic, it broke quickly and Alcock & Brown were lauded around the world. Within a short time, they collected a £10,000 prize from the Daily Mail, and their other prizes and laudations were crowned by being knighted by King George V the following week.

Memorial to Alcock & Brown

Two things stand out about the memorial to Alcock & Brown at Derrygimlagh. First, I did love this unique circular contraption that allows you to imagine the sight of the biplane sinking into the bog in 1919. It’s a simple device but it’s very effective.

Second, all the photos above show the white cairn memorial. It is inscribed with this legend: Alcock and Brown, landing site, 500 meters. As you look out across the now-barren and still bog, it’s hard not only to imagine the incoming plane, but also the buildings and railway track of the Marconi Station with its workers rushing out to wave caution to the airmen!

Time to Eat

Despite the seeming warm sunlight in the pictures, it did pour with rain while I was there (see the video for some of that!). I was cold and wet and, it turned out, hungry!

Back at the Derrygimlagh Car Park, the food truck was still there and they had made a fresh batch of chips. This looks like a giant portion, because it is, heaped with garlic mayonnaise. It was exactly what I needed before the next part of my trip, a trip that included a cruise near the Cliffs of Moher.

Insider Tips

  • Stay locally in Clifden or set out early from Galway to make the most of your trip to Derrygimlagh.
  • If you don’t like self-guided trips, book a tour with a local guide if you’re staying in Clifden, or incorporate Derrygimlagh into a full day trip out of Galway.
  • Don’t leave valuables on display in your vehicle.
  • Do take a daypack with light layers, especially a waterproof top layer EVEN if it looks sunny!

Where to Stay near Derrygimlagh

Here’s a few hotels to consider if you’re visiting Derrygimlagh. I’ve visited the area with friends and stayed at Clifden Station House Hotel which I’d strongly recommend. Plus I’ve visited by campervan which is a cool way to see this part of County Galway.

Find the accompanying video for this article below:

YouTube player
RECOMMENDED HOTELS

Cliffs of Moher Area

High-End, full of character

Ballinalacken Castle Hotel, Co. Galway

Better Value, Local Charm

O’Leary’s Lodge B&B

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I'm Patrick, your Irish guide to the skies and beyond. With 58 countries visited, my journeys have taken me from busy economy to fabulous first-class.

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