One should never underestimate the benefits of a long weekend getaway for mind, body and soul and when I could have equally opened this post with, “three Englishmen and an Irishman board a plane”, a good dollop of humour is also never too far behind.
County Mayo in Western Ireland played handsome host to three friends and I for an English escape across the Irish Sea to the dynamic terrain of Mayo. One of the largest counties in the country, Mayo boasts a rich social history in its western corner and is home to Croaghaun, the highest cliffs in Ireland and second highest in Europe; the largest island of Achill on its westerly coast as well as fine salmon fishing, outdoor pursuits and spectacular viewing points out to the Atlantic Ocean from Ballycastle, which was to be our base during our stay.
Downpatrick Head - BallycastleIrish luck was on our side as the weather spared us from the usual downpour and blustery winds that are known to batter the area and shape its low-lying, boggy landscape. Fortunately it was sunshine and performing clouds as we ascended Downpatrick Head towards the stunning natural horizon that frames the sea stack of Dún Briste.
Dún Briste - Downpatrick Head
The allure of the Atlantic not far from any given point across the county guarantees impressive vistas at road trip finish lines. Mass tourism is few and far between the network of provincial towns, surrounded by picturesque farmland and a sprinkling of remote cottages, providing both authentic and isolated adventure.
For the historically inclined Hennigan’s Heritage Centre in Killasser, near Swinford, is a great start to understand Mayo life throughout the centuries. Tours are conducted by owner, historian and local legend Tom Hennigan whose family had resided in the three-room stone cottage since the nineteenth-century, now preserved as it would have been circa 1870s.
While both its exterior and interior exude charm from every pointing and is ironically on-trend by today’s fashions, the reality of events within the cottage’s four walls through Tom’s charismatic oration and personal memory will command deep reflection.
Hennigan's Heritage Centre
From family life and politics to craft and superstition, Hennigan’s is a unique experience that far exceeds the knowledge and collections of any similar institution, which is worthy of a visit to its rural location in uninterrupted countryside.
Contemporary culture may be found in the area’s renowned talent of woollen manufacture. Foxford Woollen Mills in Foxford, famed for its throws and blankets, is a luxury emporium of homewares and fashion, housing an equally stylish café serving homemade savoury and sweet treats. Set within the mill’s original work rooms, the space is decorated in an effortless white-wash with feature wall to wall library of textile samples, travel books and vintage National Geographic issues available for customers to lose themselves in (over a large slice of pecan pie perhaps - highly recommended).
Foxford Woollen Mills - Foxford
Mayo's diverse outdoors offers anything from a relaxed walk along the sandy beach of Ballycastle Bay to a bike ride along the longest off-road trail in Ireland, the Great Western Greenway – a converted railway line from Westport to Achill.
All ages and skills can hire bicycles and witness the dynamic landscape from the comfort of a relatively flat and smooth route along the coast – so comfortable in fact that we found ourselves unexpectedly peddling all 32km from Newport to Achill. Thankfully bike hire firms await your arrival at a prearranged destination for a return to hire points by four-wheels.
Great Western Greenway
After all that exertion there was no better time or place than to reward ourselves with food and drink. Whether it’s contemporary cuisine at Market Kitchen in Ballina; at one of Westport High Street’s continental bistros – La Bella Vita or Sage - or delicious catches of the day and local delicacies at Alice’s in Achill; Mayo caters for all tastes - including fellow lovers of soda bread - with impressive quality and service.
& the beat goes on... @ J. McGing #Westport #Mayo #Ireland #irishmusic #craiclife https://t.co/eg8HYtA54s
— Jonathan Velardi (@JMVELARDI) June 8, 2014
Irish royalty: John and Jackie Kennedy
With mind, body and soul successfully replenished, I may need to find another excuse to return to County Mayo sooner rather than later. Until then, be inspired by my photo series from across Mayo featured in this post as well as at studiovelardi.tumblr.comA big thank you to our Mayo-girl and tour guide @colettemunnelly who not only surprised us with a 32km bike ride but also took to the wheel for epic road trips and shared her beautiful family seat.
For further information on County Mayo visit mayo-ireland.ie
Hennigan’s Heritage Centre
+353 0872 491 402
Foxford Woollen Mills
Greenway Bicycle Hire
La Bella Vita
Alice’s Harbour Bar at Achill Island Hotel
Óstán Oileán Acla