Donegal to Mayo

At one with the wild
Experience Mullaghmore Head, Downpatrick Head and Keem Strand.

Travel from Donegal to Mayo, taking in Mullaghmore Head, Downpatrick Head and Keem Strand. This route is approximately 625km (388 miles). The closest airports are Ireland West Airport Knock (IWAK), City of Derry, Shannon, Belfast International, George Best Belfast City, or Dublin Airport. If you're travelling by ferry from Great Britain sail into Belfast or Dublin.

The big one
Mullaghmore Head

Giant Atlantic rollers crash onto surfing spots all the way along Ireland’s wild western coastline.

But it’s off the coast of Sligo that ‘prowlers’ come to light. A prowler is a wave like no other, said to be up to 30 metres (100 feet) in height.

In 2011 Mullaghmore Head hosted Ireland’s first Big Wave contest, drawing surfers from across the globe. Tow-in surfing, where surfers are taken to the swell by jet-skis, is highly skilled and incredibly exciting to watch from the safety of the headland. But it’s best to watch in winter months, so you’ll want to wrap up warm while watching the show, before heading off to curl up in front of a real turf fire in a cosy Sligo pub.

However, if you’d like to hit the waves yourself then there are several surfing schools in the seaside town of Bundoran in County Donegal, which is also the home of Ireland’s International Surfing Festival in June.

The wind in your hair

This must be every rider’s dream. From riding stables in Sligo, canter along the beautiful unspoilt beaches of Dernish Island with the wind in your hair and the sand rushing by beneath you. After you’ve enjoyed the thrill of a good gallop, watch seals and seabirds in their natural habitat or explore sites of ancient farm life.

Woods and waterfalls

Gleniff Horseshoe Valley is a wonderful area of natural beauty. As you enter you’ll see a 19th century mill to your left: a lovely woodland walk, the Benwisken Trail, has been developed at the site of the mill. This takes you under native Irish trees, babbling mountain streams and pretty waterfalls. Perfect for a picnic in summer months.

Swallowed by the sea

Visit the sandy beach of Streedagh in County Sligo, where three ships from the Spanish Armada were wrecked on September 25th 1588 en route to assist in the invasion of England. While sheltering from a storm, they were torn apart by the severity of the wild Atlantic. You can still see the remains of the vessels at low tide, and a monument has been built in memory of the sailors who perished on that fateful day.

Friends you haven’t yet met

Dine in Sligo, the heart of Yeats country, at a family table and enjoy the best of Irish food while your ears feast on the poetry of William Butler Yeats. The Yeats Experience evening usually begins with tasty snacks by the log stove and an introduction to the history of the Yeats family, before settling down to a sumptuous dinner.

Mullaghmore

GOOD TO KNOW

  1. Approximately 1 hour 10 minutes’ drive from Ireland West Airport Knock; 2 hours 30 minutes from Belfast
  2. The surf at Mullaghmore Head is typically at its highest during March
  3. The area has a rich and varied cultural history
  4. Mullaghmore Head is open to the public with no admission fees
Local Legend
Downpatrick Head

Downpatrick Head, 4.8km (3 miles) north of Ballycastle Village in County Mayo, is a spectacular headland of great beauty 38 metres (125 feet) above the sea.

The ruins of a church, stone cross and holy well mark the site of an earlier church founded by St. Patrick. A statue of the saint was erected in 1912 and replaced with a new statue in the 1980s. Mass is still celebrated at Downpatrick Head on ‘Garland Sunday’, the last Sunday of July.

The headland is teeming with legend and folklore. For example, the 25 men who lost their lives during the 1798 rebellion after getting trapped in a subterranean channel below an amazing blowhole called ‘Poll na Seantainne’. Then there’s the impressive sea stack known as ‘Dún Briste’. Legend says the people living there were rescued using ships’ ropes when high seas separated the stack from the mainland in 1393.

Forage along Killala

Spend a fascinating afternoon with Denis Quinn of Wild Atlantic Cultural Tours – foraging for food along the shoreline. You’ll be expertly guided across Killala Bay in County Mayo, crossing mudflats, scrambling over rocks and spooning cockles, mussels, clams and winkles from the vast expanse of soft sand at low tide. Later, Denis will help you prepare a feast from what you’ve found. Anyone for a warming bowl of cockle soup?

Picnic on a private beach

Coney Island is the largest of the three islands off the northern coast of the Coolera Peninsula, County Sligo. This is the original Coney Island, which gave its name to its more famous namesake in New York. Picture old stone walls, friendly locals and amazing empty beaches. Laze about, have a picnic, or enjoy a pint in McGowans, the only pub on the island.

“Every village, every town, every house, has a story.”

Downpatrick

GOOD TO KNOW

  1. Approximately 1 hour 20 minutes’ drive from Ireland West Airport Knock; 4 hours from Belfast
  2. Between Ballina and Mayo, you’ll find Céide Fields, the most extensive Stone Age monument in the world
  3. Downpatrick Head has undercut cliffs in places so don’t walk too close to the edge
  4. There is free parking on Downpatrick Head
  5. Access available all year with no admission fees
Mystery Island
Keem Strand

Drive across the road bridge to County Mayo’s Achill Island, with its towering sea-cliffs, exposed mountains and sweeping sandy beaches.

Sheltering under Slievemore Mountain, you can wander through a strange and long abandoned settlement known simply as the Deserted Village.

If you’d like to find out more about this beautifully haunting place, you can book a guided tour with expert archaeologists from the Achill Archaeological Field School who work on a dig here every summer. Or, if you prefer, simply walk from cottage to cottage, imagining life here through the centuries in this remote and poignant spot.

“It’s in my veins, it’s in my blood.”
Soak it all up

Take a cruise around Clew Bay to see the thriving seal colony, beautiful secluded beaches and breath-taking views of Croagh Patrick, Murrisk Abbey and Bertraw Beach. Sail past Inishgort Lighthouse and the shore of Dorinish Island, formerly owned by John Lennon, who had plans to turn it into a hideaway retreat.

A very stately home

Westport House in Mayo is an impressive residence and the current home of the Marquess of Sligo.
It was built in the 18th century, on what remained of the foundations of a castle that had belonged to the Irish Pirate Queen of Connacht, Grace O’Malley. In late June each year, the Westport Festival of Food and Music is held in the 400 acre grounds of this national treasure.

Stay a while

There are lots of welcoming pubs to choose from in County Mayo, where you can sample a proper pint of Guinness or any other tipple that takes your fancy. If you stop in Belmullet, why not drop into McDonnell’s to mingle with the locals and enjoy live music from Thursdays to Sundays.

Keem Strand

GOOD TO KNOW

  1. Approximately 1 hour 50 minutes’ drive from Ireland West Airport Knock; 4 hours 50 minutes from Belfast
  2. Keem is 1 of 5 Blue Flag beaches on Achill Island
  3. In summer months, Keem Beach is watched over by lifeguards
  4. The beauty of the area provides plenty of photo opportunities
  5. There are many hotels and guesthouses on Achill Island, but booking is advised
Planning and booking

Preparing for your trip is simple. We’ve created pre-planned itineraries, or you can plot your own route by using the map. So what are you waiting for? Your Wild Atlantic Way adventure starts here.

Itineraries

Pick a pre-planned route with accommodation and activities mapped out.

Map

Plot the route, plus accommodation and activities you want, using an interactive map.