Mayo - far Mayo - might have been a byword for remoteness and declining population in times past. But now it is thriving, with the recent six year Census showed a population increase of 5.3% (to 118,000). However, Mayo is so spacious that it still seems totally uncrowded. And they are a people who enjoy the present as much as savouring the past. No more so than at Westport on Clew Bay, near the famed Holy Mountain of Croagh Patrick. Westport is a neatly planned town which responds to loving care, a frequent winner of Gold Medals in the annual Tidy Towns awards in Ireland, and the Entente Florale in France.
Five kilometres east of Mayo’s bustling county town of Castlebar, the Museum of Country Life is at Turlough Park House. The first fully-fledged department of the National Museum to be located anywhere outside Dublin, it celebrates Irish country life as lived between 1850 and 1960 in an intriguing display of artefacts which were in regular everyday use, yet now seem almost exotic.
As often, indeed, does Mayo itself - for Mayo is magnificent. All Ireland's counties have their devotees, but enthusiasts for Mayo have a devotion which is pure passion. In their heart of hearts, they feel that this austerely majestic Atlantic-battered territory is somehow more truly Irish than anywhere else. And who could argue with them after experiencing the glories of scenery, sea and sky which this western rampart of Ireland puts on ever-changing display, particularly over Achill Island.
Yet among Mayo's many splendid mountain ranges we find substantial pockets of fertile land, through which there tumble fish-filled streams and rivers. And in the west of the county, the rolling hills of the drumlin country, which run in a virtually continuous band right across Ireland from Strangford Lough, meet the sea again in the island studded wonder of Clew Bay.
Along Mayo's rugged north coast, turf cutting at Ceide Fields near Ballycastle has revealed the oldest intact field and farm system in existence, preserved through being covered in blanket bog 5,000 years ago. An award-winning interpretive centre has been created at the site, and even the most jaded visitor will find fascination and inspiration in the clear view which it provides into Ireland's distant past. A few miles eastward, the charming village of Ballycastle is home to the internationally-respected Ballinglen Arts Foundation, creative home-from-home for artists worldwide.
Nearby, the lively town of Ballina is where the salmon-rich River Moy meets the sea in the broad sweep of Killala Bay. It takes a leap of the imagination to appreciate that the sheltered Moy Valley is in the same county as the spectacularly rugged cliffs of Achill Island. But leaps of the imagination is what Mayo inspires.
Local Attractions and Information
Ballina Street Festival/Arts Week (July) 096 70905
Ballina Tourism Information 096 70848
Ballycastle Ballinglen Arts Foundation 096 43184/43366
Castlebar Linenhall Arts Centre 094 9023733
Castlebar Tourism Information 094 9021207
Castlebar Turlough House (see entry under Turlough) 094 9031589
Ceide Fields Interpretive Centre 096 43325
Clare Island Ferries 098 27685
Foxford Woollen Mills Visitor Centre 094 9256756
Inishkea Island Tours Belmullet 097 85741
Inishturk Island Ferries 098 45520/45541
Killasser(Swinford)Traditional Farm Heritage Centre 094 9252505
Kiltimagh Glore Mill Follain Arts Centre 094 82184
Knock Interational Airport 094 9367222
Moy Valley Holidays 096 70905
Turlough Turlough Park House. Museum of Country Life. Open Tuesday to Saturday 10am to 5pm, Sundays 2pm to 5pm, closed Mondays 094 9031589
Westport Clew Bay Archaeological Trail 087 2935207
Westport Westport House & Children's Zoo 098 25430/27766
Westport Tourism Information 098 25711