It’s not too often I get to spend some proper quality time with my siblings, so when my younger brother had some time off work recently, I roped him into coming on a little road trip to Mayo with me. Ok, in fairness, it didn’t take much to twist his arm but after getting him to pose for lots of my photos, he’ll probably think twice next time!
We spent three days exploring beautiful Mayo, basing ourselves in Westport for the two nights. As usual, it wasn’t enough. I find that the more I see of Ireland, the more I realise there is to see! It’s not unusual to hear people say that you can ‘Do Ireland’ in a week but I’m at the stage where I feel like I’m just skimming the surface even when I spent a couple of days in one place. Even smaller areas, like Achill Island for instance. We had just one day there and it was wet and misty but it was still spectacular. I want to go back and just spend a whole week there! More on that later though, I’m getting ahead of myself. I’ll go back to the start of our little adventure!
Mayo – Day 1
Our first stop was the picturesque village of Cong, just over the border from Galway. The village is well known as the location for the film The Quiet Man and also for nearby Ashford Castle resort and spa. We enjoyed a walk around some of the attraction including the Abbey ruins, the Monk’s Fishing House and the Guinness Tower. See more on our trip to Cong here.
Leenane and Killary Harbour
Our next destination was Doolough Valley and in getting there we crossed the border back into Galway, headed through Leenane (or Leenaun). The village of Leenane sits at the mouth of the Killary Harbour fjord and was the setting for the film The Field. If you have time, stop for a wander through the village or a bite to eat and enjoy the majestic views of the fjord and surrounding mountains.
This is by no means the largest or most impressive waterfall you’ll see but it is in a pretty stunning location, surrounded by the beautiful mountainous landscape of Connemara. As you head back over the border to Mayo from Leenaun it’s on your route and worth stopping off to see it. There is a lay-by for parking with a sign post for the falls, so you shouldn’t miss it. There is also a short walkway if you want to get a closer look at the falls.
This scenic drive through the Doolough Valley on the R335 from Delphi to Louisberg is spectacular. We passed few other cars along the route, although I imagine that changes during peak season. It was just us, the sheep, the stunning mountain scenery and the lakes!
As we drove through this unspoilt landscape the weather was dark and moody, reflecting the tragic past of this route. In 1849, during the Great Famine hundreds of starving people were forced to walk from Louisberg to Delphi for assistance. Upon arriving they were denied help and many died of starvation by the roadside during the journey. As you drive through Doolough pass there is a lay-by and a stone cross memorial remembering those who perished.
The unplanned stops are often the best, right?! As we continued towards Westport the sky started to light up beautifully so I was looking for somewhere to stop and capture some pics of the sunset. We were near Louisburgh at that point and ended up following a signpost for Carrowmore beach. There were only a few people around, including a couple of guys fishing. It turned out to be the perfect spot to watch the sun go down before heading on to Westport for the evening.
Westport is Mayo’s third largest town. It’s a lively town and a great place to stop for a night or two. Wander along the tree-lined streets by the Carrowbeg River taking in the Georgian buildings and beautiful stone arch bridges. Many of the buildings around town are brightly painted adding to the vibrant atmosphere. We stayed at the Mill Times Hotel, a popular choice in the town centre. Our room was basic but clean and tidy, breakfast was good and overall it was amazing value, thanks to a deal from LivingSocial! The staff were all lovely and the location is spot on. We had a fantastic meal just around the corner at Sol Rio on Bridge Street and then crossed the road to Matt Molloy’s pub. Probably one of the best known pubs in Ireland, there’s live traditional music played here seven nights a week. Grab a pint and squeeze yourself into the back room to enjoy the ceol agus craic!
Mayo – Day 2
Day 2 was all about Achill. We didn’t set off as early as expected though due to a late night with some new found friends from Matt Molloys! So we set off with the heads a little tender and the weather not doing much to help our mood. As we crossed the bridge to the island, the rain was pelting down and we pulled into the information centre for some recommendations. In the end we just drove around, taking our time and stopping off to admire the beautiful views. And that meant a lot of stopping! The rain was on and off, it was really misty and the wind was giving us a fair beating at times but Achill still managed to steal our hearts. This place really does have something magical and I can’t wait to go back again. More to come in a seperate post!
Mayo – Day 3
Ideally we would have stopped to take in Croagh Patrick on day 1 while on our way into Westport. That didn’t happen because we stopped to enjoy the sunset at Carrowmore beach instead, so it was a little dark as we passed by! However it’s not far from Westport, so we just took the short drive back to appreciate it…albeit from a distance! Of course the best views are from the summit, looking out over Clew Bay but we weren’t climbing it this time. In fact it has been a long, long time since I climbed it so I do need to get back and do it again one of these days. For now we just headed for Murrisk Abbey and took in the views of Croagh Patrick from there.
Ballycroy National Park
This national park is probably the least well known of Ireland’s National Parks but with over 11,000 hectares of Atlantic blanket bog and stunning mountainous terrain, it’s well worth a visit. While much of the park is inaccessible (unless you really know what you are doing!) there are a range of walks with varying distances that you can enjoy. The visitor centre has some really interesting exhibits, a great cafe and a 2km looped nature trail with views out to Achill Island and across to the Nephin Beg mountain range.
If you love a bit of star gazing, you’ll want to hang around or visit here after dark. It’s part of Mayo Dark Sky Park, boasting some of the darkest and pristine skies to be found anywhere in the world.
The Céide Fields is an archaeological site and the most extensive Stone Age site in the world. In addition to dwelling areas and megalithic tombs it contains the oldest field systems in the world, dating over five and a half thousand years old. Unfortunately for us we got here a week too early and the visitor centre and site were not open yet for the season. So we had to be satisfied with a peak at the award winning visitor centre for now!
Not far from the Ceide Fields is Downpatrick Head. The name is derived from St Patrick, who founded a church here. A walk along the headland is invigorating and this is one of the Signature Points along the Wild Atlantic Way with great views of the cliffs and the Atlantic. The highlight is the lone sea-stack called Dún Briste (broken fort), which stands proudly not far from the cliff edge. There’s also a viewing platform overlooking a large blowhole but there wasn’t much activity at the time we visited.
So that’s it for our taster of Mayo and I still have plenty more to see, which I’ll just have to save for the next visit! If you have any tips or favourite places in Mayo please let me know in the comments so I can check them out. Thanks!