County Mayo (from the Irish, Contae Mhaigh Eo, meaning “plain of the yew trees”) has a broad and diverse, if select, history.
Perhaps due to its relatively remote geography, the county in ancient times has functioned as a faraway port for only the most ardent travellers; Christianity was introduced to the west of Ireland only by the trenchant determination of St. Patrick; the Roman Empire, which had expanded into Leinster during its conquest of England, never reached Mayo; the Viking invasion of Ireland from Scandinavia in AD 795, where from Dublin to Cork and west to Limerick had derived numerous well-known settlements, left Mayo unscathed; and for several years after it was prohibited by the British government, Irish persisted, unbroken, as the county’s predominant language.
Due also to its remote location, Mayo in particular was badly affected during the Great Famine, which laid waste to the potato (a staple food of 90 percent of the population) and vanquished over 100,000 people either to their graves or to the coffin ships destined for America (as part of Ireland’s mass emigration, which took place between 1845-1850). The National Famine Memorial, a skeletal ship designed by the sculptor John Behan, rests notably to the east of the mid-15th century Augustinian Murrisk Abbey, in the village of Murrisk.
But what about modern Mayo? What about the architecturally anachronistic modern beauty of Westport, perhaps the finest port town in all of Ireland? What about the antiquated and curious village of Cong, which houses several ancient Irish monuments? And what about Achill Island (the largest island off the coast of Ireland), which features a 5,000-year-old neolithic tomb along with an abandoned WW1 observation post and an eerily deserted village? All find their roots in artifact and all are animated by the lives of those who pass through.
Travellers to Mayo are particularly well-advised to spend a little time inWestport, whose steep roads, rising high above the harbour, are positioned to ease drivers “ooh” by “ooh” into its visual splendors, leading down into quaint and often busy streets where shops, cafes and pubs are populated by locals and tourists alike. For containing such a spirited atmosphere during the night, Westport remains fairly casual during the day, which is also the key to its charm.
Unmissable Attractions County Mayo
1. Westport House (Opening times vary from month to month, but generally the house is open from 10.00 a.m. – 6.00 p.m. in summer) Prices: Adults €12.00 / Senior citizens and students €9.00 / Children €6.50 (children under 3 go free)
2. National Museum of Ireland – Country Life (Opening Times: Tuesday to Saturday from 10.00 a.m. – 5.00 p.m. and Sunday from 2.00 p.m. – 5.00 p.m.)
3. The small, rural village of Cong is host to several monuments rooted in Ireland’s ancient past. These include Cong Abbey, which borders County Galway, and the closely connected (within walking distance) sites of Pigeon Hole cave, Captain Webb’s Hole, Cong Stone Circle, Balymacgibbon Cairn and Gods of the Neale
4. Clare Island and Knockmore Mountain are accessible from Clew Bay. Clare Island’s Cistercian Abbey, burial place of Gráinne O’Malley and home to several, rare medieval roof paintings, is located on the south side of the Island one mile from the harbour
5. The window up the stairs of Granuaile’s Castle frames a view of the Atlantic coast unchanged in 500 years
6. The mid-16th century Rockfleet Castle in Newport is open to the public all year round, however, you may need to collect the key from the nearby farm to access it
7. Achill Island, the largest island off the coast of Ireland, features a 5000-year-old neolithic tomb, a WW1 British observation post (on Moytoge Head) and the eerie “Deserted Village” of Slievemore
8. Ceide Fields, the largest Stone Age site in the the world, containing also the oldest known field systems, is at least 5,000 years old
9. Killala village is home to Rathfran Abbey and Rosserk Abbery, Breastagh Ogham Stone and Lackan Bay
11. Ballycroy National Park (Opening Times: Monday to Sunday from 10.00 a.m. – 5.30 p.m. until 30th September)
12. Elly Bay, on the Belmullet peninsula, is a good place to watch for birds and dolphins
13. Quiet Man Museum (Opening Times: Monday to Sunday from 10.00 a.m. – 4.00 p.m. in summer) Prices: Adults €5.00 / Children €4.00 / Senior citizens and students €4.00 / Family €15.00
14. Clew Bay Heritage Museum (Opening times vary according to the time of year) Prices: Adults €3.00 / Children (accompanied) go free / Senior citizens and students €2.00