Ballycastle, Co. Mayo, meaning ‘Town of the Castle’ is a village located along the Wild Atlantic Way in North Mayo on the scenic west coast of Ireland. The village, whose northern boundary is exposed to the wild Atlantic Ocean boasts a stunning landscape, rugged mountains, mountains, earthy marshes, sandhills, dramatic cliffs and ancient historical sites. Its attraction lies in the beauty of the unspoilt scenery and the environmental contrast as well as the warm hospitality it offers to visitors.
To the West of Ballycastle lie the striking ‘Stags of Broadhaven’ (600 million year-old island rocks), to the east lies Killala Bay, and to the south are the towns of Crossmolina and Ballina.
Visit the most extensive Stone Age Monument in the world, the Ceide Fields, located 8km west of Ballycastle towards Belderrig. Preserved beneath the wild blanket bog is a 5000 year old landscape of stone-walled fields, dwellings and megalithic tombs. The people who lived here were peaceful farmers tending their livestock. There is no evidence that they were under threat of attack. The Interpretative Centre explains not only the archaeology but also the botany, geology, and zoology of the site.
The fields are ordinary fields in which cattle once grazed and wheat and barley were harvested. What makes them unique is that they lay buried under the bog for 5,000 years, making them the oldest intact field system in the world. The walls were traced under the bog using metal probes and where the bog has been removed, there is a well organised countryside of stone-walled fields which have lain there intact for 5,000 years. One can step down from the present day bog into an untouched landscape which lay buried for almost fifty centuries.
The story of the fields is told at 12 points along the guided tour and you can discover a buried wall for yourself using a centuries-old method of probing. There is also an Interpretive Centre has exhibitions, audio-visual show and tearooms, where you can also hear the story of an ever-changing landscape, why bogs grow and the huge influence a subtle change in climate can bring about.
Climb right up to the edge of the dramatic cliffs and marvel at the incredible sea stack known as ‘Dún Briste’ (The Broken Fort). Downpatrick Head, a Signature Discovery Point on the Wild Atlantic Way can be found three miles north of Ballycastle. The stack was separated from the mainland in 1393 as a result of high seas and the people were taken off using ship’s ropes. Dun Briste is 63 metres by 23 metres, 45 metres high and 228 metres from the shore. Downpatrick Head is in an area of great scenic beauty, but is dangerous and should only be viewed from a distance. These cliffs are a natural haven for wildlife, especially birds – in fact, it’s a birdwatchers’ paradise! Birds that nest and breed here include the Black Headed Gull, Common Gull, Lesser Black Backed Gull, Herring Gull, Kittiwake, Small Black Guillemot, Fulmer Puffins and the Cormorant.
The area boasts standing stones, ring forts, stone circles and no fewer than 30 court tombs. The Standing Stone in Doonfeeney Cemetery is the second largest in Ireland.
There is a wealth of things to do in the region including walking, hiking, fishing, diving, horse-riding and swimming. The coast is excellent for windsurfing too. Ballycastle is also on the ‘Tír Sáile‘ Sculpture Trail and the Western Way Walking route.
Cycling is a popular and indeed healthy way of exploring this beautiful region. Bike hire is available locally in Ballycastle from Ballycastle Bike Hire who can help you plan routes. Each cycle offers wonderful views of the local countryside with stunning coastal panoramas.
Walking : Routes are being approved by Mayo County Council at the moment, and the Shralagagh Loop has been upgraded and approved. Anti litter notices have been erected and the public are earnestly requested to comply. Seating facilities are also provided along this route.
Swimming: The local beach is safe for swimming. Lacken Beach or Belderrig outdoor pool are both 15 mins drive away. Ross Strand in Killala is just a 15-minute drive away.
Fishing: Downpatrick Head or from the Pier are good places for fishing locally. Salmon and trout can be caught at Palmerstown River or the River Moy in Ballina.
Scuba Diving: The coastal waters off Ballycastle and Belderrig are very popular with scuba divers. Sheltered launching areas and excellent diving conditions means that diving can take place for nine months of the year. The waters at Lacken are also suitable for scuba diving.
Birdwatching: There is a viewing stand at Downpatrick Head to view the many breeds of birds which nest on Dún Briste. These include Black Gull, Common Gull, Lesser Black Gull, Herring Gull, Kittiwake, Fulmer Puffins, Crows, Ravens Hooded Crow and Magpie. Horse Island in Belderrig is another bird-nesting location.
The Arts in Ballycastle, Co. Mayo
Ballinglen Arts Foundation hosts an Art Exhibition by international artists during July/August in the Foundation Gallery, and Ballycastle Art Group holds an Exhibition by local artists in the Resource Centre.
The Tourist Office situated in the Resource Centre, upper Main Street will give you information on the area and also offers fax, laminating, photocopying and typing services.
See our list of accommodation in Ballycastle, Co. Mayo (click on the ‘Ballycastle’ tab).