I grew up in Claremorris, a town in the south east of Co Mayo. Ireland is a diverse country of beauty and changing landscapes and Mayo is no exception. Although it is the third largest county in Ireland, when visitors arrive here they generally head for the more widely known beauty spots such as the Cliffs of Moher, the Ring of Kerry, or Galway and Connemara. Unless they are coming home to relatives from Mayo! Then they get the guided tours from the locals of the ‘lovely little ’ places in the area. What follows is an account of where we took our visitors when they came to visit us for a week or so.
Feel at home in Mayo
On their night of arrival my mother would cook a traditional Irish dinner of bacon and cabbage. She’d cook the bacon in cider first and finish it like a glazed gammon with mustard, brown sugar and cloves. My brothers would take them for a tour of the farm, to see the calves, the hens and the sheep, always accompanied by the family dog Rex. After dinner my father would take them uptown to our pub. One of my mother’s American cousins Shaun (a director of a paint company in Jacksonville) offered to paint the back bar for my father for a pint an hour.
What I’m trying to say is that Mayo people truly love making visitors welcome and at home, so even if you haven’t relatives ask the locals what to do and what to see.
A trip to lough Carra (the largest marl lake in Ireland) was a must for my family as we swam and picnicked there during the Summer and my brothers went fishing, sailing or windsurfing. Driving visitors to the lake I was always surprised at the comments of my companions on the beauty of the landscape. I love seeing my county through new eyes.
Parking in the carpark we would explore Moore Hall opposite the lake and take one of the many walks leading to and from the house. Walking around the nearby Doon Peninsula is another magical walk. Tom Quinn has written a fifteen stop guide to the Doon Experience which is available on the internet. Lough Carra has many islands and is joined to Lough Mask by the Keel River. We would try to swim out to one of the islands and when my brother got a boat we visited Church island. I have lovely memories of standing on the edge of the lake watching large murmuration of starlings flying and swooping with amazing synchronization.
Climbing the Reek
Ballintubber Abbey founded in 1216 is a great day out followed by lunch in Castlebar and a spin out to the National Museum of Country Life in Turlough Park. Ballintubber Abbey has been in continual use since then and is known as “the abbey that refused to die”. The Abbey itself has wonderful carvings but I love the experiential themed walks (Elizabeth’s house, the replica of the 5th century church & St Patrick’s well) and other truly interesting history stories, they offer guests a great video and award winning tour guides. All my visitors were enchanted and I love going back time and time again.
One of these days I am going to walk the 35Km Tóchar Phádraig Pilgrim Walk from the Abbey to Croagh Patrick.
Another of my favourite days out is to head for Westport. I love walking around the shops and having lunch before heading to the Quays and visiting Westport House and grounds. This Summer I was lucky enough to spend a few days in my niece’s cottage at the foot of Croagh Patrick in Murrisk. When I bring guests to the reek (Croagh Patrick) we climb to the first statue, I always tell my visitors not to look back until we reach the statue and when they turn, a beautiful scene of Clew Bay and all its islands lies before them. A stop in the pub at the bottom and a visit across the road to see the famine ship are a must.
5,000 years of history
At night we dined in the Tavern Restaurant a minute’s walk down the hill right next door. The food and service is great.
This area has so many lovely beaches to explore. Bertra beach and Old Head near Louisburg are very special. The views on the drive out to the Lost Valley and Silver Strand and Killadoon beach are spectacular. I can’t wait to go again.
When we were children we holidayed in beautiful Mulranny and always spent a day in Achill (Ireland’s largest island). The Atlantic Drive, Great Western Greenway and Keem Bay and the Slievemore deserted village are all in Achill.
Something I like to do is to wander down roads and ask my visitors to choose ‘right or left’ when we are out for a day. We have discovered some of the most beautiful places doing this.
Other days we headed north to Ballina, stopping in Foxford Woollen Mills on the way. Pretty Killala village offers lots of things to do, check out the top ten things listed in northmayo.ie. I always buy my fresh fish on the pier before I leave. Another twenty minutes north are the Céide Fields; the world’s most extensive stone age site which is more than 5,000 years old! The visitor centre explains all the history and botany but don’t forget to cross the road and see the cliffs of Céide.
A day visiting Knock Shrine and the Knock Museum is always on the itinerary as is a spin out to Cong and a walk around Ashford Castle.
Where ever you end up in Mayo I think you will be blown away by its beauty and its people. Up Mayo Wherever You Go!!!