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Round towers, friaries and castles await

Outdoor Living

Moyne Friary

1602 ballycastle 300Walking

Martin Dillane

Part 8
The Western Way
Ballycastle to Ballina

Trail surface: Quiet country roads and forest park
Difficulty: Moderate. Bring food and water and suitable clothing.
Distance: 32 kilometres
Total height gained: 370 metres
Duration: Seven to nine hours walking. Three hours cycling.
Start: At the newly erected map board in Ballycastle
O/S maps: 1:50000, numbers 23 and 24

Anois teacht an earraigh
beidh an lá ag dul chun síneadh,
Is tar éis na féil Bríde
ardóidh mé mo sheol

These oft-quoted words from Raftery’s poem Cill Aodáin portray the sense of relief that winter is finally over and invoke the great anticipation that spring is in the air. However, with a strong north easterly blowing in from Ballycastle Bay laden with hailstones the size of golf balls, the sense of exuberance amongst today’s victims is muted.
But, a hardy bunch is we, and by commencing our cycle in Ballycastle we will have that gale pushing us all the way into Ballina, journey’s end.
Since leaving Oughterard many months ago, our trek has been on an internationally recognised way marked way. To qualify for this distinction, the route must adhere to a set of management standards and satisfy certain strict criteria. Currently, the route between Ballycastle and Bonniconlon does not meet these criteria. However, many agencies and local concerns are working towards this goal. The result would be one of the longest way-marked ways in the country, and without sounding biased, the best.
Departing Ballycastle, we initially head north into the gale. After a mere 400 metres or so, which seemed like an eternity, we abruptly turn in a south-east direction. Happy days – with the wind on our backs we speed along amid the hedgerows and ditches on quiet country lanes. We quickly ascend Lacken Hill and take in a panoramic view of the Moy Estuary, Killala and in the distance Ballina Town.
Upon reaching Killala one is struck with the beauty of this picture-postcard town. Killala is immediately recognisable by its fine intact round tower, dating from early Christian times. There is also a lovely harbour and quiet cobbled streets throughout the town. A hidden jewel!
The way then follows Bothar Na Sop, an old road used by the invading French army in 1798. The landscape in this area is dotted with megalithic tombs and old friaries. Rathfran, Moyne and Rosserk friaries are the most famous of these and are all accessible from the trail.
We journey along with the majestic Moy, a constant companion over our left shoulders, before entering Belleek Woods and sighting its famous castle. The castle was built between 1825 and 1831 on the site of a medieval abbey, one of the four along the River Moy. Belleek was commissioned by Sir Arthur Francis Knox-Gore, and the family lived there up to the early 1940s. Marshall Doran, a merchant navy officer acquired the run-down property in 1961, restored it and opened it as a hotel in 1970.
Our Western Way journey is gradually coming to an end, and after Ballina only one stage remains, that is to Bonniconlon and the Sligo border.

Martin Dillane works for South West Mayo Development Company as Rural Recreation Officer. His job includes the design, development and promotion of walking and cycling trails. He can be contacted at Every month, he will cover a new  section of the 200km Western Way, which starts in Oughterard, Co Galway, and ends in Bonniconlon in north Mayo.