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Touring the Wesht in summer 2023

Updated: Aug 9, 2023

Our aunt’s first anniversary mass was being held in Clonaslee Church, Co Laois on Sunday May 28th, 2023. We opted to attend and spend some time visiting elderly relatives around the area on Saturday 27th.


After all the chat we headed to Tullamore, where we were staying for the night. We had some food and respite and managed a walk around town to stretch the legs. It was abuzz with people as the train disgorging Offaly GAA supporters was just home. They were defeated by Carlow and were heading off to drown their sorrows and rid themselves of their shock defeat by lesser minions.

On Sunday morning we were up early to be on time for the 10 o’clock Mass in Clonaslee. Having manoeuvred several narrow roads, we arrived at the church for the gathering of the clan for the 1st anniversary mass. It was a lovely event followed by a turkey and ham brunch followed by a feast of desserts in a first cousin's house which was enjoyed and much appreciated by all. After several photo calls and lots of chat we steered the Hybrid in the Westport direction.

We had a stretch of the legs and snack time in Ballyhaunis arriving in beautiful Knockranny House Hotel in late evening. We checked in, came down to the bar, had some food and went for a walk downtown in a very warm beautiful evening in Westport.

Next morning, we were booked in for a 9.30 breakfast and as I sat down acquainting myself with the surroundings, I noted some dietary changes in the breakfasts being eaten. The full Irish seems to have been relegated to the third division in choice of chosen food to start the day. Lighter nibbles seemed to be in pole position for choice of breakfast.

We were joined at breakfast by two pescarians whom I found interesting. He was a research scientist and had studied healthy living for years. I asked him if this was his career area of research and he delivered himself of ten-minute dissertation on the use and development of fibre optics in communications. It was one way traffic conversation with never a chance of interruption to discuss the merits or demerits of Mayo football.

I left the table and went straight for a fruit bowl with Greek style yogurt topped up with raspberry and strawberry compote. This was a most satisfying healthy starter. I followed this with some scrambled egg and local smoked salmon which hit all the right spots. Our newly found friend also told me about his poached egg and avocado with smoked salmon and some other variations on the theme.

On the final day of our weeklong break, I gorged myself on sausage, rasher, and egg to fortify myself for the long road home to Gorey.

DAY ONE: On day one in the west, we drove to Newport and went walkabout where we met a local woman who was full of chat, gossip, and inquisitiveness. Having given her our CV she told us to make sure, we visited the statue of Grace Kelly before we left, which we did and took the obligatory photos.

We also knew a person from Newport, and she gave us her address and our newfound Newport tour guide told us that we would be passing her house on our way and to make sure we called in which we did and had a lovely time with Jackie, her mother and three children.

She told us about her uncle’s pub, and we called in to Nevin's lovely roadside diner for some very tasty refreshments and a welcome hour’s respite watching the world go by in lovely Mayo.

One of my favourite places was Achill where we rested at Beautiful Keel Beach. Here we met a family who were on holidays from London, and they were just adoring Mayo and its lovely beaches.

I noted that the beaches we stopped in were on the side of the road and were easily accessed. They also had easily accessible public toilets with wheelchair facilities.

We just had to see and experience Keem beach. We were warned that you needed a good head for heights if you wanted to visit here. That was so true, as I found out when we drove up a long narrow winding road at the edge of the sea with breath-taking views of the wild Atlantic until Keem Beach emerged below us. This was a real gem at the tip of Achill. It is one of the top ten beaches in Ireland.

It was lovely to see it and we dallied a while, took the photos, and filled our lungs with pure unpolluted Atlantic air. Having enjoyed this real gem of a hideaway the major problem was that we had to traverse the same windy road back down the mountain to get out. We stayed on at another little spot in the car park to make sure this idyllic setting was firmly transplanted in and totally absorbed by our brains.

Today we also stopped off at the Spanish Armada viewing point on The Currane Peninsula to look out towards Clare Island and acquaint ourselves with the details of the wrecking of the 26-gun ship San Nicholas Prodaneli in 1588 with a crew of 355 men. We read all the details on the very nice plaque erected to commemorate this huge historic event which occurred at the mouth of Clew Bay.

Sadly, it was back to base leaving such peace and tranquillity behind us. We were compensated with a beautiful evening meal of salmon and roast veggies washed down by some Chilean Sauvignon Blanc and a night-time stroll around the hotel grounds.

DAY TWO: Today we were determined to visit Blacksod and so were up for our 9 am date for breakfast of fruit salad, smoked salmon and poached egg with juice and toasted brown bread.

Our first stop was Ballycroy National Park which has a newly developed Visitor centre which houses an interpretative exhibition of the landscapes, habitats and species found in the huge 15000 hectares of uninhabited blanket bog with The Nephin Beg mountains dominating the background. After viewing the exhibition, we had some lunch in their café and had a stroll on the mountain.

Now we headed out on the N59 on to Bangor taking a left turn there as we head up to the thriving town of Belmullet. We have a brief respite there before heading down to picturesque Illy’s Bay and finally on to our next port of call which was Blacksod Bay. This area is so steeped in folklore and tragedy. As you drive in you notice the circular plaque on the wall from the members of Ballyglass unit of The Irish Coast guards commemorating 4 of their members who recently lost their lives in rescue missions in this area.

Design plans were first submitted for the historic Blacksod lighthouse in 1863.Construction began in1864 and completed in 1865 at a cost of £2440.and it shone its warning light for the first time in June 1866. It was electrified in May 1967 over 100 years later.

During its time it was also used as the local post office and met office. Indeed, it was the weather forecast from here on June 4th, 1944, forecasting bad weather sent by Ted Sweeney that influenced the D Day landings which were scheduled for June 5th. Ted forecast a break in the weather for June 6th and so Operation Overlord commenced.

We looked out at Inishkea North and south islands. We learned that there were 27 houses there in 1821 census with 157 inhabitants.

By 1926 There were 297 inhabitants with 141 on Inishkea South Island and 156 on The North Island.

At the end of the last century the Norwegians set up a whaling station in Rusheen a small islet off Inishkea south. It was called Arranmore whaling because it was meant to go to Donegal, but the islanders there did not want it. Commercial whaling was banned in 1904 and the station in Mayo closed down in 1913.

We were totally absorbed in Blacksod when our London acquaintance told us to visit the granite area because stone from here had been used to build The British Houses of Parliament and 10 Downing Street.

We betook ourselves off to view the noted granite areas after viewing helicopter landing areas and other old buildings in ancient Blacksod Bay.

We headed up a narrow local road until we arrived at Deirbhles Twist which was made by Sculptor Michael Bulfin in 1993 when he raised the existing granite boulders and placed them in an ascending spiral. The stone is the landscape here and he just rearranged it. He named it after St Deirbhle, a sixth century saint whose church and well are just 1Km away from here. We just loved the starkness and true beauty of this rugged remote landscape. Now it was time to retrace our steps and get back to better roads which we did with some guidance from friendly locals who told us that we were really in true Mayo territory.

We headed back on some tricky roads to Belmullet and on to Bangor and Crossmolina. Then we made the big decision to head down the R315 to such lovely places as Lahardaun, Pontoon, Ross, skirting Castlebar Islandeady and finally Westport, ravenous but delighted with our day. I would not recommend R315 for the faint hearted or if you are in a hurry.

Back at base we dined in the restaurant looking out at Croagh Patrick in beautiful summer weather. This life is easy living.

Day 5: We were up early today and found a nice quiet corner for a quickie breakfast as we did not want to waste too much time on civilities because we wanted to be on the road early to head for The Céide fields in Ballycastle in North Mayo.

We came down the driveway from the hotel and took a right turn heading out on to the main Castlebar Road on the N5 passing Turlough and Ballyvary where we took the N58 heading for beautiful Foxford and its historic mills where we stopped a while to visit. It is a charming place with huge supplies of rugs, throws, agus a lán rudaí eile nach iad. There is also a very well stocked shop with lots of artisan jams, sauces, breads, and lots more in addition to a lovely restaurant with a wide range of food for eating there and for take away.

We bought some scented candles which were on a 50 % sale offer for the day.

And so, it was time to bid farewell to Foxford and continue our journey north via the N26 to bustling Ballina of Joe Biden visit fame. Every blade of grass had been trimmed, every weed pulled and the whole area was still in pristine condition with some lovely floral displays.

After this experience we travelled to Ballycastle via the busy, thriving town of Crossmolina and then traversed what seemed like the never-ending twisting winding narrow road to Céide. We parked up and went up the sloping road to the interpretative centre after its lavish 2.6-million-euro upgrade. The receptionists were top class in giving us the brief history and showing us where we should go.

Our first port of call was the restaurant with a very limited range of white bread or toasted white bread sandwiches. I found it a bit under whelming.

Next, we went to view the exhibits in the ultra-modern interpretative centre. I just could not interpret the audio-visual presentation which was more Star Wars than ceide fields. Having spent sufficient time with the visuals we went to visit the rest of this exhibition which was interesting but not earth shattering.

I learned about the word bóthar with bó meaning cow and thar meaning path. It is like early farmers moved cows along chosen paths from one field to another.

It was in this area that so many paths were laid. It was while cutting turf in 1934 that Patrick Caulfield realised that the stones were older than the bog. His son Seamus began his life work here in exploring Céide fields. On the slopes of the Céide fields peat grew at the rate of 30cms per 1000 years. On the flat top of Sralaga Hill it grew at 1 metre per 1000 years.

We walked along the mountain path to view the blanket bog. We saw white poles in the ground. This was a method locals used to prod the ground with rods looking for bog oak.

Now the Caulfields were prodding the ground looking for the stone’s formation. Suddenly the futuristic show in the interpretative centre made sense to me when I saw the rods.

I love the notices which advise us to lock away the carbon in the bogs for the betterment of the environment for future generations.

On our return base camp, we detoured over to lovely Sligo to sit and walk on Enniscrone.It was packed solid with day trippers while a lady was very busy renting out canoes to people to paddle along the shore while another large group were showing off their diving skills from the nearby pier head.

Day 6: Well, today is to be local day around the environs of Westport with trips to the local bookstore and coffee shops. We were lucky to find parking in the central square adjoining the main street. Our first port of call was a coffee shop where we sat at the side of the street and watched the world of busy bustling Westport go by for half an hour. We then made our way to The Bookshop on Bridge Street where we bought some books for the boys back home. This was a delightful, well laid out family run bookshop where the staff were friendly, efficient and knew their books. While the better half browsed through boutiques, I did my own stroll about finishing up in their huge church and lit a few candles with the best of intentions for everyone. While we were in the bookstore, we enquired about good lunch eating places mentioning a home cooking place.

We took their advice and went there for lunch. It was a real gem with an old oven door recessed into the wall and beautifully painted frontage while the staff were friendly, courteous and had lots of time for people. It was obvious, while we sat on the benches outside that they had a huge, loyal, local following,

When we finished lunch, we headed out to Old Head beach near Louisburgh and having savoured the bracing Atlantic fresh air we returned to visit Croagh Patrick and walk up to the start of the climb. It was exceptionally quiet and no reception of coffee house open because the season hadn’t opened yet, we were told. Anyway, we walked, talked, and took the touristy photo before heading back into Westport where we dined in Knockranny `House Hotel.

After dinner we drove down to the harbour in Westport and parked the car and then went for a stroll. We were infused with the strong smell of seaweed as we walked past shops and apartments. We were accosted by an American tourist because she could not find an ice cream parlour to serve her a plain 99. We sent her to where we saw a 99 sign and we met her later licking contentedly. She offered me a lick but being covid aware I thanked her for her thoughtfulness but respectfully declined. We passed by the Atlantic Hotel and across the open dining area on the Quay. The smell of burgers, steaks, fish, and chips was overpowering, and I just had to move on because I was salivating so much even though I had already eaten. It was time to move out, so we advanced towards the car, had another infusion of seaweed air, and we bade farewell to Westport and Harbour. .

Day 7; We had breakfast at 10.00 in the hotel, had a walk about and then went up to our room to wash the teeth and do final packing.

We checked out at 12.00 and headed back on the road home with our first planned stop in Tullamore for lunch. We asked a local woman we met to recommend somewhere to us where we might get a nice lunch and she recommended Browne’s restaurant. We dined there on some very nice salmon with roast vegetables.

Having dined and used the facilities we went for a walk up to the town and visited the shopping centre where we bought a few bits and pieces of homeware at their sale reduced prices.

Then it was homeward bound to lovely Gorey and home sweet home after a super lovely, relaxed break in The Wesht.

Mick O Callaghan

25/06/2023

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