5 Best Sights in Westport, Connemara and County Mayo

Achill Island

Fodor's choice

Achill Island is only 20 feet from the mainland and has been connected by a bridge since 1887, the latest (2008) being a €5 million swing bridge, known locally as "our Calatrava-style bridge." At 147 square km (57 square miles), Achill is Ireland’s largest offshore island, with a population of 2,700. In summer, it attracts camper vans and families from the mainland who enjoy the wild open spaces of its unspoiled bogs with miles and miles of long empty beaches. The island is abundant with flora, especially wild heather and, in May and June, rhododendrons, while fuchsia blooms later in the summer.

The best introduction to Achill is to follow signs for the 20-km (12-mile) Atlantic Drive. The road runs through Keel, which has a 3-km-long (2-mile-long) beach with spectacular rock formations in the eastern cliffs. Dugort, on the north shore, is a small village with a beautiful golden strand. Above it is the 2,204-foot Slievemore, the island’s highest summit. At its base is the Deserted Village, a settlement of 80 ruined one-room stone houses, abandoned since the 1845 famine. At the far westerly corner of the island are the 2,257-foot-high Croaghan Sea Cliffs, the third highest in Europe---and Keem Beach, a magnificent bone-white sandy bay beneath the shoulders of two enormous lush mountains.

Croagh Patrick

Fodor's choice

Look out as you travel north for the great bulk of 2,500-foot-high Croagh Patrick; its size and conical shape make it one of the West's most distinctive landmarks. On clear days a small white oratory is visible at its summit (it stands on a ½-acre plateau), as is the wide path that ascends to it. The latter is the Pilgrim's Path. Each year about 25,000 people, many of them barefoot, follow the path to pray to St. Patrick in the oratory on its peak. St. Patrick, who converted Ireland to Christianity, spent the 40 days and nights of Lent here in 441. The traditional date for the pilgrimage is the last Sunday in July. In the past, the walk was made at night, with pilgrims carrying burning torches, but that practice has been discontinued. The climb involves a gentle uphill slope, but you need to be fit and agile to complete the last half hour, over scree (small loose rocks with no trail). This is why most climbers carry a stick or staff (traditionally made of ash, and called an ash plant), which helps you to stop sliding backward. These can sometimes be bought in the parking area. The hike can be made in about three hours (round-trip) on any fine day and is well worth the effort for the magnificent views of the islands of Clew Bay, the Sheeffry Hills to the south (with the Bens visible behind them), and the peaks of Mayo to the north. The climb starts at Murrisk, a village about 8 km (5 miles) before Westport on the R335 Louisburgh Road.

Clare Island

Clew Bay is said to have 365 islands, one for every day of the year. The biggest and most interesting one to visit is Clare Island, at the mouth of the bay. In fine weather the rocky, hilly island, which is 8 km (5 miles) long and 5 km (3 miles) wide, has beautiful views south toward Connemara, east across Clew Bay, and north to Achill Island. About 150 people live on the island today, but before the 1845–47 famine it had a population of about 1,700. A 15th-century tower overlooking the harbor was once the stronghold of Granuaile, the pirate queen, who ruled the area until her death in 1603. She is buried on the island, in its 12th-century Cistercian abbey. Today most visitors seek out the island for its unusual peace and quiet, golden beaches, and unspoiled landscape. There are two ferry services to the island, one year-round, the other seasonal; both depart from Roonagh Pier, near Louisburgh, a scenic 19-km (12-mile) drive from Westport on the R335 past several long sandy beaches.

Clew Bay, Co. Mayo, Ireland
098-25045-for ferry info
sights Details
Rate Includes: Ferry €17 round-trip (discounted online), Two ferry companies serve Clare Island. Your return ticket will only be valid on a ferry belonging to the company you came out with

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Westport's streets radiate from its central Octagon, where an old-fashioned farmers' market is held on Thursday morning; look for work clothes, harnesses, tools, and children's toys for sale. Presiding over the square at the top of the tall fluted column is a statue of St Patrick, which replaced an earlier statute of a faceless banker (his face was removed by pellets during Civil War target practice). Traditional shops—ironmongers, drapers, and the like—line the streets.

Westport House

Westport House and Country Park, a stately home built on the site of an earlier castle (believed to have been the home of the 16th-century warrior queen, Grace O'Malley) is the town's most famous landmark. Set right on the shores of a lake, the house remained the property of the Browne family from the 17th century until recent years, when a local businessman purchased it. Architect Richard Cassels (who also designed Powerscourt in County Wicklow and the Irish government's nerve center, Leinster House) masterminded the design of the house, which was constructed in 1730 and added to in 1778, and then finally completed in 1788 by architect James Wyatt with a lavish budget from the Browne's slave trading history with Jamaica. The rectangular, three-story house is furnished with late-Georgian and Victorian pieces. Family portraits by Opie and Reynolds, a huge collection of old Irish silver and old Waterford glass, plus an opulent group of paintings—including The Holy Family by Rubens—are on display. A word of caution: Westport isn't your usual staid country house. The old dungeons now house interactive games, and the grounds have given way to an amusement park for children and an adventure center offering zip rides, laser combat games, and archery. In fact, the lake is now littered with swan-shape "pedaloes," boats that may be fun for families but help destroy the perfect Georgian grace of the setting. If these elements don't sound like a draw, arrive early, when it's less likely to be busy. There is also a 1½-km (1-mile) riverside walk, a tree trail, a gift shop, and a coffee shop.

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