ON THE WATERFRONT The river in Cong, as viewed from The Hungry Monk restaurant.
WHEN the whole country was told to enjoy the sunshine because it would be the last we’d see of it I raised my hand in Mayo News HQ to discover some tourism gems.
What better way to spend a day than rediscovering some of my favourite spots around Mayo, and in the sunshine no less.
The only downside to getting out of the office for the day was my mode of transport, I offered to visit ‘Joyce Country’ by bike, forgetting that the last time I was on the saddle was nearly a year ago.
After a few false starts (borrowing a bike only to find it was meant for someone over six foot tall) I hit towards the border, on a mountain bike with deflating tyres. The dodgy tyres couldn’t deflate the mood though, the sky was blue, the tunes were great (yes, I had earphones in, but the music was really low, I promise) and the open road meandering through the Lough Mask area and over the border.
As Creedance Clearwater Revival’s ‘Down on the Corner’ lilted in my ears I hit out the Clonbur Road and took in the summer air while passing by fields of fresh bales of hay indicating a few busy days for local farmers.
It’s a 16km cycle to Clonbur that’s worth the lengthy stretches of straight road that you need to share with a number of trucks and other traffic.
There was no sign of fellow cyclists until I landed in Clonbur and stopped in Lynch’s Centra for some much-needed refreshments. A bench not far from the shop was the perfect perch to watch the world go by while I sipped on my Fijian water. It’s amazing what you’ll buy when you’re thirsty and you’ve no bottle holder on the bike.
The lycra, helmet and sunglasses were a great disguise and let me really feel like a true tourist taking in my environs, despite being quite familiar with the village from my childhood.
The Fijian water finished, it was time to move on. The sun was beating down and I realised I had no sunscreen on, what with my haste to hit the road earlier that day.
Up the hill and around the bend towards Corr na Mona is where a cycling tourist will really be rewarded for their pedalling.
Like turning the corner driving through Ashford Castle Estate, the impressive body of water dotted with 365 islands that is Lough Corrib, comes into view. And on days such as last Tuesday, when the sun is hitting the rippling water and the green fields melt into the horizon, the well worn adage that ‘it’d be a grand little country if we could only roof it’, came to mind.
Last week’s sunshine was a great example of why Ireland is great and that there is no better place to be on a sunny day. The spectacular vista soon gathered more attention from tourists like myself, a couple, sporting trekking boots and backpacks, settled on a wall for a rest and northern and European registered cars full of people began to pull in.
The route along the Corrib is one of the finest scenic cycles in the county and would really give the Great Western Greenway a run for its money. The vantage points along the way more than make up for the testing gradients for a leisure cyclist.
Conscious of time and depleting tyre pressure I hit for The Quiet Man village of Cong. Well known as a tourism gem, I’m still sometimes surprised when talking to people who haven’t spent a sunny day taking in this beautiful village. Cong is a gem in the crown of Mayo tourism. A little village that was propped up by the 1950s film but sustained, and in more recent times put on the map, thanks to its hard working community and also the belief of Red Carnations Hotel group to make Ashford Castle Estate world class.
Strolling around the village with my bike in tow, the buzz was palpable. Passing some local business people, the word was good - ‘I’d say the season has really extended this year’.
Propping the bike against a wall on Abbey Street, I headed into a firm favourite of mine and a culinary gem of Cong - The Hungry Monk. Ran by Aisling and Jonathan, the quaint restaurant serves tasty food thanks to sourcing local produce. Tucking into my Moroccan salad with buttermilk chicken, I did question whether life could get any better.
Much has been talked about trying to make Ballinrobe the ‘gateway’ to Connemara, and geographically and from a tourism point of view it makes sense. However, for this to happen, infrastructure such as some form of cycle path must be put in place.
The tan lines the following day weren’t great and the muscles were sore, but by God you can’t bate Ireland on a sunny day.