Starting in Ballina and working your way throughout the region. here’s a list of ten great things to do in North Mayo. There are things here for families, historians, culture vultures, outdoor adventurers and lots, lots more.
Of course, this is only a fraction of the great things to do in Ballina and surrounds, so if you’re planning a visit, be sure and leave yourself enough of time to explore our stunning coastline, dine in our great cafés and restaurants and avail of the famous Mayo hospitality.
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Main photo: © Paddle and Pedal
1. Trace Ireland’s history at the Jackie Clarke Collection
A collection of Irish material comprising 100,000 items spanning 400 years, the Jackie Clarke Collection is the most important private collection of Irish historical material in public hands.
Witness a dramatic narration from an original 1916 Proclamation of Independence or browse the vast collection which includes the tricolour cockade taken from the hat of Wolfe Tone by his captors in 1798, letters from Michael Collins, Douglas Hyde, Charles Gavan Duffy, Michael Davitt and O’Donovan Rossa and rare books, posters, political cartoons, pamphlets, handbills, maps, hunger strike material and personal items from Leaders of the 1916 Rising.
The exhibit is located on Pearse Street, Ballina and deservingly leads our ‘Great Things to Do in Mayo North’ list!
Admission is free. Visit clarkecollection.ie or call 096 73508 for group bookings.
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For anyone with an interest in Irish history, a visit to the award-winning Michael Davitt Museum in Straide is a must. This award-winning museum, housed in a beautiful old penal church, tells the story of one of Ireland’s most famous social revolutionary.
2. Explore the dungeons of Belleek Castle
Set in 1,000 acres of woodland & forestry, on the banks of the River Moy, Belleek Castle stands as a symbol of a bygone era. Belleek Castle was built between 1825 and 1831, on the site of a medieval abbey. Take the fascinating tour which includes an explanation of the origins of the Castle and the history of its former owners, the Knox-Gore family.
The highlight of the tour is the Marshall Doran Collection, which will take you down into the dungeons of the castle and showcase one of the finest collections of arms and armour, dinosaur fossils, and antiques in Ireland. You will also see the Grace O’ Malley room and the last wolf shot in Connaught.
For more information visit belleekcastle.com or contact 096 22400.
Photo: © Paul Doran, Belleek Castle
3. Savour a tour and tasting at the Connacht Whiskey Distillery
Based at the site of the old Duffy’s Cakery, Ballina, beside the River Moy, the grain is now being put to use in a different way as the team at the Connacht Whiskey Company produce pot still Irish whiskey by the banks of the River Moy.
The Connacht Whiskey Distillery Experience offers visitors an authentic, intimate guided craft distillery tour where visitors can learn about whiskey production from grain to glass, while also exploring the history and heritage of Irish spirit making.
The tour includes fun and informal tastings of the distillery’s whiskey, vodka, gin and traditional Irish poitín, and allows visitors to gain an in depth knowledge of the Connacht Whiskey brand and the stories behind each of our spirits. Upon completion, each participation receives a signed certificate.
For more information and for bookings, visit connachtwhiskey.com.
4. Discover Mayo’s forgotten history at Céide Fields and the Belderrig Valley Experience
After you’ve visited the Céide Fields Visitor Centre, experience the excitement of discovery and hands-on research in the most intensely researched 30km of the entire Wild Atlantic Way.
Based at the Belderrig Research and Study Centre, visitors can participate in one, two or three day-long archaeological experiences. You will be introduced to the excitement of discovery in the outdoor laboratory with guided walks, demonstrations and hands-on data collection including turf-cutting and other activities. Indoors at the Research Centre laboratories examine your findings with cutting-edge scientific equipment.
Examine the ring patterns of trees for knowledge of the age of the tree when it died, whether blown down, burnt or died of natural causes. Identify some of the billion grains of botanical information (pollen) contained in a sod of turf. And oc course, no visit to the area is complete without a visit to the famous Céide Fields Interpretative Centre.
5. Weave an unforgettable experience at Foxford Woollen Mills
Originally founded by Mother Agnes Morrogh-Bernard, Irish Sister of Charity in 1892, the fledgling woollen and textiles business at Foxford Woollen Mills overcame many challenges through the years in order to survive. In their newly designed visitor tour, enjoy an interactive journey through the working mills and learn of its turbulent and fascinating history.
Watch master craftspeople work on some of the world’s finest weaves, using techniques and traditions passed down through generations to create contemporary blankets, garments and products that are sought after worldwide. Have lunch in the bright and airy gourmet café and restaurant where local ingredients are prepared by Head Chef Kathleen Lally, formerly of the Four Seasons Hotel.
For more information or book tours, visit foxfordwoollenmills.com or call +35394 9256104.
6. Walk the beautiful Enniscoe House gardens and woodlands
Witness the enthralling beauty of Enniscoe House, the “last Great House of North Mayo” hidden among the woods at the foot of Mount Nephin. Enniscoe is your opportunity to experience life in a home-stay on this fabulous heritage estate.
Experience the fantastic lakeside trails through amazing pastures and woodlands and the carefully restored Victorian walled garden, organic walled garden and 19th century pleasure grounds that extend to the shores of Lough Conn with a beautiful loop walk in place.
Visit the North Mayo Heritage Centre to trace your family history or to browse the exhibition which houses an impressive array of local farm and household artefacts. Enjoy a tasty home baked treat in the Kaffa Coffee Café. While the house is a private family home, the gardens are open to the general public from 30th March to 31 October. The centre is open from April to October.
Visit enniscoehouse.com or call +35396 96 31809.
7. Explore our sacred past with a visit to Rosserk Friary or Moyne Abbey.
It’s one of our favourite things to do in Mayo North! Why not take a day to admire the beautifully preserved religious sites of North Mayo and avail of the fantastic photography opportunities there? Cycle the Monasteries of the Moy Greenway (which starts outside the soccer club at Belleek Woods), and witness one of the finest and best preserved of the Franciscan Friaries in Ireland, Rosserk. It’s one of a series of abbeys that includes Ballina’s Augustine Abbey, Rathfran Abbey, and Moyne Abbey.
This historic site was founded around 1440 by a member of the Joyce family. These ruins are accessible to the public and are beautifully positioned on an estuary of the River Moy. They boast remarkable carvings and features such as its west doorway, the single-aisle church and a unique double piscina. Nearby is beautiful Moyne Abbey.
Visit sacredlandscapes.ie for more information on North Mayo’s sacred past.
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Visit the Admiral Brown Centre in Foxford and learn about the founder of the Argentinian Navy, who was born in the town.
8. Walk or cycle through the enchanting Belleek Woods – Europe’s largest urban woodland
Situated along the banks of the river Moy lays the tranquil Belleek Woods which features some fantastic cycling and walking trails. This peaceful woodland stretches for six miles and is one of the largest urban forests in Europe.
Around every corner there are treasures to be discovered and there are many historical features from bygone days to unearth at Belleek Woods including a hermitage site, Knox-Gore Monument also known as “The Horse’s Grave”, the ominous concrete boat which has lain breached at Belleek Woods for decades, and an extraordinary wall built during the famine in Ireland.
The forest is well signposted and there are routes to suit all the family and level of cyclists.
9. Explore the Waterways by Paddle Board or Kayak
If it’s a water based activity you are after, look no further and spending time on the water has to be one of the best things to do in Mayo North. We are blessed with as a flood of outstanding lakes, rivers and rugged coastlines, each with something different to offer. Why not take the plunge and try your hand at stand-up paddle boarding.
A water based activity which combines a surfboard and a long one-handed paddle. It’s a traditional Hawaiian sport which promotes balance, strength and general fitness, and is a fantastic way to explore the stunning natural landscapes that are on offer.
If you’re looking for something a little more intense, why not try a spot of kayaking? Take to the lakes, rivers or seas on specialist tours and explore the rugged coastline at Ballycastle in a sea kayaking experience to remember.
10. Marvel at our Signature Discovery Point, Ballycastle’s Downpatrick Head
A few kilometres north of Ballycastle village lies the the windswept outcrop of Downpatrick Head – the perfect place for an invigorating coastal walk. St Patrick himself founded a church here, the ruins of which can still be seen today alongside a stone cross and holy well. This was once a popular pilgrim destination, and today crowds still gather here on the last Sunday of July – Garland Sunday – to hear mass at this sacred site. The St Patrick connections don’t end there!
The giant sea-stack at Downpatrick Head is called Dún Briste (the broken fort). Local legend says that when a pagan chieftain refused to convert to Christianity, St Patrick struck the ground with his crozier, splitting a chunk of the headland off into the ocean, with the chieftain on top!
One of the most fascinating things to do in Mayo, studying the geology of the sea stack is a fascinating few minutes well spent with its layers upon layers of multi-coloured rock strata.
See also the huge blowhole, the ÉIRE 64 aerial sign designed to guide WWII pilots and the WWII lookout post.
Enjoy a tasty treat by the ocean’s edge with Tea By The Sea!
Bonus Thing to Do – go beach-hunting!
North Mayo is blessed with some incredible beaches, very few of them tourism hotspots. Starting with our neighbours over the border in Co. Sligo, Enniscrone is just a 10-minute drive from Ballina (and a favourite of the locals).
There’s Ross Strand, Ballycastle Beach, Lacken Strand (and the secret Kilcummin Back Strand), Portacloy, Rinroe and over on the Erris Peninsula, even more treasures in the shape of Elly Bay and Carne.
The only way to discover them is to get out and find them!