Is Mayo the finest place to live in Ireland? The Georgian town of Westport won The Irish Times “Best Place to Live in Ireland” competition in 2012, and the constant stream of visitors enjoying its gourmet restaurants, traditional music, surfing beaches, sailing and outdoor adventures in nearby Clew Bay certainly won’t argue with that view.
There’s more to Mayo than Westport, of course. Think of cosmopolitan Castlebar town, or the National Museum of Country Life nearby.
Think of Ballina, the salmon capital of Ireland perched on the River Moy. Think of the boggy expanse of Ballycroy National Park, or the remote, Irish-speaking Mullet Peninsula in the barony of Erris. The next parish west is Boston, USA.
Mayo is also home to Achill Island, at once the largest of Ireland’s offshore islands and the easiest to get to (it’s connected by a short road bridge at Achill Sound). Achill boasts five Blue Flag beaches alone – a voluntary eco-label awarded to beaches that tick all the boxes for quality and cleanliness – wild walking and surfing opportunities, and a deserted village in the foothills of Slievemore Mountain. It’s as desolate and empty as the pubs are cosy and welcoming.
The Atlantic way
“Achill... called to me as no other place had ever done,” wrote Belfast-born artist Paul Henry, who set many of his famous paintings on the island. He wasn’t joking. He came for a two-week holiday in 1910, threw his return train ticket into the sea, and stayed on and off for several years.
Beyond Achill, coastal Mayo is home to over a dozen more Blue Flag beaches, Croagh Patrick Mountain – site of an annual pilgrimage in the footsteps of St Patrick every summer – and Clew Bay, staging post of the legendary 16th-century pirate queen, Grace O’Malley.
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On your bike
Fancy taking to the saddle out west? The Great Western Greenway, a 42km off-road cycling trail following the old Westport to Achill railway line is barely a year old, but word of mouth has turned it into a bona fide phenomenon. Even An Taoiseach – Ireland’s Prime Minister (and Cyclist-in-Chief) Enda Kenny – took to two wheels to officially open the route in 2011.
The beauty of the Greenway is that you don’t have to be a champion cyclist. It’s as suited to pottering families as fitness freaks, and you can just as easily take one section at a slow pace, or finish the whole route in a couple of hours. Either way, pedalling across the Currane Peninsula, Clew Bay or Mulranny beach will make for a great Mayo memory.
Calling Mayo one of the finest places in Ireland? Sounds like an understatement.