Achill, the largest island off the coast of Ireland and connected to the Mayo mainland by a bridge, is a place of sheer beauty, with mountains, lakes, valleys, magnificent sea-cliffs, wild moors and spectacular scenery. It has a number of small attractive villages, several unpolluted sandy beaches ideal for bathing, excellent deep sea, shore and lake angling and opportunities for all kinds of outdoor activities. Given good weather, Achill can be magical, where visitors can get away from the pressures of the world and unwind. For young people, Achill is a special treat. It is also a Gaeltacht area.
At the bridge from the mainland is the village of Achill Sound, the main shopping centre of the Island. There are facilities for bathing, boating and fishing, and excursions by motor or sailing boat can be made along the coast and to other nearby islands. Deep sea fishing is also available, with Porbeagle shark providing exciting sport. Achill Sound is a good centre for exploring the less frequented southern tip of the island. This can be done on the road which runs southwards along the sound to Kildownet Church, which has a square-headed doorway and splayed windows. A mile (2km) further on is a rectangular stone-roofed keep of the O’ Malleys. This drive may be continued around the coast of Dooega.
Balla (Balla), a small town on the Castlebar-Claremorris road, owes its origin to a monastery established there in the seventh century by St. Cronan, alias Mochua. The site is marked by a round tower (10m) and a medieval altar. Patrick W. Nally (1856-1891), after whom the Nally Stand in Croke Park is called; was born at Rockstown House, near Balla. He organised two national athletic events in Balla which inter alia led to the establishment of the Gaelic Athletic Association in 1884. There is a Celtic Cross to his memory in the town.
Ballina, with a population of 7000 people, is the largest town in County Mayo. Built on the River Moy, one of Mayo’s richest salmon and trout rivers, Ballina’s bridges are busy with anglers throughout the season. The original settlement at Ballina was at Ardnaree, on the east side of the river. This site is marked by the ruins of a 14th century Augustinian friary. Near Ballina’s railway station is the Dolmen of the Four Maols, three large rocks, capped by a massive boulder, a tombstone dating from the Bronze Age.
Ballinrobe, on the eastern shores of Lough Mask, is the largest town in South Mayo and is very popular with anglers. Its Catholic Saint Mary’s, has nine beautiful stained glass windows by renowned Irish stained glass artist, Harry Clarke (1889-1931). On the North side of town stands the remains of an Augustinian friary, founded circa 1312. Just south-west of Ballinrobe are some fascinating pre-historic sites, such as Cairn Daithi, a 22ft high pile of stones which probably covers a passage grave.
Ballintubber or Ballintober takes its name from Saint Patrick – Baile Tobair Phadraig meaning ‘the townland of Saint Patrick’s well’. This unspoiled countryside is dotted with sites of historical interest which includes Ballintubber Abbey, Mayo Abbey, and Aghagower’s round tower. The Celtic Furrow is a new and exciting experience where we trace our cultural roots through nature and farming through the centuries.
Ballycastle is a village and resort 26 km north-west of Ballina. The surrounding area is rich with archaeological treasures, dating from the Neolithic period. There are over 30 court-tombs alone in this area including two very interesting ones in Ballyglass townland, where Neolithic house-sites were discovered during excavations. The ruin of St. Patrick’s Church, Poll na Seantainne (a puffing hole with a subterranean channel to the sea), and the spectacular Dun Briste can be seen at Downpatrick Head, 8 km north-east. Dun Briste is a fragment of the cliff, 63m x 23m and 45m high, broken off in some natural cataclysm, 228m from the shore.
Not to be confused with the Ballyglass located to the northwest of Claremorris, this Ballyglass is within a short distance of a Killala Bay. The Western Way walking route passes by the village.
Ballyhaunis is a busy industrial and commercial town, 17 km north-east of Claremorris. An Augustinian friary was founded in Ballyhaunis c. 1419 by one of the local Costello lords. It was damaged in 1608 and attacked by Cromwellian soldiers in 1649, but continued to be used as a place of worship although in a ruinous condition. Restoration work started in 1830 and continued at intervals for nearly a century. This friary, which ranks after Ballintubber as the second oldest place of worship in County Mayo, was the nucleus around which the town developed. There are five beautiful single light windows by the eminent artist, Michael Healy, in the Convent of Mercy Chapel.
Located to the north of Lough Carra in a landscape of smaller lakes is Ballyhean, a fishermans paradise.
Ballyvary, is a village beside the N5 between Bohola and Castlebar, with many interesting archaeological and historical places in the vicinity.
Bangor (Baingear) is a picturesque village on the Owenmore River. It was founded by Major Bingham c. 1820 as a stopping place for people travelling to Erris. The area has a number of interesting local walking and climbing trails as well as good fishing on the local river and the nearby Carrowmore Lake.
Bellacorick is located in the area of blanket bogs rich in flora and fauna associated with bogs. Some 400.000 tonnes of milled peat are harvested annually by Bord na Mona at the Oweninny plant in Bellacorick.
Located between Swinford and Castlebar is the hamlet of Bellavery. There are several attractions in the area including fishing, Turlough Round Tower and Strade Franciscan Friary.
Belmullet is situated on the north west coast of Co.Mayo. A wildly beautiful landscape where miles of beaches give way to towering cliffs, a landscape of blanket bog, heather moss and peat giving one that incredible lost faraway feeling.
Bohola (Both Chomhla) is a village beside the N5 between Swinford and Castlebar. It is the birthplace of the great athlete, Martin J. Sheridan (1881-1918), who won nine Olympic medals (five gold, three silver and one bronze) for his adopted country, the USA, in discus-throwing, high and long jumps, shot-putt and pole-vaulting at St. Louis (1904), Athens (1906) and London (1908). (The figures include two gold and three silver medals won in Athens which was not regarded as an “official” Olympics.) There is a memorial in his honour at Bohola. The site for the Cheshire Home at Lismirrane, Bohola, was donated by the well-known O’Dywer family, one of whom, William (1890-1964), became Mayor of New York City (1946-50) and later President Truman’s Ambassador to Mexico, a rare distinction for an Irish emigrant, and Paul (1907- ), a lawyer with an international reputation for civil liberties, became President of New York City Council.
Castlebar is centrally located in an area rich in heritage, history, scenery and tradition and is the perfect base from which to explore one of the few unspoilt areas of Western Europe. Castlebar began as a settlement around a castle built by the de Barra (Barry) family. It hosted events (including the 1798 French and Irish rebellion – the races of Castlebar) that moulded the shape of things to come, not alone in Castlebar but in Ireland itself. Castlebar also offers a great variety of activities and exciting locations – indoor and outdoor. There is plenty of lively night-time entertainment and Castlebar is a superb location for outdoor pursuits including planned walking routes and it is surrounded by some of the best fishing lakes and rivers in the West.
Just 5km from Knock International Airport is Charlestown, one of Mayo’s most accessible towns, with direct flights from Dublin Glasgow, London, Manchester, Jersey and Zurich. In and around Charlestown visitors can golf, fish, walk, cycle and take part in cultural activities. The story of Charlestown and its subsequent fortunes is told by famous Mayo journalist, John Healy, in his book, ‘Death of An Irish Town’.
Clare Island is a charming island of 16 sq km at the mouth of Clew Bay. The quartzite hills on the north-west rise to 461m in the peak of Knockmore, with some flat land of the east and south. Its early archaeological remains include a court-tomb at Lecarrow, ancient cooking-sites, standing-stones, promontory forts and other sites from later times. One of the most interesting places is the remains of the late fifteenth century Cistercian friary, which was originally founded by monks from Abbeyknockmoy, Co. Galway. The remains are those of a nave and chancel church, with a dwelling tower over the latter, and a two-storey northern annexe. The chancel vault was once covered with frescos; substantial patches still remain in a faded condition and repay careful scrutiny.
Claremorris (from the Irish, Clar Clainne Mhuiris, meaning ‘the plain of the family of Maurice’), is named for Maurice de Prendergast, who came here in the 12th century. The area is a thriving commercial and marketing centre. It is also a cultural town, home to many writers and painters including the world famous artist and sculptor, Edward Delaney. A George Moore Extravaganza is held here every year to honour the famous novelist. The area around the town features scenic forest walks and lakes with largestocks of coarse fish.
Cong, in County Mayo, is a charming village which was once a significant religious centre. One of its most impressive sites is the ruin of Cong Abbey, founded in the 12th century. South of Cong village is Ashford Castle, rebuilt in Gothic Revival style by Lord Ardilaun of the Guinness family – it is now a luxurious hotel.
Crossmolina (Crois Mhaoiliona) is a small picturesque town on the River Deel, 13 km west of Ballina and less than 1.5 km from Lough Conn. The ruin of Abbeytown Abbey is 1.5 km north of Crossmolina. Further away to the east, in the grounds of Castle Gore, are the ruins of the 16th century Castle Deel. There is a heritage-centre and genealogical service at Enniscoe House, about 3 km south-east of Crossmolina. The ruins of Errew Abbey can be seen at the north end of a peninsula in Lough Conn about 10.5 km south-east of Crossmolina. John O’ Hart (1824-1902), an eminent genealogist, was born in Crossmolina.
Doogort, a pretty village in the middle of the north coast, was the location of a proselytising settlement established by Rev. Edward Nangle in 1834, the ruins of which can still be seen.
Foxford is situated on the banks of the river Moy, and is famous for being the home of blankets, rugs and fine tweeds. The Woollen Mills were founded by a Sister of Charity Mother Agnes Morrogh Bernard, in order to stem the flow of emmigration out of the area. There is a visitor centre which tells the story of the mills and tours are available in European languages also. The Foxford Way is a long distance marked walking route which covers a distance of 86km. The walk covers mountains, boglands, meadows, river banks and lake shores.
This is a lovely little fishing village just 6 miles from Ballina was the setting for the television series the Year of The French, in which the French invasion of Ireland took place, led by General Humbert. The force landed at Kilcummin another 6 miles north, and the drive down along this part of the coast is indeed well worthwhile, for its pure unspoilt beauty. Lacken strand is in this vicinity where one can be assured of peace and privacy.
Kiltimagh, the Artisan Village and birthplace of Rafteiri the blind Irish poet, lies in the very heart of the West of Ireland. Much of its bygone charm as a bustling market town is still evident in the architectural outline of the town, the Market Squareand the shop facades. The trades and crafts of the many artisans once found there are being revived to provide a living, historical experience. Among the many interesting attractions to visit in Kiltimagh are: The Town Museum, the Stationmaster’s House Arts Exhibition Centre and the Sculpture Park, all to be found in the grounds of the tastefully restored old railway station, and well worth a visit. Activities include angling, walking, cycling and golf.
The word Knock comes from the Irish ‘Cnoc’ meaning hill. Knock village is one of the world’s major marian shrines. Over one million pilgrims come here annually to worship at the place where, on August 21st 1879, fifteen people claimed to have seen a vision of the Blessed Virgin, St Joseph , and St John. This took place at the gable end of the church. to one side was a simple altar on which stood a haoled lamb and a cross. The vision was declared genuine following a commission of enquiry organised by the local Archbishop. A recent addition to the church is the Chapel of Reconciliation where pilgrims can find a peaceful haven. It was the focal point of Pope John Paul II’s visit to Ireland in 1979. Horan International Airport is called after Monsignor Horan, the local parish priest, whose vision of Knock as an international pilgrimage centre could come by air from overseas. The airport was opened in 1986. There is also a folk museum in Knock which features the significance of the Church in the lives of our forefathers.
Lousiburgh (Cluain Cearban), which in Irish means ‘meadow of the buttercups’ was renamed after an uncle of the Marquis of Sligo who, in 1758 helped capture the French fortress of Lousiburgh in Nova Scotia. It is a pleasant town at the mouth of the Bunowen River, 22 km south of Westport. It was founded by the Browne family of Westport House. Louisburgh is the focal point of a region of great natural beauty, a gateway to the romantic solitudes of Glencullin and Doo Lough, and an area with fine blue-flagged sandy beaches. It is a notable district for game fishing, surfing, swimming, mountain climbing and nature trails. Roonah Quay, 6.5 km west, is the starting place for boat trips to Clare Island and Inishturk. The area around Lousiburgh has an interesting archaeological heritage with court-tombs at Aillemore and Formoyle,a wedge-tomb at Srahwee, friaries at Kilgeever and Murrisk, a clapper footbridge (a stone bridge with 37 arches) at Killeen, and many other monuments, especially around Killadoon. There is a beautiful forest walk at Old Head. The Granuaile Centre is now a major attraction in the town.
Sharing its name with the County this hamlet is located between Claremorris and Castlebar, there are a network of rivers and lakes in the area several of which provide good fishing.
Mulrany, alias Mallaranny (An Mhala Raithini), is a pretty village located on the isthmus between Clew and Blacksod Bays at the entrance to Corraun peninsula. It has a fine sandy beach and good sporting facilities including golf (9-hole).
Murrisk is so popular because of Croagh Patrick or “The Reek” – a Holy Pilgrimage Mountain beside Westport. On the last Sunday of July each year, thousands of Pilgrims climb this mountain, many in their bare feet, in memory of Ireland’s Patron saint – Saint Patrick who, it is said, fasted and prayed for forty days and nights on top of this mountain.
Newport is a small picturesque town located on the north-east corner of Clew Bay. A beautiful feature of the town is its seven arch viaduct, built in 1892 to carry the Westport to Achill railway line. The arch has now been restored, and looks especially impressive at night, when floodlit. Newport is also the site of a number of very beautiful buildings. One of these is St Patrick’s Catholic Church, built in 1914 in the Irish Romanesque Style. The doorway at the entrance is modelled on the one in Clonfert Cathedral in Galway, and the stained glass window at the East is by famous artist Harry Clarke. Newport stands at the entrance to the Bangor Trail, a 26 mile walking route. Near Newport is the Salmon Research Visitor Centre located at Furnae which tells the unique story of the Salmon – King of the Fish. Travelling from newport to Mulrany you can visit Letterkeen Forest, where a 3500 year-old Bronze Age burial site was discovered.
Located on the northwestern shore of Lough Mask is Partry. This beautiful area of south Mayo is studded with lakes and at several points around the village there are lovely views over the lake.
Pontoon is a renowned angling centre located in the idyllic lake district of North-East Mayo, between Lough Cullin and Lough Conn. Lough Cullin has a number of sheltered beaches with the most popular one at Drummin Wood. There are a number of forest and lakeshore walks in the Pontoon region.
Swinford, is a bustling market town, situated along the main Castlebar-Dublin road (N5), on a tributary of the famous River Moy. The town being a pre-famine town has all the remainders of the devastation caused by the Great Famine (1846-49), including one of the best preserved mass famine graves in the country, where 564 victims of the famine were buried. Swinford is renowned for its fishing waters in particular the Callow lakes which yield excellent brown trout. Pony trekking and nature walks are among the many activities on offer to the visitor. Within walking distance are a wealth of archaeological sites.
Tourmakeady, alias Toormakeady (Tuar Mhic Eadaigh), is a scenic angling district between Lough Mask and the Partry Mountains. It is a popular Gaeltacht area. An Irish language college was established here early in the century. One of the teachers at the college was Sinead Flanagan, and one of her pupils Eamon de valera, whom she married in 1910.
The charming town of Westport, situated on the shores of Clew Bay, is one of the few planned towns in the country. It is an estate town, built to the plan of James Wyatt, the well known architect of the Georgian period. One of its outstanding features is the elegant tree lined boulevard, known as The Mall. Westport House, home of Lord Sligo, is open to the public during the summer months. The history of the development of Westport, from the time it was an O Malley stronghold in the 16th century to the present day, is brought alive in the Heritage Centre, located at Westport Quay. (Westport – meaning The Stone Fort of Beeve).