Westport - Feb2013
I was recently doing some family tree research where the ancestors came from Westport in Co. Mayo and I was reminded of a special weekend I spent there in 2013. So this week’s blog is about that gorgeous town, the drive we took alongside the Greenway out to Achill Island and some of the stunning scenery. Enjoy!
Westport is a smashing town in County Mayo on Ireland's west coast. Located 250 km and about 3hr 15 mins from Dublin, this relatively remote area of Ireland retains its rugged beauty. There's plenty to see and do however around Westport including the Great Western Greenway, Achill Island, Clare Island, Clew Bay with its 365 Islands, Westport House and Croagh Patrick.
We decided to do a Valentine’s weekend in Westport in February 2013 and thoroughly enjoyed a wonderful few days absorbing the landscape. Westport is a lovely small town, but there are plenty of lovely towns and villages in Ireland. What makes this area unique is the landscape, and I'd recommend spending some time absorbing the fresh air - just kick back and relax.
1. Our Hotel
Our hotel was the beautiful Knockranny House Hotel in Westport where we booked the “Two Night B&B One Dinner Package” choosing to stay for dinner the second night too as the food the first night was so good!
The staff couldn't have done more for us, so attentive and friendly. It felt like such a treat. The food in La Fougère was worthy of a Michelin star! The spa was one of the nicest we've ever seen though we didn’t actually use it. The bedroom was spacious and the bar was lovely – a highlight was the local gins! This is what quality Irish hotel hospitality is all about.
2. The Great Western Greenway
On our first full day there we decided to drive along by the Great Western Greenway. Obviously it is really ideal for a cycle but as it was a wintry February day in the West … and we had driven the car from Dublin wanting to explore Achill Island … we drove instead of cycling.
The Greenway however is an old disused train line from Westport to Achill Island which has been converted into the Great Western Greenway - a 42km cycle path leading through some of Ireland's most ruggedly beautiful countryside. Coastline, mountains, bogs, rivers and villages all pass you by on this very well planned cycle path. From what we saw, we were impressed with how well this trail has been done. Being an old railway line its gentle gradients would make it a very enjoyable leisurely cycle, and with villages, cafés & pubs on the route there's no shortage of refuelling spots along the way.
3. Achill Island & the Deserted Village
We continued on to Achill Island. Achill has a long history of human settlement and there is evidence that Achill was inhabited as many as 5,000 years ago. Megalithic tombs and promontory forts testifying to this can be seen at Slievemore, along the Atlantic Drive and on Achill Beg Island. The great thing about Achill is that it is actually accessible by road over the Michael Davitt Bridge, built in 2008 on the site of the original bridge which was constructed in 1887.
On Achill close to Dugort, at the base of Slievemore mountain lies the Deserted Village and that is where we wanted to go. There are approximately 80 ruined houses in the village. The houses were built of unmortared stone, which means that no cement or mortar was used to hold the stones together. Each house consisted of just one room and this room was used as kitchen, living room, bedroom and even stable.
If one looks at the fields around the Deserted Village and right up the mountain, one can see the tracks in the fields of ‘lazy beds’, which is the way crops like potatoes were grown. In Achill, as in many areas of Ireland, a system called ‘Rundale’ was used for farming. This meant that the land around a village was rented from a landlord. This land was then shared by all the villagers to graze their cattle and sheep. Each family would then have two or three small pieces of land scattered about the village, which they used to grow crops.
For many years people lived in the village until 1845, when the Great Famine struck Achill, as it did in the rest of Ireland. Most of the families moved to the nearby village of Dooagh, which is beside the sea, while some others emigrated. Living beside the sea meant that fish and shellfish could be used for food. The village was completely abandoned which is where the name ‘Deserted Village’ came from.
No one has permanently occupied these houses since the time of the Famine, however the families that moved to Dooagh and their descendants, continued to use the village as a ‘booley village’. This means that during the summer season, the younger members of the family, teenage boys and girls, would take the cattle to graze on the hillside and they would stay in the houses of the Deserted Village. This custom continued until the 1940’s.
4. The Pirate Queen, Grace O'Malley
Achill was home to Grace O'Malley, also known as Granuaile, the Pirate Queen. In the 16th century, she was chieftain of the O'Malley clan and has become a very significant figure in Irish Culture and history. Her clan ruled this area of Ireland and were feared seafarers. She was powerful enough to meet and negotiate with Queen Elizabeth I directly in 1593, using Latin as their only common language. Nowadays there's both truth and folklore attached to Granuaile, and for those interested in the history of Ireland then this area has lots of fascinating places to see.
Grace O'Malley's or Kildavnet Castle is actually a 15th century Tower House and is located on the south-eastern shore of Achill Island. The placename literally means “the small church of Davnet” and refers to the 7th century Saint Dympna who built a small church here. Kildavnet Castle is a couple of hundred metres along the shore from the ancient Kildownet Church. This three-storey building stands about 12m (40ft) tall and has buttress fortifications at the top. It is vaulted above the first floor, and a hole at the corner of this vault is the only access to the higher levels. The Tower stands at a strategically important spot, guarding the waters of Achill Sound which links Clew Bay to the south with Blacksod Bay to the north. During the time of Granuaile it was one of several such strongholds that she controlled, including the Tower House on Clare Island and Rockfleet or Carraigahowley Castle near Newport.
Above: Some woolly jumpers on Achill Island - 16 Feb 2013
5. Mulranny, County Mayo
On the way back from Achill, stopped for lunch in the lovely Mulranny Park Hotel. After all the fresh air on Achill, we were gasping for a cup of tea and this place did not disappoint. It was so comfortable we didn’t want to leave. The views outside of Clew Bay are stunning though so we were tempted back to the car.
Mulranny itself also offers stunning panoramic views over the vast seascape of Clew Bay, it’s archipelago of drowned drumlin islands, the vast Nephin mountain range and Bellacragher Bay. You can enjoy a wide range of activities when visiting Mulranny such as walking, golf, sea kayaking, surfing and swimming on the blue flag beaches, shore and sea angling, fine dining and excellent leisure facilities. Mulranny is located 25 minutes from Westport and 15 minutes from both Achill Island and Ballycroy National Park.
6. Croagh Patrick
Croagh Patrick is a distinctive cone shape and is a 764m high mountain where St Patrick himself is said to have spent 40 days of fasting and penance. Croagh Patrick (Irish: Cruach Phádraig, meaning '(Saint) Patrick's stack'), nicknamed 'the Reek', is an important site of pilgrimage.
The mountain has a pyramid-shaped peak and overlooks Clew Bay, rising above the village of Murrisk, several miles from Westport. It has long been seen as a holy mountain. It was the focus of a prehistoric ritual landscape. There has been a church on the summit since the 5th century; the current church dates to the early 20th century. Croagh Patrick is climbed by thousands of pilgrims every year on Reek Sunday, the last Sunday in July, a custom which goes back to at least the Middle Ages. Here is a video I found on YouTube showing Reek Sunday:
7. Clew Bay
Clew Bay itself is one of the most beautiful bays on the whole west coast of Ireland. Dominant mountains surround the bay on both sides, which is full of small islands called Drumlins. These were created as Glaciers from the last ice age 10,000 years ago melted and retreated, leaving small sand and shale islands. They say there's 365 of them, on for every day of the year, though many are no more than a part submerged sandbank. That said though if you've ever wanted to own your own Island then this could be a good place to look, John Lennon even owned one in the 1970s.
8. Westport House
Westport town itself is a busy town that's popular with tourists. Wandering the town and surrounding area is a pleasure, with plenty of interesting places to discover. Between the town centre and waterfront is Westport House, a grand country estate set in large gardens. They have an activity centre & café, and the lakes make a grand setting for the house itself. There is an entrance fee to get up to the house though you can see some of the gardens and lakes for free.
Soon our weekend in Mayo was over and we headed back to Dublin refreshed after our short trip to Mayo. As the song says “the West’s Awake”!!
Bucket List Items Ticked Off in the above Blog 87
Number 59 - Travel - HotelsNumber 60 (b) - Travel - Stay in each of the 32 Counties of Ireland
Other Blog Posts
Blog 11 - Sydney, Australia
Blog 12 - Hong Kong, China
Blog 17 - Beijing, Xi'an & Shanghai, China
Blog 19 - California, USA
Blog 27 - Scotland
Blog 28 - Barbados
Blog 29 - Canada
Blog 30 - Alaska
Blog 31 - Everglades, Florida
Have you ever been to Co. Mayo? Tell me about your experience in the comments section below.
If you liked this post, please share. Sharing is caring 😊
My name is Mary and this is my bucket list blog ...having survived a near-death experience. I hope it encourages you to "live your best life". See how I'm completing my own bucket list items. And let me know how you're getting on with yours!