Ireland

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Coastline of County Mayo

The Spectacular Coastline of County Mayo

From the Killary fjord in the south to the estuary of the River Moy in the north, the coastline of County Mayo is a magnificent mix of awesome cliffs, dry-stone walled fields, blanket bog, mid-sized mountains and stupendous sandy beaches.

Rising to 814m, Mweelrea is Connacht’s highest mountain and stands guard over the southwest of the county. The wonderful views from atop this sandstone and conglomerate mountain include beautiful sandy beaches to its west and the fjord, forming part of the Mayo Galway border, to its south.

Mostly comprised of gorgeous beaches, the low-lying coastline below continues all the way north and around Clew Bay to the Corraun peninsula and Achill Island beyond. This stretch boasts two of the prettiest towns in the county, in bustling Westport and cute little Mulranny with its lovely beaches.

Along the way, catch a ferry at Roonagh (west of Louisburgh) to either Clare Island or Inisturk.

From the top of Croagh Patrick, Ireland’s holy mountain, enjoy views of the nearly 100 islands in the bay below. Clew Bay is among Ireland’s most impressive post-glacial landscapes. Along with countless other drumlins on land, the islands here, often referred to as ‘drowned eggs’, were formed as the dying glaciers entered the open ocean to the west. These glaciers came across Scotland, then Ulster and Connacht, heading in a southwest direction until meeting the Atlantic.

Achill, Ireland’s largest island, is a wonderful walking destination, with Slievemore (671m) and Croaghaun (688m), both schist, the highlights. The latter has lost its western half, long since collapsed into the North Atlantic below, resulting in Ireland’s highest cliffs. If you fancy a hike, go visit Lough Annagh, Ireland’s lowest lake, perched just metres above the sea level on Achill’s unroaded north coast.

North of Achill and Corraun, we enter the little visited but beautiful barony of Erris. Take some time at Ballycroy National Park visitor centre and discover the flora and fauna of our Atlantic blanket bog landscapes.

The finest beaches in the county are waiting to be discovered along The Mullet peninsula, beyond Béal an Mhuirthead (Belmullet) in the far northwest of Mayo. Walking on sand from Cross beach to Eachléam, look out to St. Brendan’s Inishglora, where the Children of Lir lie, and the twin islands of Iniskea to its south.

coastlinbe of county mayo iniskea north

Iniskea North Island, with thanks to Damian McDonagh, a guest on one of my guided trips

From Belmullet, head yet further north, to find the finest sustained sea cliff scenery in Ireland. Placenames like An Ceathrú Thaidhg, Porturlin, Portacloy, Belderg and Céide call you to this extraordinary landscape of blanket bog that runs right to the cliff tops, before falling vertiginously to the foam below. At Benwee Head (sandstone), the cliffs are 255m high and offer wonderful views over the ocean to the remote Stags of Broadhaven (schist) beyond.

Straight across the road from the Céide Fields, the oldest field system in the world, a nice viewing platform gives great views of the stratified rock in the vertical cliff faces. These layers of sandstones, limestones and shale are also wonderfully evident at nearby Dún Briste.

coastline of county mayo downpatrick head

Dún Briste sea stack at Downpatrick Head

Further eastwards, the cliffs give way to beaches and fertile fields, where the ruined Moyne and Rosserk Abbeys may be visited. Beyond lies the lovely town of Ballina, built on the famous salmon fishery that is the River Moy. With its pleasant Belleek Forest on the bank of the estuary, this fine town brings to an end our quickfire tour of the beautiful coastline of our County Mayo.

Coastline of County Mayo – Highlights

Ireland’s third largest county, Mayo boasts the longest coastline of any in the country. There are endless things to see and visit, but here are some I’ve picked out for you.

1 National Park : Ballycroy

2 Mountains : Mweelrea and Croaghaun

2 Woodlands : Old Head, Belleek Forest

2 Castles : Those of Gráinne Uí Mháille at Carrickahowley and Kildavnet

3 Towns : Westport, Belmullet and Ballina

3 Islands : Inisturk, Iniskea North, Inishglora

3 Pubs : Matt Molloy’s (Westport), McDonnell’s (Belmullet), Úna’s (Blacksod)

5 Beaches : Mulranny, Keel, Keem, Cross, Lacken

coastline of county mayo benwee head

Benwee Head, with the Stags of Broadhaven in the background

5 Cliffs, accessible without a long hike : Far side of Inisturk, above Keem Bay, Benwee Head, Céide, Downpatrick Head

5 Abbeys : Murrisk, Burrishoole, Rathfran, Moyne, Rosserk

Get in your car or, even better, on your bike and enjoy this wonderful coastline of County Mayo at your leisure.

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Wildflowers on Walking Holidays

I took the following photos over a 500 m stretch of West of Ireland coastal countryside last weekend, while out on a walk. I love finding wildflowers in their natural habitat, whether that be the expansive blanket bogs, small remnants of old oak woodland, along cliff tops or on the bare limestone landscape of the Burren and less known, secluded parts of Mayo and Connemara.

Ireland, and the West in particular, is short on the variety of wildflowers you might encounter. We’re not in the south of France here !That’s partly because of being an island and, of course, partly because of the West’s wind and rain lashed vast blanket bog landscapes. Nevertheless, there are certain places and times of the summer when there is an abundance of gorgeous wildflowers in this part of the world too.

Indeed, my own small garden, with its wonderful Ash and Whitethorn dominated wild hedge, boasts Field Rose, Wild Strawberry (complete with fruit at the moment), Heath Spotted Orchid, Bird’s Foot Trefoil, Herb Robert and more wildflowers.

But it’s out and about that the most interesting wildflowers are to be found. So, on my 500 m stretch last weekend, I found the following :

Sea Radish, Sea Thrift, Sea Bindweed, Bloody Crane’s Bill, Sea Campion, Broomrape, Common Mallow, Knotted Pearlwort, Honeysuckle, Ox Eye Daisy, Bird’s Foot Trefoil, O’Kelly’s Spotted Orchid, Yellow Iris and more. Bliss. I love that moment when you realise that you’re seeing a flower you haven’t come across before, or perhaps a finer specimen than you’ve ever had previously.

I regularly post photos of wildflowers on my Twitter account, so why not follow me here. Indeed, if you are looking for help with wildflower identification in Ireland, then consult Zoe Devlin’s Wildflowers of Ireland site. It’s excellent. So if you’re new to wildflowers, you know the mantra : just get out there !

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Walking Tours Season Begins – Off We Go Again !

And so another walking tours season kicks off ! Today sees the arrival of my first walking group of 2012. I’m bringing them up to the wild and majestic northwest corner of Mayo – to the Mullet peninsula and its fabulous cliff-top walks. I’m sure they’ll enjoy themselves, even in this early March weather.

Walking tours Ireland

Majestic Mayo

I know this is going to be a great year. The entire month of August is already booked out with walking tours, as is the first half of June. Days are being blocked in July and all looks good from here.

We in Ireland’s western regions need to put our very best foot forward when competing for a slice of the international walking (and general outdoor activities) market. We’re competing with destinations that can boast dry, warm weather, more or less all year round. What a pity it was, then, when I overheard a lady from Kerry tell some potential tourists to Ireland last week that travelling north of Galway was “not interesting”. How misinformed and disingenuous. Yes, we have fewer tourists in this part of the country than down in the better-known southwest, but perhaps our offer is all the better for that.

So here’s my simple proposal. Come here to the wilds of the true West – Connemara and Mayo. Sample one of our guided walking tours of this wonderful part of Ireland. You’ll meet far fewer tourists and enjoy real interaction with the locals in this lesser-known region of the West. Then, if you wish, go home and tell your friends and relatives it was “not interesting”. I doubt it.

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Welcome to 2012

December saw me take on three good hikes in the off-season.

I had a specific reason for revisiting The Bangor Trail from the Bangor end on Dec 21st, the shortest day of the year. While on ‘The Walk of Hope’ with the fabulous people of Foxford Ramblers Walking Club the previous Saturday, two companions from Bangor had told me of works being carried out on the Trail that they weren’t at all happy with. I just had to investigate, fearful of another example of environmental vandalism by public bodies.

Hillwalking in the west of Ireland

The Walk of Hope, with Foxford Ramblers Walking Club

But first, back to Foxford. Jim Murray and his colleagues had organised a charity walk for Sat, Dec 17th, in aid of Hope House in Foxford. It was an excellent 16 km walk over the lowish Mayo foothills of the Ox Mountains, from Bonniconlon back to Foxford. Towards the end of the walk was a superb wetlands area, with rushes, streams and three small lakes I need to re-investigate some time this year.

The walk was led by Taoiseach, Enda Kenny and we had lovely weather, save for one rough enough hailstone storm. A good 80 walkers took part and it was most enjoyable. Find out about Hope House here and Foxford Ramblers Walking Club here. A great day !

 

Walking holidays in Ireland

The Bangor Trail

The following Wednesday, I hiked from Bangor to the Tarsaghaunmore River on The Bangor Trail and back (8 km one-way). On the day that was in it, I knew I wouldn’t get any further by dusk and didn’t really fancy hiking after dark. All was going swimmingly until near the bridge, where I discovered the work to which the Bangor people had referred.

A bit of history : a number of interested parties, including NPWS and the local Leader company, had attended a meeting in late 2010 to discuss what should be done about the waterlogged nature of much of The Trail. I was decidedly on the “leave it alone” side of the discussions. My understanding of the outcome of this meeting was that only streams crossing the Trail would be boardwalked and / or drained and the remainder left as is. Instead, what I saw in December was both boardwalking and drainage work where there is no need whatsoever for either. Or to put it another way, if they deem work necessary on that section, then they’ll deem it necessary almost anywhere. The fear now is that this type of work will be carried out way in excess of what is required, threatening to ruin the uniqueness of this place.

Walking guide in Ireland

Lugnaquilla, Co. Wicklow

Between Christmas and New Year, I joined my brother-in-law for a hike up Wicklow’s Lugnaquilla, Ireland’s highest mountain outside Kerry. We came from the Glen of Imaal side, heading up by Dwyer’s statue. The walk (6.5 km one-way) was really easy, taking just under 2 hours to the 925 m high summit. It snowed on us for part of the hike and we unfortunately had no view when we reached the top.

It’s a hike I must try to do again this summer, but from the more difficult eastern side, because the Glen of Imaal approach is just a walk up a not-very-demanding slope. Indeed, many Mayo or Connemara mountains, of only 500 m height demand much more physical effort than this did.

She took and kissed the first flower once

and sweetly said to me :

‘This flower comes from the Wicklow hills,

dew wet and pure’, said she,

‘It’s name is Michael Dwyer,

the strongest flower of all.

But I’ll keep it fresh beside my breast,

though all the world should fall.’

[Na Trí Bláthanna / The Three Flowers (trad.)]

All said, an excellent December to finish off 2011. Now for 2012. Get in touch if you’d like to join one of my guided hillwalking weekends in Mayo.

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The Mullet Peninsula, Mayo

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A Tourism Without Visiting ?

Okay, so the headline isn’t altogether precise.

What I really mean is, should we not be moving to a type of tourism, in which the visitor doesn’t necessarily get to actually visit everything he or she has come for ? By that, I mean not get to walk on or in the “main attraction”. Or at least, part of it.

The world’s national parks and nature reserves seem to be ever more opened to development. Headlines are all across the internet of “ABC Corp opens $ 300 m resort in XYZ nature reserve”, etc.

I find it can work just as well to introduce a place to people, then bring them so far, explain why we’re not going any further and move away. An example of this would be Tern breeding grounds on pebble beaches. Another would be  seal breeding beaches. Yet another would be delicate wetland habitats.

Sometimes, we come across board walks, for example jutting out into wetlands, so the humans can encroach that bit more and get a better ‘feel’ for the place. But do we need them ? Wouldn’t it be just as good to walk simply to the edge and have a knowledgeable expert explain what goes on inside ? Or perhaps build a sensitively designed, maybe somewhat camouflaged low watch tower on that edge ?

Do we need to place candles inside those 2,000 + year old cairns atop the remote hill ? Maybe we should stop 5 m short of the entrance and simply wonder at the magnificence.

Visiting – yes, but in part and not at all costs.

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