Experiencing is believing: County Mayo, Ireland

by Madra Rua

County Mayo offers amazing vistas, incredible banter, unforgettable tales and humour, tastes that intoxicate and overwhelm, locals that enchant and mesmerise; all this, and we haven’t left the pub yet

If County Mayo were a catwalk model it would be on the front covers of the world’s fashion magazines. This large but sparsely inhabited beauty possesses all that is endearing and magical about the island of Ireland and more. Mayo has a breathtaking Atlantic coastline, majestic mountains, soul-discovering valleys, rivers that shimmer with salmon, European blue star beaches and superb scenic golf courses.

It has Ireland's only fjord stretching for 16km from Killary harbour - here you can indulge in one of the daily boat trips along this beautiful, natural wonder.  Mayo's enchanting castles include the hugely impressive Ashford Castle. Also a 5 star hotel, it caters for Royals, Presidents and the Hollywood famous. Set in sprawling gardens on the shores of Lough Corrib, the rooms are large and sumptuous, the food and wines are delicate and fine and the service and facilities are first class. But this all comes at a price; 130 to 880 euros pppn (based on two sharing).

Cong is just one of the quaint towns and villages that lie marooned amid hill and glen. It is well known as the location of the John Ford movie starring John Wayne, The Quiet Man. And tours of some of the famous landmarks in the movie are available which also include Ashford grounds.

The world renowned Ceide Fields occupy North West Mayo; the most extensive Stone Age site in the world. They are some 5,500 years old and were only discovered 80 years ago - buried beneath blanket bogs lay the world's most extensive field systems, houses and megalithic tombs.

The pristine quality of the sea, rivers and loughs ensure that Mayo’s fish is plentiful and the best that you will eat anywhere in the world: mussels, tuna, cod, salmon, crab, oysters, lobsters and sea trout. It truly is an angler’s paradise and a foodie's dream. Anglers come in search of prize catches from all over Europe. The county caters for the world's anglers by way of fantastic lodgings and the choice of locations are exceptional. The Foxford Lodge is situated on the River Moy in Foxford and offers some of the best deals for anglers with bed and breakfast, boat, boatman and equipment hire and a truly revitalising stay. Prices for a double room are 50 euros pppn (based on two sharing). Self catering lodges are available at 600 euros per week or 300 euros per weekend. 

Croagh Patrick is a pilgrim's penance and devotion to faith that would subdue the mightiest. Sited only five miles from Westport and five from the small hamlet of Louisbourg, the holy mountain soars almost 700 metres where pilgrims, tourists, archaeologists, nature lovers and walkers from all over the world come to admire, pray and ascend the impressive looking summit upon which Saint Patrick fasted for 40 days and nights. The views to be experienced from the top are well worth the blisters. The unbelievable vista takes in most of the county, Connamara, Galway and beyond.

At the foot of Croagh Patrick is Ireland’s national monument to the Famine that took place 150 years ago and saw Mayo’s population drop by two thirds. Depicted by the Coffin Ship, it tells the story of Ireland’s mass migration to America but sadly only a few were to see their new homeland.

Small islands are dotted all along Mayo's coastline, the largest being Achill and the endearing Clare Island. Mayo’s green, brown, red, lush but barren landscape is home to the some of the most breathtaking scenery anyone would ever wish to witness and remember.


This small town nestled beside Clew Bay, is a beauty spot on the face of mother Earth. Bathed by the washes of the wild Atlantic Ocean it is the perfect base from which to plan and execute your trips throughout the County of Mayo. It has excellent access to all of the county's attractions - superb hotels, fantastic amenities, and a grand selection of restaurants and some of the finest pubs in Ireland; a perfect recipe for that ultimate holiday.

Comprising of five or six streets this compact little town can be toured within an hour. But it will take a week to devour all the delights that it has to offer. With a welcome that only Irish people can genuinely bestow, it is a home from home.

Day and night you will be entertained by the sheer dynamic easygoingness of the locals. Squeeze into Morans grocery shop (15 Bridge Street, Tel: 098 26320) and have a sup of the porter while you’re waiting for some butter.

Stroll into Matt Molloys, the owner is flutist with the Chieftains (Bridge Street, Tel: 098 26655), and be tantalised by the quaintness and humanity of the place. Strike up conversation with just about anyone and you’ll be invited back for a bite to eat and wee cuppa tae. But you’ll have to finish your creamy pints of stout and half’uns of Jamesons while singing along to an Irish ballad to which, unbelievably, you know all the words to; hard life! All this and it’s only two in the afternoon.

One afternoon I recall dropping into The Towers, (The Harbour, 098 26534) a fantastic pub to frequent if you are seeking the best in seafood and idle contentment. It is situated by the Quays on the road to Croagh Patrick on the shores of Clew Bay. Pulling up a couple of bar stools my partner and I settled into a conversation of coincidental unimportance and two pints of the black stuff, a deep voice suddenly interrupted my verbal flow: "Magnifique! Magnifique!" We looked around and noticed a Frenchman consume large quantities of garlic mussels, licking his lips with closed eyes and blowing large animated kisses to the raftered ceiling, before washing the shelled delights and his acclamations down with healthy swigs of Guinness. Meanwhile, his wife sat quietly, contently sipping on a glass of white wine while reading Le Figaro and quite unperturbed. Indeed, "Magnifique" or as you would say in Irish, "Maith thu." (good on you) 

To try and recommend restaurants in Westport would be folly. This little gem of a town provides the best in pub grub, seafood and all round Irish goodness. All the restaurants, pubs and hotels serve fresh and tasty food of the highest order and plenty of it, you will never be disappointed. But, if you forced me to devulge my favorite, well it would have to be La Bella Vita (High Street, 098 29771) This small intimate Italian restaurant with its open fires is a little bit of Italy wrapped up in Irish charm and hospitality, it offers the taste of Lazio with a sprinkling of Mayo. An average three course meal will cost 34 euros.  

Where to stay in Westport 

Westport Plaza Hotel in Castlebar Street, is a 4 star establishment and a welcome newcomer to Westport. Its location is very central and within walking distance to just about everywhere. The rooms are modern and spacious. The Merlot Restaurant serves great Irish dishes and two courses will cost around 29 euros. The hotel also has excellent spa facilities. A double room will cost 100/200 euros per room, per night.

Clew Bay Hotel in James Street has just celebrated its 50th birthday and it's looking as good as ever. It is a 3 star hotel that offers luxury and comfort with service to match. It too is situated in the centre of the town and a stone's throw to all the great pubs and restaurants of Westport. The rooms are big, beautiful and very comfy. The Riverside Restaurant offers a great dining experience or visit Madden's Bistro for the best in pub grub; a great night of entertainment and craic is also assured. The hotel is only too happy to organise your horse riding, golf sessions, angling, walks or boat trips. A double room will cost 70/135 euros per room, per night.

Madra Rua

Liam spends his days transforming people’s bathrooms and kitchens into an oasis of beauty. Utilising his skills as a tiler, he believes that he gives his clients the dream and sanctuary they wish for. As for his travel dreams, well they began at the tender but adventurous age of fourteen. His friend Dessy and Liam both set out on a life changing youth hostelling holiday, from the counties of Donegal to Kerry and Mayo to Wexford. Since then he has zig-zagged his way across America on a greyhound bus; hitch-hiked from Belfast to southern Spain and back; visited most major European cities and a few American; staying in the very best and the very worst of hotels. He has skied in some of the Alps most heavenly resorts; enjoyed the hectic, chaotic, but brilliant holidays that are camping and scorched his fair Irish skin on the beaches of Spain, Greece, Italy and Los Angeles. But he shall always have a very, very, soft spot for Italy and all this wonderfully; delicious and exciting country has to offer.