BREATHTAKING?The view from Blacksod looking out to Saddle Head on Achill Island and the nearby island of Duvillaun is definitely worth the long drive to the southern tip of the Mullet peninsula.?Pic: Eamon O’Boyle
Blacksod, at the southern tip of the Mullet peninsula, is one of Mayo’s hidden gems as Edwin McGreal discovered when he went there for the first time
Are there many places in Mayo you haven’t been too? Probably. We live in the third largest county on this island and no matter where you are in Mayo, you’ll be an hour’s drive from some other part of the county.
We had a man who worked in The Mayo News for a few summers from Bonniconlon who asked ‘where’s Claremorris’ when sent there to cover a game. We chalked it down in The Mayo News after that incident that taking it for granted that every Mayo person knows the place inside out is often a foolish assumption.
I’d probably be more travelled than most in this fair county. Work and journeys playing Gaelic football and soccer have taken me all over.
I’d been onto the Mullet peninsula before for a combination of business and pleasure. We played a soccer game at Kilmore’s fine sportsground at Drum, reported on many an Erris United game at Carne Nash and was at a wedding at Carn Fowler last December.
But south of Drum I had never been until this summer.
You can never truly appreciate how big and vast Mayo is until you drive through Belmullet and keep driving for almost half an hour beyond and end up at beautiful Blacksod.
Blacksod’s isolation is both its beauty and its curse. Consider that anyone that left Blacksod on Sunday morning last for Mayo’s game in Croke Park would have been over halfway to Dublin by the time they entered the hometown of Mayo captain, Andy Moran, in Ballaghaderreen.
It’s tale of emigration is a long one, as evidenced by the recently commemorated Tuke Scheme which brought entire families from the area, largely to America, and almost 3,300 people left from Blacksod in 1883-4.
The place is teeming with history. We’d hazard a guess you didn’t know the part Blacksod played in World War 2. In 1944 the local weather station saw a cold front coming in from the west and this information was relayed to London from Dublin. Though Ireland was neutral in the war, weather information was shared between here and London.
The man at the Blacksod station, Ted Sweeney, was asked to recheck. It happened all of Europe was relying on his every word. Plans were afoot for the Normandy landings which relied on suitable weather conditions and Ted’s accurate forecast led to the D-Day landings being pushed back by 24 hours.
Ted’s contribution to such a huge event in world history is now immortalised by a plaque at the lighthouse in Blacksod, long since out of operation.
Recently I was afforded the opportunity to visit Blacksod whilst up in Belmullet. I had heard of its charms in recent months and chalked it down as a must do. I wasn’t disappointed.
It was a sweltering July day and the drive from Belmullet and south through the Mullet peninsula was beautiful as the road wound its way through Binghamstown, Elly Bay and Eachléim. When I reached Blacksod itself, it was like Heaven on Earth.
As you approach the village, the lighthouse and the old and large coastguard station stand strong and commanding in spite of their obvious years and the toil the Atlantic would have exacted on them. The coastguard stations were one of the bastions of British rule in Ireland, keeping eyes and ears on offshore activity. Reportedly, the one at Blacksod was one of the few in Ireland to survive destruction by Irish forces in the War of Independence due to the fact that a post office was then operating there and it housed a young family.
The many men tending to their boats remind you Blacksod is still a lively fishing village.
I drove west for a high vantage point and the view in every direction was sensational. Achill to the south stood strong while the Inishkea Islands to the north west are striking and, of course, have their own long history as a location of early Irish civilization. Further north of there is the isle of Inis Gluaire where the legend has it that the Children of Lir ended their lives and are buried.
To the east we see Ballycroy and Doohoma, across the other shore of Blacksod Bay.
Time, if I had it, would have seen me seek a trip to the Inishkeas and a longer exploration of the area’s beauty. I left though satisfied in the knowledge that it may have taken me 31 years to discover Blacksod, my second trip won’t take a fraction of that time.
LEADING THE WAY?An Taoiseach Enda Kenny pictured at Burrishoole cycling the Greenway on its official launch in 2011. It has become one of the ‘must do’ attractions in Mayo. ?Pic: Michael Mc Laughlin
Mayo’s must visit - 1: The Greenway
The Great Western Greenway which winds its way from Westport to Achill along parts of the old Westport-Achill railway line is one of the county’s busiest summer spots
Being very familiar with the drive from Westport to Achill and back, I can readily attest that two things make the 45 minute journey pass that bit easier.
One is finding a good radio programme. The other is the vista.
As the road meanders along from Newport, through Burrishoole, on into Tiernaur, Rosturk and Mulranny you have picturesque mountains to your right and stunning vistas of Clew Bay to your left.
Go further onto the Currane peninsula and the sea switches sides to your right with rugged hills on the left. Regardless, you’ll do well to find a stretch of roadway that doesn’t have a beautiful view accompanying it.
Of course you have to concentrate on the road in front of you and not get too smitten with the views.
Take a bike on the off-road Greenway and your ability to take in the panorama is magnified greatly. But it is not just the slower pace of travel and lack of cars - such peace! Most of the Greenway is elevated well above the main road, making your vantage point all the more spectacular. The view as you cycle from Rosturk into Mulranny is especially breathtaking.
We ventured onto it last Tuesday, linking up with the Greenway at Tiernaur and cycling to Achill. The full 42 km Greenway route from Westport to Achill was ruled out of bounds by some of our group – walk before you can run was the basis of their argument.
It largely travels along the route of the old Great Western Railway from Westport to Achill, a line which, all too often, brought the young of Achill and West Mayo to foreign shores away from a homeland which couldn’t sustain them. Now the Greenway is bringing people from all over the world in the other direction.
We hired our bikes from Westport Bikes 4 Hire and got their shuttle back to Tiernaur when we landed in Achill. All the bike hire companies offer a similar convenient service.
The Greenway has brought huge tourist numbers to the west Mayo region and the bike hire companies aren’t the only businesses to thrive because of it.
Hospitality businesses along the route have received a huge lift and the large crowds on the Greenway last Tuesday were testament to its popularity. It has been a spectacular success for Mayo County Council who saw the potential in such an undertaking.
If you’re from Mayo and haven’t been yet, our advice is go while the weather is good in August. When you’re finished, you’ll want to start all over again.
Taking the plunge at Cahir Pier
My Favourite Place
Cahir Pier, three miles outside Ballinrobe has to be my favourite place in Mayo. For those who know me, you will know my proximity to this picturesque setting is not a million miles away.
From as far back as I can remember, when summers always seemed to last a lifetime and were always accompanied by that big yellow thing in the sky we all became accustomed to recently, my parents would bring my siblings and I out to Cahir Pier. If we weren’t dropped out there, we would cycle, or pile into whatever neighbour’s car was ‘heading back the way’.
Coming through the small village of Cahir, the white-washed cottages and traditional dry stone walls would take the most cynical of visitors back to the days of donkey and cart Ireland.
On turning the bend driving up to the pier I’m always surprised at the expanse of water that seems to be hidden away for only those in the know to enjoy.
It was a firm favourite for ‘the townies’, and the daily journey was made religiously during the sunny months of the 90s, none more notable than the cracker of 1995, when the only worry anybody had was ‘had we brought enough snacks and supplies to last the day’ and ‘who had the batteries for the radio’.
For those who are new to the Cahir Pier experience it can be daunting, the chill of the water is somewhat an endearing feature you only come to love as the years go by. And the seemingly shallow waters with visible rocks would stoke fear into any pioneering diver. But taking the plunge off the edge of the limestone pier is most rewarding on a balmy summer evening when the pinky orange hue of the sun rolls over across Tourmakeady and hits the waters of Lough Mask.
Cahir Pier seems to be the backdrop for the majority of my happiest memories, as the youngest of five I felt like the cool kid allowed to accompany my older siblings out to enjoy the craic at the water’s edge.
And although it might be nostalgia, I’m confident that a large contingent of ‘townies’ still hold it dear in their memory as the perfect summer location and perhaps their favourite place in Mayo too.
Green retreat is island oasis
My favourite place
IT is an oasis that one minute is filled with choruses of birdsong and balmy sunshine and the next closed in by chilly moving mists that silence all of nature’s symphonies. It is a soft green retreat hidden in a miniature world that has never known concrete. Its meandering route rises and falls lazily across its boggy base walled-in by Glen hill and the natural amphitheatre of Leic to the south. Out to the north there is a panorama framed by the sweeping contours of Mulranny bay, the Curraune penninsula, Achillbeg and its mother island and the vast ocean beyond.
I am on the Green Road on Clare Island, it is midsummer and despite the fact that tourism has transformed the Atlantic outpost into a busy sun-soaked haven filled with picnicking families and hikers, cyclists and birdwatchers, snorkelers and sailors, my favourite place is devoid of humans. It is just me, some recently sheared sheep and a family of fascinating birds playing a game that involves sweet chirps and grating croaks that surely could not be coming from the same tiny beaks.
The Green Road is a hidden highway to a past world where schoolchildren tripped barefoot to the long-closed east school and horses and donkeys with homemade cleaves and pipe-smoking riders trekked back and forth to the bogs of Park and the Big Hill (Cnoc Mór). Its boundary walls – with their mosaics of stone craftsmanship – are a testament to those islanders who, under the direction of the Congested Districts Board over a century ago, modernised the medieval Rundale system, ensuring a more sustainable way of farming for a population that was then three times the size of the contemporary one.
In so many ways this verdant road is a poem to the past and a paean to the spiritual invigoration found in the simplicity of nature. To paraphrase lines from the pen of poet Patrick Kavanagh that capture the magic of this sanctuary: “And I knew … that I had come/ Through fields that were part of no earthly estate.”
A meandering green road in the middle of Clare Island provides spiritual sustenance.