County Mayo preserves the past and pedals into the future

County Mayo is located about midway on the Wild Atlantic Way. Home to rich archaeology, 10 Blue Flag Beaches, Croag Patrick (Ireland’s holy mountain) and supposedly the best surfing waves in all of Ireland; Mayo has something for just about everyone.

Sea Cliffs outside Ballycastle, County Mayo

Sea spray rising hundred of feet over the Sea Cliffs

One of the most northern sites to be seen in County Mayo is right along the Wild Atlantic Way.  Sea stacks are easy to spot from the parking lot across from Ceide Fields.  These free standing columns along Downpatrick Head were formed by waves constantly eroding the sea caves below. Just another reason they call it the “Wild” Atlantic Way. The day we were there, the waves were pounding the cliffs and the spray was blowing all the way up and over the sea cliff edges.

Ceide Fields at Ballycastle

Ancient Ceide Fields at Ballycastle

Ceide Fields is the site of Europe’s largest Stone Age land enclosure, over 4 square miles, where stone walls were erected to enable farming and cattle grazing along the northern shores of County Mayo. Ever so slowing, the bog fields expanded, eventually covering this entire area and preserving it for some 5,000 years.

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As much of the Ceide Fields site is rather hard to grasp, luckily there are excellent docents available during operating hours to explain the intricacies of what you are viewing.  Signage is available in both Irish and English throughout the museum.

5,000 year old tree preserved in the Ceide (bog) Fields at Ballycastle

Recognize this as a pine tree?  Well it was, some 4,400 years ago.  The tree was a Scots Pine and most likely came from  a forest which grew onto Belderrig Stone Age farm site, about 7 km west of Ceide Fields.

5,000 year old tree preserved in the Ceide (bog) Fields at Ballycastle

5,000 year old tree preserved in the Ceide (bog) Fields at Ballycastle

The tree could have been 150-200 years old when it was blown over, falling into the bog, where it was preserved.  Radiocarbon dating was done to calculate the date it was growing – 4,200 – 4,400 years ago.

Bog fields in Claggan, County Mayo

Bog fields in Claggan, County Mayo

Large bog fields can still be found today and one of the largest is in Claggan, County Mayo, where these beautiful plants manage to still grow along the roadway.

Situated along the Great Western Greenway, you’ll find the fabulous Mulranny Park Hotel, winner of numerous awards for its facilities as well as its fine dining. The dining room overlooks a long walkway that takes guests out to some a remote beach.

We met up at the hotel with Electric Escapes who provided us with electric bikes to enjoy on the Greenway. The 42 km Greenway is the longest off-road cycling trail in Ireland, and passes dozens of gorgeous vistas.  See the trail map.  You can ride from Westport all the way to Achill Island (Ireland’s largest island) on the Greenway.

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A monument was erected in the Doolough Valley to commemorate the tribulations of the poor during the Great Irish Famine in 1849. Many died during an extremely fatiguing journey they were required to endure through this valley to continue receiving their relief funds.

Memorial to the Coffin Ships

Another memorial is the National Famine Memorial monument sculpted by John Behan in the town of Murrisk. Commemorating the Great Famine of the 1840’s, this bronze ship has many figures of skeletons aboard, honoring the victims of the “coffin ships” that left Ireland.

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Click here for the index of all Wild Atlantic Way articles in this series

Previous article in the Wild Atlantic Way series: County Sligo

Next article in the Wild Atlantic Way series:  County Galway

Why travel the Wild Atlantic Way? [Infographic]

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Also published on Medium.