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    Mayo Travel Guide

    By Dawn Rainbolt, PR Manager
    More by Dawn

    Rugged Mayo

    Remote. Rugged. Rustic. Mountainous.

    Mayo is not on many tourist routes. The road to the coast is winding and narrow. Sometimes, that road has grass growing down the middle and hedgerows framing the narrow lanes.

    Mayo’s towns and villages are quaint and bustling, and they offer a glimpse into a different era, but they aren’t well known. Crumbling abbeys erupt from green fields, and prehistoric sites are hidden innocuously in rural Mayo’s tangled hedges and thick grasses. Mayo is also home to a number of holy places, including Croagh Patrick, Ireland’s holy mountain, Knock Shrine, and Tochar Phadraig, or St Patrick’s Way, one of Ireland’s caminos.

    From the remote bogs and wild headlands of the north to the busy towns in the middle to the majestic mountains slipping down the dramatic slopes of Killary Fjord to the south, Mayo is a mighty place, beckoning adventurers of all walks of life to explore its wonders.

    Where is Mayo?

    Though a large county by Irish standards, much of Mayo is remote and sparsely populated, particularly Mayo’s west coast.

    The main entry point to Mayo is Ireland West Airport, commonly known as Knock Airport. There are regular train services from Dublin to the Mayo towns of Ballina and Westport, and BusEireann operates several semi-regular lines. There are some local buses, but they are irregular and, unfortunately, unreliable.

    As always, the best way to get around rural Ireland is by car. There are rental car options available at Knock Airport as well as in Dublin and other airports and population centres, or you can choose to travel with a driver/guide on a group or private guided tour, taking the stress out of navigating.

    How to Visit

    Mayo is a large county in terms of area but sparsely populated. Located on Ireland’s western shores, Westport is just under four hours from Dublin, with eastern Mayo about three hours. The most rural regions – Bellmullet, Achill Islands, Delphi – are over four hours by car from the capital.

    This means you should plan plenty of time to travel to and around Mayo as the roads are not the fastest or most direct.

    There are trains from Dublin to Westport, Castlebar, Claremorris, and Ballina. However, car travel is the only option if you plan to leave these relatively small towns to visit breathtaking but remote rural areas.

    Foxford Woolen Mills

    Foxford Wool

    Operating since 1892, Foxford Woolen Mills is an institution in the Irish textile industry. Though an industry that is sadly declining, Foxford remains a beacon of wool, linen, homeware, and clothing.

    Founded by Mother Agnes and taking advantage of the fast-flowing waters to build her mill, Foxford is a name respected throughout Ireland. Throws, scarves, blankets and more are woven at Foxford Mill using traditional lambswool and merino to luxurious mohair and cashmere.

    Read more about sheep, wool, and textiles on our Irish Culture page. 

    Read More

    St Patrick at Croagh Patrick Mountain.

    St Patrick

    One of Ireland’s three patron saints (alongside St Brigid and St Columcille), St Patrick is certainly the most famous and well-loved. While he has left his mark across Ireland, Mayo has a particularly strong connection with the venerated man.

    St Patrick is famously said to have climbed Ireland’s holy mountain, Croagh Patrick, spending 40 days and nights fasting in the tiny chapel at its summit. He also has connections to Mam Ean, a desolately beautiful pass roughly translating to the Pass of the Birds.

    St Patrick is credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland in the 5th century. Today, he has become an icon and symbol of Ireland, and he lends his name to the world-renowned St Patrick’s Day festival, celebrated worldwide on March 17th.

    Read more about St Patrick’s Day and the man himself in our guide.

    Read More

    A boardwalk over a grassy bog leading to a triangular shaped visitor centre

    Ceide Fields

    Ceide Fields – Ancient Mayo

    At first glance, the Ceide Fields might not be a whole lot to look at. But it is what’s underneath these seemingly ordinary fields that is fascinating.

    Dating back 6,000 years on the cusp of the Mesolithic and Neolithic eras, the coastal spot contains the oldest known stone-walled fields in Ireland. Discovered in the 1930s by a turf cutter and his son, an archaeologist, the pair discovered a site brimming with ancient walls, houses, and tombs, unearthing one of Ireland’s oldest inhabited sites.

    Today, you can visit the site, walking modern elevated boardwalks that follow the ancient paths through the bog, while the interpretive centre brings this ancient site to life.

    Interested in ancient Ireland? Check out our series on the topic here.

    Read More

    Deserted Village – Slievemore © Failte Ireland

    Slievemore Village & Boolaying

    Though practised in a number of places across rural Ireland, perhaps the most famous spot where boolaying was used was on Achill Island off the coast of northern Mayo.

    So, what is it? Boolaying involved summer and winter grazing spots, driving the cattle into the hills to graze in the summer and down for the winter. This semi-nomadic lifestyle led the farmers to build “boolay” villages in the hills for their summer habitations.

    When the practice was abandoned in the 19th and 20th centuries, so were the villages. None is more famous than the eerie, mist-cloaked Slievemore Village, a hauntingly beautiful spot.

    Grace O’Malley Castle, Clare Island ©Tourism Ireland

    The Pirate Queen

    The Pirate Queen Granuaile, or Grace O’Malley as many know her, is a 15th-century legendary and indomitable force hailing from Co Mayo. For over three decades, this impressive figure dominated the seas from Clew Bay to Galway Bay on Ireland’s west coast from her headquarters on Clare Island. While some of her business engaged in trade and fishing, she is remembered for her piracy.

    Despite Irish laws being less oppressive than English ones, Granuaile faced property loss upon marriage under English rule. Thus, she took to the sea, commanding a fleet of galleys and smaller vessels to levy tolls, raid ships, and plunder unattended boats, embodying the era’s opportunistic piracy in Ireland.

    She even famously stood up to the Queen of England – one powerful woman to another. Legend has it that they actually secretly admired each other.

    Learn more about the legendary Pirate Queen in our folklore series. 

    Read More

    Hiking Mweelrea Mountain - Connemara

    Mweelrea Mountain. Photo credit: Duncan Warner

    Summit Mweelrea

    The highest mountain in western/northwestern Ireland, Mweelrea is a difficult climb. At 814m (2,71ft) high, Mweelrea is characterised by its muddy and rough terrain, steep ridge, dramatic crags and sharp winds.

    The views from the top are stunning on a clear day, but this challenging route should only be attempted by experienced hikers or those travelling with a guide. Even then, traverse on days with good visibility. The out-and-back trail is 6.5 miles long (10km), but its height makes it popular, so you’ll at least meet a few other like-minded hikers out on the hills with you.

    Want to hike this hill? Join us on a hiking tour of Connemara and Mayo and summit the impressive Mweelrea.

    View Trip

    Westport town

    Visit Westport

    A colourful and vibrant town, Westport is a quintessential Irish market town. Full of artisan shops, lively pubs, busy cafes, bookshops, and more, it’s easy to while away the day in Westport.

    Westport is an ideal base from which to explore Mayo. Full of amenities and managing to be a bustling place while retaining small-town vibes, you’ll find plenty of options here. It’s also the start of the Greenway, a car-free biking path to Achill Island (see below).

    Picturesque and charming, admire the stone bridge, the colourful streets, and the iconic clock tower. But the best thing in Westport isn’t the sightseeing – it’s the shopping and the cafes. After a week in the wilds of Ireland, Westport offers a welcome opportunity to chat with the locals, stock up on ‘made in Ireland’ souvenirs and watch the craftspeople at work on their wares.

    Clare Island Hiking

    Hiking on Clare Island

    Island Hopping

    If islands are your thing, you are sure to love Mayo. There are numerous small, sparsely populated (or uninhabited) isles in Mayo. From Clare Island to Inisturk, Iniskea (north and south), not to mention Achill Island (below), the coasts of Mayo offer plenty of island escapes.

    Clare Island is forever intertwined with the Pirate Queen, though it’s great for hiking too, and has a really cool exclusive use lighthouse-turned-boutique-hotel on the island.

    But for true wilderness, a visit to Inisturk or either of the Iniskeas is required. Windblown, quiet, and pristine, these islands offer a respite away from the modern world. Read more about the islands of Mayo and nearby Connemara on our west coast island guide below.

    Read More

    Hiking on Achill Island.

    Achill Island

    Connected by a bridge, Achill Island is very accessible to visitors. Explore the Pirate Queen’s heritage at her ruined castle, walk the white sands of Achill’s numerous beaches, enjoy steaming fish n’ chips on the coast, and climb the challenging hike to the summit of some of Europe’s highest sea cliffs.

    The beaches are beautiful and the fish is fresh, but to really gain an understanding of Achill and what 19th-century life was like in for its islanders, you’ll have to visit the abandoned village of Slievemore. Hike along the well-trod rocky path to the ruins from the village of Keel. Once there, wander the ruins of the 80+ tumbledown cottages, all that’s left from the people who once grazed their cattle in these hills.

    End the day by enjoying a cosy pint in front of a roaring fire or cheery stove at one of the island’s pubs, toasting to a successful day adventuring.

    Green cliffs sloping into azure seas

    Carrowteige, Co. Mayo

    Carrowteige Headland

    Rugged and hauntingly beautiful, Carrowteige Headland in northwestern Mayo is the place to go to get away from the world. Empty, windblown hills that slip into steep cliffs ending in the swirling Atlantic. Taste the salt spray of the wind, listen to the cry of the gulls and crash of the waves on the horizon.

    Walk the loop around the headland, dodging curious sheep and imagining the challenges life brought to those who once lived out here in this remote place. A relatively easy eight-kilometre walk, follow the headland over rough terrain along the cliffs before looping back around on the narrow laneways to the hike’s standing point.

    For folklore lovers, learn about the tragic story of the Children of Lir, who were destined to spend hundreds of years cursed to appear as swans on this spot.

    Rathfran Abbey in Mayo.

    The Friaries of North Mayo

    North Mayo has a march of monasteries located along its coastline. Cultural-minded visitors can visit the well-preserved two-story ruins of Rosserk Friary, as well as Rathfram Abbey and Moyne Abbey, among others.

    Scattered along the River Moy in north Mayo, discover several impressive stone abbeys in Mayo, sometimes called locally as the Monasteries of the Moy.

    One of the most notable monasteries is Rosserk Friary, a Franciscan friary built in 1460 by the prominent Joyce family. Other abbeys comprising this heritage stretch include Moyne Abbey, Rathfran Abbey, and other heritage sites. This monastery-studded region is now part of a 14km greenway and cycle route between Ballina and Killala.

    Two hikers on the shores of Killary fjord with dramatic mountains

    Killary Fjord & aquaculture

    Killary Fjord Aquaculture

    One of three fjords in Ireland, Killary is the most famous. It’s a hiker’s paradise, with sloping hills that fall into the sea – many still scarred with potato ridges from famine times, dramatic ocean views and a distinctly Scandinavian feel.

    The fjord is known for its aquaculture, producing a plethora of shellfish. Whether you choose to do the famine walk along the fjord shores or head out on the water to see the mussels and oysters up close, Killary has plenty of things to discover.

    Downpatrick Head in Mayo – a giant sea stack off the coast

    Down Patrick Head in Co. Mayo

    Downpatrick Head

    Once connected to the mainland, this free-standing sea stack is as dramatic as it is precarious. A photographer’s paradise, the sea stack rising from the swirling sea along Mayo’s northern coastline, a stone’s throw from the Ceide fields.

    There were once people living on it, and when the natural bridge collapsed, had to be rescued with a complex combination of ropes, ladders and boats. Located close to the Ceide Fields Visitor Centre and not far off the northern coast road, Downpatrick Head is a lovely stop, perfect for a walk, photo op and picnic.

    For Hikers

    Mweelrea

    The highest mountain on Ireland’s west coast, Mweelrea rises 814 metres above sea level. The terrain is boggy and uneven, the route rugged, the summit challenging, and the views to die for. Mweelrea is the ideal centrepiece hike for outdoor enthusiasts visiting Ireland’s west coast. This 10 km/6 mile hike is not for the faint-hearted and requires good boots, waterproof clothing, and a solid sense of navigation. Though a popular route, the best way to summit the mountain is with a local guide (learn more here).

    Croagh Patrick

    Ireland’s Holy Mountain, Croagh Patrick is associated with St Patrick. The patron saint of Ireland is said to have summited this mountain in medieval times, spending 40 days and 40 nights fasting on the mountaintop. Today, there’s a cheery white chapel at the wind-blown summit. The views along the coast are gorgeous, but take care – the main route is quite eroded and can be quite slippery. While most visitors simply climb this famous peak for the views, there are some who do it for religious reasons, particularly on Reek Sunday in July. Read more about St Patrick, Croagh Patrick, and Mayo here.

    Carrowteige Headland

    A more accessible, coastal option for those who want to explore the wilds of Mayo without tackling a mountain, Carrowteige is a quiet, wild, windswept headland. The 8 km (5 miles) loop is relatively easy but very remote, offering s sense of wilderness without requiring a change in elevation. The area is home to strange folklore, interesting history, and very few people – perfect for immersing yourself in the destination.

    Ballycroy / Wild Nephin Visitor Centre

    One of Ireland’s six national parks, Ballycroy (also known as Wild Nephin) National Park stretches across 15,000 hectares of uninhabited and unspoilt wilderness in western Mayo. Dominated by the Nephin Beg mountain range, start at the visitor centre for a park overview, then head out on one of the mountain or coastal trails (learn more here). At night, Ballycroy offers some epic stargazing under this dark sky part of Mayo (learn more about Ireland’s dark skies here).

    Killary Famine Trail

    Following the contour of Killary Fjord on the southern side (so technically not Mayo…), one of Ireland’s three fjords, the out-and-back famine walk follows the dark remains of a “famine road” – relief work created for the poor and starving during the Great Hunger of the 1850s which saw Ireland lose over two million people to starvation or immigration. The linear walk starts from Rosroe Pier and runs for 16km (10 miles), requiring a second car to bring you back to the start (learn more here).

    Bangor Trail – Nephin Begs

    For those who crave wilderness, there’s no better place than hiking the Bangor Trail. Running 26 km (14 miles), it is reputed to be one of Ireland’s most challenging. Deep bogs and icy streams, rough ground, and steep hills abound – and there’s no turnoff to shorten the route. Its isolated location also conjured up tales of mayhem and murder, of cottages abandoned during the Great Hunger or evicted to make room for grazing sheep, or of revolutionaries and ancient burials. Remote, wild, and lonely, the Bangor Trail is ideal for getting off the grid.

    For Cyclists

    The Great Western Greenway

    The Great Western Greenway

    Running from Westport to Achill Island for almost 50 kilometres (30 miles), the Great Western Greenway – often simply called ‘the Greenway’ – was Ireland’s very first greenway. Since its success, many other greenways have been built, designed, or proposed. Starting in the cheery town of Westport and zipping along to Achill Island, biking the Great Western Greenway is a great way to combine activity with culture. It’s family-friendly and perfect for leisure cyclists as it’s a scenic, car-free route. Learn more about it on their website here.

    For Paddlers

    Paddling in Clew Bay

    Kayaking in Clew Bay

    Whether you are a paddling enthusiast looking to try your hand at exploring Ireland by water, you’re fascinated by the stories surrounding the Pirate Queen, are a keen birdwatcher, are interested in spotting the wildlife that calls Clew Bay home, or you simply want to discover the coastal stretches of Mayo by water, kayaking in Clew Bay is a great active pursuit.

    Towns of Mayo

    Westport Read More

    Mayo’s most popular town, the small, cheerful market town of Westport is a great base for a visit to County Mayo. Colourful, vibrant, and lively, there are many shops, cafes, pubs, restaurants, and streets to explore. It’s also the starting point for the Great Western Greenway for those who are interested in cycling.

    Ballina Read More

    Ballina is further off the tourist track, but it’s a lively small town on the banks of the River Moy. Anyone visiting north Mayo will likely pass by this small town.

    Castlebar Read More

    The capital and largest town of Mayo, Castlebar is still a small place. The downtown of Castlebar is pretty far off the tourist trail, though the nearby Museum of Country Life offers a fascinating look at life, culture, and belief in rural Ireland. Curated by the National Museums of Ireland, it is the only branch outside of Dublin and well worth a visit for anyone interested in what life was like for those living outside of cities in Ireland’s past.

    Folklore in Mayo

    The Children of Lir

    Mayo Connection: Carrowteige

    This is the tale of a good king and a jealous stepmother, of family feuds, power grabs, and magic used for malice. Find out how the Children of Lir ended up cursed to live as a swan for 900 years in our folklore off the coast of Mayo’s Carrrowtiege, among other places, in our folklore story here.

    Read More

    The Legendary Pirate Queen

    Mayo Connection: Clew Bay

    The Pirate Queen was a legendary and quasi-mythical force who ruled the seas of Galway and Mayo for more than three decades during the 16th century and who even took on the Queen of England – and didn’t technically lose. Learn more about this incredible woman here.

    Read More

    Mayo FAQs

    Why visit Mayo? Read More

    One of Ireland’s largest counties by area, it also one of the least populated regions of the island. If you’re looking for the rugged and the remote, Mayo is for you. With 1,168 kilometres (or 726 miles)  of coastline, a host of tiny islands, a national park, dozens of ancient sites, and some of Ireland’s most remote hills and mountains, Mayo is perfect for those who love the outdoors.

    What are the main towns of Mayo? Read More

    The main towns of Mayo are Westport, Ballina, Castlebar, Knock, and Newport.

    How long does it take to visit Mayo? Read More

    It depends. While you could drive through the county in a few hours, you could also spend several days exploring the hidden nooks and crannies of Ireland. We recommend you spend at least 2-3 days to explore the coasts, hills and islands of Mayo.

    How big is Co. Mayo? Read More

    Mayo is 5,588 km² which is 2,157 miles² or 1,380,825 acres. Though a large region by Irish standards, this makes it about the same size as the US state of Delaware.

    Is Mayo in Connacht? Read More

    Yes! There are four historic provinces of Ireland: Munster (south), Leinster (east), Ulster (north), and, of course, Connacht (west). Connacht encompasses Mayo, Sligo, Leitrim, Roscommon, and Galway.

    Visit Mayo on Ireland's West Coast

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    Meet the Author: Dawn Rainbolt

    American by birth but European in spirit, Dawn has called the US, Costa Rica, Spain, England, Poland, France and now Ireland home over the years. While she has travelled to more than 30 countries, she has fallen in love with the rich Irish culture and sweeping landscapes of Ireland. Armed with a Masters Degree in Tourism Marketing and a love of writing and photography, she is Wilderness Ireland's Marketing Executive since 2017.

    View profile More by Dawn

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