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Guided Walking Holidays in Mayo & Connemara, Ireland

 

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Daly’s Hotel Castlebar Must be Saved

Standing on the beautiful Mall, a treasure any town would desire, is the terribly dilapidated Daly’s Hotel Castlebar.

The Mall is Castlebar’s jewel, a lovely small park that was once the cricket ground of the then landlord of the town, Lord Lucan (Bingham). Boasting the County Council HQ, Library, Garda station, 1798 Memorial, John Moore’s grave, Wesleyan Church, Church of Ireland and a magnificent courthouse, this is the centre of power, past and present in the county town. On one side, sadly neglected, lies Daly’s Hotel (aka Imperial Hotel), one of the most important buildings in the entire country.

Daly's Hotel Castlebar

Following the establishment of its predecessor, the Mayo Tenants’ Defence Association in 1878, the Land League of Mayo was founded in Daly’s Hotel Castlebar, on August 16, 1879. James Daly became Vice-President, while Michael Davitt wrote the core objectives, namely to defend tenants’ rights and to bring about the conversion of tenants into owners of their land. Along with CS Parnell and others, both Davitt and Daly were then involved in the formation of the Irish National Land League, in Dublin, later that same year.

That one of the most important movements in Irish history can be traced back to a meeting held in Daly’s Hotel Castlebar is without question. The Land League and its demand for the “Three Fs” of fixity of tenure, far rent and freedom to sell would lead directly to the abolition of landlordism in Ireland and, eventually, to Irish independence. The origins of this State can be traced straight back to this abandoned building.

Daly's Hotel Castlebar memorial

When I came to live in Castlebar in the late 1990s, Daly’s (then called the Imperial Hotel) was past its prime but very much still alive. Friday evening drinks in the bar were a frequent occurrence and I even used the meeting rooms upstairs on multiple occasions. It was quaint and in need of some TLC, but there was no doubting the sense of hugely important history within its walls.

That this building has not yet been saved is a terrible shame and an indictment of the State’s apparent disinterest in our nation’s history. From time to time, there is talk of saving the military barracks in Castlebar and I’m all for that. But to save those buildings, legacies of a foreign imperial power that controlled our country for far too long, rather than Daly’s Hotel Castlebar, which represents the great and noble struggle of 19th Century Ireland, would be a huge mistake.

Saving Daly’s Hotel Castlebar

It’s 2017 and I call on the government and Mayo County Council to secure the future of this important building and to bring it back to life.

Ideas?

Rather than looking at the building as one unit (it will never become a hotel again), this building in a prime town centre location could be divided between the various services located on the Mall. Parts could be allocated to the Motor Tax Office, Courthouse, County Council itself, Library and maybe even the boxing club. Other sections could become low-rent business units and hot desks for start-ups under the management of the Local Enterprise Office and/or GMIT’s Innovation Hubs. One room should be retained as a museum to Davitt, Daly and the Land League.

Whatever can be done, must be done.

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Importance of Connecting with Nature

Are we and our kids spending too much time indoors?

While today’s electronic devices bring many great advantages of connectivity and learning, they are contributing to a serious diminishing of our connection with the outdoors. There can be little doubt about the importance of connecting with nature, yet, as a society, we seem to be turning our backs. Taking a regular walk in nature is good for the heart, body and soul and it is vital that we pass this message on to the next generation.

As somebody who goes hiking often, I know there’s something powerful and uplifting in getting my hands dirty in the bogs, wet in the cold rivers, or simply feeling the roughness of mountain rocks on my palms. Watching a Kestrel hover, as I did just yesterday, enjoying frolicking Foxes playing through the fields, or listening to the roar of the Red Deer during the rut are important life experiences to me.

Then there’s the extra special treat of strolling among trees. More than simply walking, being within a forest brings great joy, peace and perspective. It brings disconnection from the humdrum of the daily chore and replaces it with the importance of connecting with nature. There’s something wondrous about being a little short-lived human among giant trees, much bigger and older than you will ever achieve. It’s in some way liberating.

Importance of Connecting with Nature

Do you know the difference between Whitethorn and Blackthorn?

So, get down to the sea on a windy winter’s day and feel the power of nature blow the cobwebs off your face, to the soundtrack of crashing waves. Visit a tranquil lake on a balmy summer’s afternoon and absorb the cacophony of bird and insect life, all under the whiff of blossoming wildflowers.

Ultimately, our disconnection with nature doesn’t just mean we’ve lost touch with the outdoors and our fellow inhabitants of Planet Earth. It also leads to ignorance and disinterest. Why should we care about habitat loss and species extinction if we no longer have a connection?

Therein lies the problem and the challenge.

Recognising the importance of connecting with nature brings joy and loads of energy. Seeing how ‘nature’ and ‘us’ are so deeply interconnected can lead to only one conclusion. We are nature. There is no ‘them’ and ‘us’. There is no separation. We must understand that we humans are part of life on this planet, just like the beetles, bats and birds.

Importance of Connecting with Nature – Resources

The most obvious and useful resources to reconnect with nature are your feet, public transport, bike or car. Just get out there, find a nice spot like a forest, bog, local park or beach and go walk. Or discover one of our National Parks.

Other than that, join some organised events run by organisations like Birdwatch Ireland and many others.

Get dirty, wet and enjoy!

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Ox Mountains – Doomore to Crockavreen, a Sligo Slog

Ox Mountains – Doomore to Crockavreen

What a slog that was. Having consulted Bing Maps online and my own paper OSI 1:50,000, I reckoned this eastern Ox Mountains ramble would take me maybe 5 hours. After all, the successive points to be hiked would be only 272 m, 250 m and 283 m high.

It took 7.

Beginning at Glenwood, near Coolaney, I strolled along the 1.5 km forest track, meeting 4 seemingly wild horses along the way. Then a small path leads up the hillside towards the cliffy northern face of Doomore (272 m). Here was my first encounter with what was to dominate the day – long, deep and thick grass, heather and bracken. This hike would quickly turn into an exhausting trudge.

From Doomore, with its impressive (though damaged) cairn and trig pillar, I headed west towards Doobeg (250 m), admiring the fine ruin of a  caiseal below to the north, then onward towards Crockavreen (283 m). Along the way, I fell more often than ever before, my ankles lassoed by the grabby vegetation or having fallen into one of many, many little bog holes. A very nice ‘family’ of 6 wild goats kept a watch on me from afar.

Mind you, between the heavy showers, the views out across Sligo Bay to Knocknarea, Benbulben and Slieve League beyond are gorgeous.

Doomore Ox Mountains Sligo Bay

Caiseal below Doobeg. Knocknarea and Belbulben in background.

Descending the far side of Crockavreen, I made the kind of mistake the tired mind makes. I decided to follow a forest track north of the hills, then eastwards, reckoning I could skirt along underneath Doobeg and Doomore back to the original track, while visiting the caiseal along the way. I did so without consulting my map, however, as it was lashing rain and I didn’t fancy getting it out. Much to my frustration, the forest track evidently exited the mountains to the south rather than the north and I ended up at its end in the middle of the conifer plantation. Nothing for it but to plough through some 400 m of dense forestry to regain height.

Doomore ox mountains

Doomore from Doobeg

Eventually, having re-climbed Doobeg, the visit to the casieal was abandoned and I focused instead on Doomore. I recovered the path and its horses, shattered from the physical effort of wading through such thick vegetation for hours on end.

Ox Mountains, Doomore to Crockavreen and back :

12 km; 7 hrs; total climb 500 m.

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Mweelrea – Hiking Mayo’s Magical Mountain

Mweelrea

Connacht’s highest mountain, Mweelrea offers a great day’s hiking. The finest mountain in the West of Ireland, Mweelrea can be tackled along a number of routes, my favourite being anti-clockwise from the southern end of Doo Lough over the mountain to Delphi Mountain Resort. This is a serious 8-hour hike and is for experienced hillwalkers only *.

Parking the car at Doo Lough, we cross the river at a weir/sluice immediately at the south end of the lake. Do not climb here, but rather follow a fence for some hundred metres southwards, to a point where it turns sharp left and descends close to the river. Here, we leave it and ascend via a gully to the first flattish part, before driving on towards the top and the cliff edge leading north-westwards across to point 760m. On the way up, turn around and take in the fab views of the Sheeffrys and Ben Gorm behind, as well as Croagh Patrick sticking its conical head up.

Now we circle above the great NE corrie, taking in points 790m, 803m and 790m, all the while enjoying this magnificent coum and its cliffs below. Along with the ocean views later, this is one of the two wonderful highlights of this fantastic hiking day.

Mweelrea corrie

Walls of the great NE corrie.

A walk westwards across the gently sloping hillside beneath point 795m brings us to the col below Mweelrea’s summit, before an easy enough drag up to its 814m top. The top of this great mountain is a little disappointing, just a flat boggy mess (like many of Mayo’s mountains), but the views are tremendous. Enjoy all the lovely islands and rocks of the west coast (including, most notably, Inisturk), the splendid beaches of Mayo and Galway, the Killary fjord and Benchoonas, Twelve Bens and Maumturk mountains to the south.

Mweelrea Ben Lugmore

Looking back towards points 790m, 803m, 790 m.

 

Mweelrea summit

Mweelrea summit, with Lough Bellawaum below.

We descend south then southeast towards point 495m, but without climbing it. Instead, we keep our tired legs to its north and head for the little Sruhaunbunatrench River exiting Lough Lugaloughan. Follow its banks towards the plantation forest above Delphi and exit on one of its various tracks down to the road. Walk 3km back to your car.

Mweelrea descent

The descent, with Lough Lugaloughan. Killary fjord in the background.

Mweelrea mountain hike

19 km; ascent 950 m; approx. 8 hrs.

* Note :

Mweelrea is among Ireland’s most dangerous mountains, with numerous tragedies over recent years, often involving experienced hillwalkers. Under no circumstances should you hike this mountain without a compass and waterproof map and the knowledge of how to use them. Do not venture into this mountain alone and always bring a fully-charged mobile phone, plus mobile charging device. No matter what the weather forecast says or how the sky looks at the time of your ascent, be prepared for low clouds to descend at any moment, leading to almost zero visibility at times. Respect the mountain.

Alternative Routes up Mweelrea

There are various other routes up this great mountain, most notably the more challenging “Ramp Route” from the north end of Doo Lough and the less challenging “Coastal Route” from the west.

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Hiking Inisturk – The Most Beautiful of Mayo Islands

When I think of wonderful little Inisturk, I’m reminded of the sweet opening verse from Nancy Spain, the popular ballad most famously sung by Christy Moore, “Of all the stars that ever shone, Not one does twinkle like your pale blue eyes. Like golden corn at harvest time, your hair. Sailing in my boat the wind gently blows and fills my sail. Your sweet-scented breath is everywhere”. On the boat out from Roonagh to go hiking Inisturk, I can’t stop muttering it to myself.

Lying 15 km off Mayo’s wild west coast, Inisturk is the county’s most beautiful and striking island. From its little sheltered harbour on the east side, the island rises to a maximum height of some 190m in the middle before reaching its zenith at wonderful western sea cliffs.

hiking Inisturk

From the Signal Tower towards Achill Island.

While the marked walking trail up from the harbour turns left after the lake and swings back down by the surprising GAA pitch etched into the rocky landscape, we turn right. Up the small steep hill we wander, to the ruined Napoleonic Tower on top. The views from this early 19th Century signal tower are to die for. The great thing about Inisturk (Inishturk) is that it is at the centre of the string of fabulous islands and magnificent mainland coastline that marks out Mayo’s coastline from other parts of the Wild Atlantic Way.

From up at the ruined tower, you can look out at (N to S) Achill, Corraun, Clare Island, Nephin Beg mountains, Clew Bay, Croagh Patrick, Caher Island, the Sheeffry mountains, Mweelrea, Killary Harbour, Benchoona, Tully mountain, Inishbofin and Inishark. Arguably the finest view in Ireland.

If there is a heaven, then this is it.

We descend from this summit westwards, with the beautiful cliffs at the end of the island as our target. Bring your binoculars, as the views of all kinds of seabird, from Fulmar and Puffin to Razorbill, Guillemot and Peregrine Falcon are wonderful.

Continuing along the coast, then turning inland, we follow a long stone wall before re-joining the trail we had earlier quit. From the pitch, we visit the tiny natural cove at Port an Dún and its virtually no-longer-distinguishable caiseal remains, before rambling along the narrow road back to the Community Club. Dinner and a beverage are enjoyed, while we discuss one of the great Mayo experiences that is hiking Inisturk.

hiking inisturk 2

Looking back towards Croagh Patrick

Inisturk (Inishturk) boasts three B&Bs, which can be found on the local tourism website.

Hiking Inisturk

13 km; 5 hours with plenty of stops for birdwatching and taking it all in. Paradise!

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Bellacorick Bog Loop

Bellacorick Bog Loop – 13kms of flat, easy walking

While the first and last 1km is uninspiring, passing along a stony track shared by times with heavy machinery involved in the installation of a new wind farm, the recently designated Bellacorick Bog Loop both surprises and delights by the wild beauty of its inner 11km.

This loop walk follows now disused bog railway tracks through post-production peat cutting fields off the Crossmolina to Belmullet road, just east of the turn towards Castlebar. Having negotiated the not-very-pretty first stretch (and, by the way, having walked over the new gasline coming down from Bellanaboy), the loop leaves the new trackway to head off into the vast bog on mostly grassy tracks with Birdsfoot Trefoil beneath our feet.

Bellacorick bog loop

During May and June, we walk among beautiful wildlfowers in bloom, including Red and White Clover, Bog Cotton, Eyebright, Milkwort, Butterwort, Sundew, Tormentil, Silverweed, Yellow Iris and others.

Bellacorick Bog Loop offers great views over Nephin, Birreencorragh, Slieve Carr and Nephin Beg to the south, with Benmore and Slieve Feeagh rising above the seemingly endless bogs to the north. At various stages, we walk alongside the Oweninny River and its small tributaries. Long stretches are very pleasant indeed, although do take note that it tends to be windy up here in Ireland’s little “Big Sky Country”. Further along, we come in close proximity to the huge wind turbines being ‘planted’ all around, while five female Red Deer run away, having heard, smelled us or both.

Bellacorick bog loop - bog cotton

Birds encountered include Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Northern Wheatear and Sand Martin, while Kestrels have been seen on previous visits. This is Fox, Otter and Pine Marten country too, although none are spotted today.

While an inland flat walk like the Bellacroick Bog Loop cannot compare with, say, Mayo’s fabulous cliff-top trails, it is nevertheless a very pleasant stroll at this time of year, with lovely wildflowers all along. The loop also boasts two nice picnic tables, made of recycled plastic. Go and discover – you’ll enjoy!

Bellacorick Bog Loop walk : 13 km; 3.5 hours, plus stops.

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