The 12 Bens – Our Guide to the Connemara Mountains

Connemara National Park is one of the wildest, most beautiful places in all of Ireland — this is why so many of our Ireland Tour Packages and Self-drive Tours of Ireland dedicate some time to Connemara! We have previously written a general guide to Connemara National Park but we did not have time to focus on the incredible mountain range referred to as The 12 Bens. Today, we’d like to give an introductory guide to one of the best places in Ireland for hikers: the Connemara Mountains!

Where are the 12 Bens?

You’ll find the 12 Bens running through the centre and to the north of Connemara National Park, which you’ll find in County Galway. The 12 Bens aren’t each huge, imposing mountains in their own right, but when you add them all together you get something very impressive indeed. If you’re travelling to Connemara National Park, you really can’t miss them.

Why are They Called the Twelve Bens?

The word ‘ben’ in this context is actually an anglicized version of a word from the Irish language: ‘Binn’. Binn simply means ‘peak’. So, the origin of the word ‘ben’ is easy enough; the stranger thing to pin down is ‘twelve’ as no one knows exactly which peaks/bens/binns are included as there are close to twenty different peaks with the word ‘Ben’ in their name. One attempt to classify the 12 Bens that makes sense is to only include peaks that are above 500m and are not considered subsidiary peaks of another, larger peak. The Irish name for this mountain range does not have the same confusion about its name, as it’s referred to as ‘Na Beanna Beola”’, which translates to ‘the peaks of Beola’.

What’s so Special About the Connemara Mountains?

This is hard to answer with words alone, as any true hiker already knows that no photograph or video ever does justice to what you see and how you feel when you climb a special mountain range in person. Anywhere you walk in Connemara National Park is beautiful, but the 12 Bens area is special because of its sharp, quartzite summits and ridges, making these relatively low mountain peaks look incredibly dramatic.

Which Peaks are the Highest in the 12 Bens?

None of the peaks in the 12 Bens are especially high when compared to Ireland’s highest peak: Carrauntoohil (1,038.6m). However, their close proximity to each other allows climbers to traverse several peaks in one go. There’s nothing like standing on one of the peaks and looking out to the others you plan to climb later that day! The heights of the 12 Bens are as follows:

Bengoora (AKA Diamond Hill) 400m

Knockpasheemore 412m

Benglenisky (AKA Ben Lettery) 516m

Bencorr Beg 577m

Benbrack 582m

Bencullagh 632m

Doire an Chlair (AKA Derryclare Mountain) 650m

Nuckanaght 654m

Glengower 664m

Benbreen 691m

Bencorr 711m

Benbaun 729m

Can you Climb all of the 12 Bens in One Go?  

No, this really would take too long, but you could break the journey up over several days if this is your goal. A more worthwhile endeavour, however, is to attempt to climb the nine peaks that form the Glencoaghan Horseshoe — many consider this route to be the best hiking experience in all of Ireland. It’s referred to as a ‘horseshoe’ because of the shape created by the mountains. As you stand atop any of the peaks, you’ll get a sense of the entire landscape for miles around, seeing the clear horseshoe shape.

Tips for Climbing the Twelve Bens

We could include numerous specific tops for each of the mountains, but that would turn this short, digestible blog into a huge Mt Everest of a blog… And no one would want to read it. Instead, we’d like to include some general tips for climbing the Twelve Bens:

–   Be prepared for rain — even if it looks like a gloriously sunny day. This is good advice for any outdoor adventures in Ireland, but it’s especially important for mountaineering as it’s a miserable affair if you aren’t prepared for the weather. Bring waterproof layers, decent walking boots, and anything else that will keep you dry(ish) and happy.

–   Maps don’t run out of battery! While GPS is a wonderful thing, everything that uses GPS runs out of battery. So, by all means use your GPS, but make sure you have a back-up physical map — just in case.

–   The peaks are much colder, so make sure you bring adequate layers to stay safe and comfortable when you reach the top. Even if it’s a sweaty, sunny affair when you start out, the temperature dips significantly as you climb, so make sure you bring a few extra layers — just in case.

–   Carry an extra drinking vessel as the mountain springs in the Twelve Bens are full of delicious fresh water. This is also ideal as you won’t have to carry several litres of water with you up each of the peaks.

That’s all we have time for today. We hope we’ve helped a few readers learn more about the area and perhaps even start planning your next trip. If you’d like us to organise everything for you and you’re not sure which tour or activity is the best fit for you, please feel free to get in touch. Tell us what you’re looking for and we’ll help you find your next big Irish adventure!