Walking in the West of Ireland

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Guided Walking Holidays in Mayo & Connemara, Ireland

 

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Walking in the West of Ireland

11 Great West of Ireland Pubs

Naturally, my bias ensures that 5 of these 11 great West of Ireland pubs are located in Mayo, but what else would you expect?

The Irish pub can be such an alien concept to continental Europeans, especially the southern French I know best, that I always have to make it my business to at least get them in the door to experience what it is all about. I’ve seen reactions vary from wide-eyed wonder, delight and glee, to disbelief, shock and discomfort at the crowds and noise. Watching what happens when people don’t find a place to sit down is always a source of amusement. Some don’t know how to react and beat a hasty retreat (needing to be gently, sometimes forcibly, coaxed back in), while others just dive in and enjoy the experience. It takes all sorts, as they say!

Of course, many foreign guests also need to be gently informed that it’s expected of them that they buy a drink … Yes, the clichés are true : (Southern) French groups will sit in a pub and barely buy one drink among them, let alone one each, unless “instructed” to do so.

So here is a selection of 11 of the finest establishments from around the province of Connacht. They’re in no particular order, not even alphabetic!

11 Great West of Ireland Pubs

1. McDonnell’s, Belmullet (Béal an Mhuirthead)

Certainly among the best small town pubs in the province, this is just a legendary place and one where you’ll feel comfortable at all times of the day or night. Sit up at the bar. As they say of The Lobster Pot, “you can get in, but you can’t get out”! Here they are on Facebook.

West of Ireland pubs

Inside McDonnell’s, Belmullet

2. Úna’s, Blacksod (An Fód Dubh)

A few years back, this place was on its last legs. It was always totally down-to-earth (still is), but now it’s buzzing and full of far-end-of-earth life. This quintessential isolated, coastal West of Ireland pub is 25km beyond Belmullet (Béal an Mhuirthead). Visit their Facebook page.

great west of ireland pubs una's

Úna’s, An Fód Dubh

3. JJ Harlow’s, Roscommon Town

A beautiful pub, filled with the ordinary, lovely, decent people of Roscommon. Visit their Facebook page.

west of ireland pub

JJ Harlow’s in Roscommon Town

4. Seán’s, Athlone

Reputedly the oldest pub in Ireland, you’ll get a crick in your neck from looking at all the stuff on the walls and ceiling. When my late father had a boat on the Shannon, he used to record the number of paces from his mooring spot to Seán’s in his “captain’s log”. A really brilliant pub. Here’s Seán’s Facebook page.

West of Ireland pubs

Seán’s, Connacht side of the River Shannon, Athlone

5. Tigh Neachtain, Galway City

Possibly the most beautiful city pub in all of Ireland, this is where the heart of Galway city beats strongest. Its range of Irish craft beers is very impressive indeed.  A truly wonderful pub full of character, they are on Facebook.

Galway pub

Tigh Neachtain, Galway City

6. Matt Molloy’s, Westport

Some might frown at all the tourists, but this is just a fantastic pub, especially when there’s a proper trad music session going on, which is virtually every night. Perhaps the most famous of all West of Ireland pubs. Visit their Facebook Page.

great west of ireland pubs molloy

Matt Molloy’s, Westport (pic source www.jar.ie)

7. The Beach Bar, Co. Sligo

A pure legend of a place, down by the sea. I could tell you where it is, but I’d have to sh**t you. Find them on Facebook.

great west of ireland pubs beach bar

The Beach Bar, Co. Sligo (their own pic)

8. Tí Joe Watty, Inis Mór

Located a little outside the main village of Cill Rónáin, Watty’s is well worth the short stroll. While not necessarily the most attractive pub, there’s always a great atmosphere in this place. As well as islanders, you’ll meet revellers from all corners of the globe in this spot. Tí Jo Watty is on Facebook.

great west of ireland pubs wattys

Tí Watty, Inis Mór

9. John McHale, Castlebar

Castlebar’s finest pub is old, unique and very relaxing. Johnny’s is on Facebook.

great west of ireland pubs john mchale

Johnny’s, Castlebar

10. Lynott, Achill Island

In this day and age, with drink-driving a serious no-no (thankfully), it’s a wonder this remarkable tiny middle-of-nowhere pub manages to stay open. The fact that it’s a Mayo institution helps. This ridiculously small pub is located between Cashel and Bunnacurry, on the lhs as you drive west. Blink and you’ll miss it.  I don’t think Lynott’s has any online presence.

great west of ireland pubs lynott

Lynott’s on Achill (pic Matt Smyth on Flickr)

11. Anderson’s Thatch, near Carrick on Shannon

It is remarkable and wonderful that this small rural, north Roscommon pub has survived. It’s beautiful from the outside and beautiful on the inside. As with Lynott’s above, just make sure you have a designated driver. Here’s the pub’s Facebook Page.

great west of ireland pubs andersons

Anderson’s, between Carrick on Shannon and Elphin

Great West of Ireland Pubs

Of course, there are many other great West of Ireland pubs and I’m not even claiming these 11 are the finest. And lists like these cause arguments in, er, pubs … But great examples these are, for sure. Which other ones would you suggest? If you have pubs to propose, please include photos with your suggestions.

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Achill Island Promontory Fort at Dun Bunnafahy

Achill Island Promontory Fort at Bun na Faiche (Dun Bunnafahy)

A quick overview of my coastal Discovery Series maps of the County Mayo coastline * reveals 54 marked promontory forts. Doubtless, this is fewer than there are actually are, as I doubt if they’ve all been recorded or transmitted to the mapping authority. One excellent example is the Achill Island promontory fort of Dun Bunnafahy (Dún Bun na Faiche, the fort at the bottom of the field), situated just south of the Wild Atlantic Way discovery point carpark at Ashleam Bay near Dooega.

Promontory Forts date from the Iron Age and are mostly found in Ireland, Cornwall, Orkney Islands, Isle of Man and Brittany. Not really ‘forts’, in the military sense, they are more likely to have been defensive structures, perhaps farmsteads, which made use of more or less narrow slivers of land jutting out into the sea. In that way, they were naturally protected on three sides by sea cliffs, meaning only one side needed to be reinforced with a defensive wall and ditch combination. MacAlister (1928) described them as ‘sites where a ditch and bank complex was constructed across the narrow isthmus of a natural headland’.

Achill Island Promontory Fort side view

Dún Bun na Faiche

At this Achill Island promontory fort, the ditch and wall remain clearly evident, with the latter reaching a height of approx 6 metres from the bottom of the ditch. At the centre of the ditch, there appears to be a type of leveling off, as if a less deep entry passage.

Achill Island Promontory Fort view of wall

View of defensive wall

Within the wall, immediately above this ‘bridge’, there are a number of standing stones still extant. Archaeologists consider these to mark the location of a cist. Indeed, it was suggested by Westropp (1914) that perhaps a child sacrifice may have been offered at the building of such a ‘fort’. I would have thought they’re more likely to be some kind of defended entry passage through the wall, not unlike what is seen at caiseals.

Achill Island Promontory Fort

* Marked Promontory Forts of Mayo by OSI Discovery Sheets, excluding duplication (northeast to southwest) :

Sheet 24 – 1

Sheet 23 – 6

Sheet 22 – 30

Sheet 30 – 15

Sheet 31 – 0

Sheet 37 – 2

Total = 54

By the way, if you like this sort of thing, then you might also enjoy reading about Lios na Gaoithe ringfort. And here is a website that discusses Irish promontory forts in general.

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Croaghmoyle Booster Station Walk

Although not particularly impressive, this Croaghmoyle booster station walk is a pleasant 8km stroll near Castlebar that includes an easy climb on tarmac. I do it a few times each year in spring, just to get some km into the legs before hiking season.

The track/roadway up to the TV booster station begins along the road out of Castlebar towards Glenisland. There is ample room here to park 6 cars. From there, we head through mostly unlovely conifer plantations towards the upland bogs beyond (although, thankfully, some of the trees along this lower section are larch).

Along the way, we encounter a typical West of Ireland scene. A small stream cuts through one little area of level land, walled out into tiny fields by past dwellers. A ruined cottage, now virtually swallowed up by the plantation, stands to one side where, once, a family eked out an existence from this little oasis of almost fertile ground.

From this miniature ‘valley’ begins the long slog to the booster station. Strangely, the road surface improves from here, becoming to all intents a proper roadway all the way to the top.

Croaghmoyle Booster Station walk

View from Croaghmoyle

At various points along this walk, we can enjoy nice views westwards towards the Nephin Begs, Corraun, Clare Island, Inisturk and Croagh Patrick, with Clew Bay in the centre of this fine arc. By the time we get to the top, however, we need to jump up onto the bog itself to regain such views, as the road is somewhat sunken beneath the level of the surrounding turf. The sort-of-conical summit of Birreencorragh to the NW grabs my attention, reminding me that it’s been a while since I last climbed her.

Pushing a  short distance beyond the booster station and out onto the bog proper brings us to the trig pillar, with views of Nephin mountain now joining the others already enjoyed.

As I turn for home, the unmistakable sound of a calling Red Grouse accompanies me, reminding me that this is, after all, West of Ireland upland bog, booster station or not …

Croaghmoyle Booster Station Walk

Length (total) 8 km; Climb 400m; Time 2 hours.

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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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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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