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Walking in the West of Ireland

Keenagh Loop Walk in the Bogs of West Mayo

Keenagh Loop Walk

If you’re looking for a walk that represents west Mayo well, without the extra effort of climbing a mountain, then Keenagh Loop Walk may fit the bill. Be sure to bring along at least one walking pole to test the ground’s solidity in front of you as you go, as some sections can be extremely wet.

The trailhead for Keenagh Loop Walk is located on the left hand side along the R312 from Castlebar towards Bellacorick, approximately 7km after the left turn to Newport (R317) and immediately before the right turn for Crossmolina (R316), at grid ref G 067 067.

By no means the most spectacular location the county has to offer, nevertheless this loop walk brings you into (or, more accurately, beneath) Mayo’s Nephin Beg mountain range, with the added attraction of a very pretty mountain river along one section.

To begin, I’d suggest you walk the route in an anti-clockwise direction rather than that which the signage and Mayo County Council’s mayowalks.ie website invite you to. In this way, you get the bit of a pull up to the highpoint of 250m over and done with early on. This is also the least inspiring section of the loop, apart from the wonderful display of wildflowers along the laneway during the summer months. Enjoy Purple Loosestrife, St. John’s Wort, Selfheal, Dandelion, Herb Robert and more.

Keenagh Loop Walk heather, bracken and rowan tree

Once up and over the highpoint, we descend to the very lovely Glendorragha River and begin to admire the excellent Birreencorragh Mountain to the right, which has now come into view beyond the scree-covered southwestern face of its satellite, Knockaffertagh. At the head of the valley, this is one of Mayo’s finest mountains to climb, so you can come back another day and tackle that.

But the main attraction of the Keenagh Loop Walk is the stretch along the banks of the river. Descending the valley from our right, the little river tumbles down various small waterfalls and over boulders in its journey as a tributary to the Newport River. Watch a Dipper, as it follows the river downstream, jumping from rock to rock, with its feet in the water, before diving under the surface in search of insect larvae. He’s very amusing, sometimes even choosing to float along awhile.

Keenagh Loop Walk oak tree

There are also Otter, Pine Martin and Heron around these parts, along with the occasional Goat among the Sheep. And guess what? There are even some Oak trees along the banks, a rare sight indeed around west Mayo.

Leaving the river bank, we cross the wettest of the numerous boggy stretches on this walk, before meeting an seanbhóthar from Derreen to Newport, where we turn left for home. On arrival, your feet might be wet, but you’ll have enjoyed this hidden corner of wild Mayo.

Keenagh Loop Walk

12 km; 4.5 hours; climb 150m; watch out for very boggy parts.

As you should everywhere you encounter it, do avoid walking through the bracken on the higher sections. It might just contain ticks that you really don’t want on your body. It’s better to leave the track when you see large swathes of the plant and find your own way around.

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Balla to Ballintubber Walk

From Round Tower to Abbey

Our round towers and abbeys are among the most visible still extant reminders of early and medieval Christian Ireland. While the former date from the 9th to 11th centuries, what remain of our medieval abbeys tend to be from the 12th to 15th. This Balla to Ballintubber walk links examples of both.

In Mayo, we have five remaining round towers and multiple abbeys and friaries, including the most magnificent of them, like Rosserk, Moyne, Murrisk and Burrishoole. Just across the border in north Galway is perhaps the finest in the West of Ireland, at Ross Errily.

This first section of the 60km+ Croagh Patrick Heritage Trail almost links Balla round tower with Ballintubber abbey, although a diversion is required. An easy trail, we traverse nice small sections of broadleaf woodland, fields and numerous interesting sights. Unfortunately, almost 50% of the route is on roads, minor as they are.

Balla to ballintubber walk

Mixed woodland at Balla

The abbey at Ballintubber was founded by Cathal Ó Conchobhair, King of Connacht, in 1216 and recently celebrated its 800 years. An abbey of the Augustinian Canons Regular, it was substantially destroyed by Cromwellian forces in 1653, but continued in service while roofless and has been rebuilt, most notably in 1966 to celebrate its 750 years.

Balla to ballintubber walk 2

Ballintubber Abbey

Although by no means a spectacular walk, this 15.5 km from Balla to Ballintubber is nonetheless a pleasant stroll, taking 4 to 5 hours. Along the way, you’ll see ringforts and ruined castles, notably the one at Donamoma. It was here that numerous Gaelic lords submitted to the authority of Richard Bingham, Lord President (Governor) of Connacht, in 1588.

A tougher walk in winter than in summer, due to waterlogged and boggy stretches, this season does, however, bring the additional attraction of numerous turloughs along the way. Mind you, you’re unlikely to keep your feet dry!

Somewhat bizarrely, once you’re at Ballintubber Abbey, you have the choice between two paths if you wish to continue onward towards Croagh Patrick and Murrisk. You can either regain and follow the Croagh Patrick Heritage Trail, or simply depart the abbey on the Tóchar Phádraig.

Balla to Ballintubber Walk

15.5 km; total ascent 88 m; approx. 4.5 hours.

The route is well marked (if not entirely accurately) on OSI Discovery map sheets 31 and 38. You can make do without the latter, as it only covers a little bit of the trail.

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11 Great West of Ireland Pubs

Great West of Ireland Pubs – A Selection

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.

Westport pub

Matt Molloy’s, Westport

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 over here in Connacht 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 Ramble – Doomore to Crockavreen, a Sligo Slog

Ox Mountains Ramble – Doomore to Crockavreen

What a slog that was.

Having consulted Bing Maps online and my OSI 1:50,000 Sheet 24, 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 (G 620 274), 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.

Between the heavy showers, however, the views out across Sligo Bay to Knocknarea, Benbulben and Slieve League beyond were gorgeous.

Doomore Ox Mountains Ramble Sligo Bay

Caiseal below Doobeg. Knocknarea and Belbulben in background.

Descending the far side of Crockavreen, I made a classic mistake of the tired mind. To vary my return, 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 dead end in the middle of the conifer plantation. Nothing for it but to plough through some 400 m of dense plantation forestry to regain height.

Doomore ox mountains ramble

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.

While this was a tough day, it did shine a light on an all-too-rarely encountered phenomenon. Clearly little grazed, the thickness and height of the heather was magnificent to experience. Pity half the mountains seems covered in dreadful monoculture conifers.

Ox Mountains Ramble, Doomore to Crockavreen and back :

12 km; 7 hrs; total climb 500 m.

Sheeffry Hills :

You might also enjoy this account of a day up in the Sheeffry Hills of south Mayo.

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