Starting in Ballina and working your way throughout the region. here’s a list of fourteen 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.
Why not let us know your favourite things to see and do over on our Facebook page?
Main photo: © Paddle and Pedal
1. Trace Ireland’s history at the Jackie Clarke Collection, Ballina
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 North Mayo 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, Ballina and view the Marshall Doran Collection
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, Ballina
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 online bookings, visit connachtwhiskey.com.
4. Discover Mayo’s forgotten history at Céide Fields and the Belderrig Valley Experience, Ballycastle and Belderrig
On the wild, exposed, North Mayo Atlantic coast, the remains of a complex system of fields, dwelling areas and megalithic tombs lie buried beneath the blanket boglands. Together, they make up the most extensive Stone Age monument in the world. Discovered by the Caulfield family, and extending over hundreds of hectares, these stone-walled fields are the oldest known globally, dating back almost 6,000 years.
The award-winning Céide Fields Visitor Centre with its distinctive pyramid shape is set against some of the most dramatic rock formations in Ireland. The Centre will re-open in 2022 with an entirely revamped and immersive visitor experience, that must be seen to be believed. A viewing platform on the edge of the 110-metre-high Céide Cliffs will help you make the most of the breathtaking scenery.
After your visit to Céide Fields, you have the option of following in poet Seamus Heaney’s footsteps and getting under the skin of this famous monument by visiting Belderrig Valley. Based at the Belderrig Research and Study Centre, visitors can participate in one, two or three day-long archaeological experiences, incorporating traditional turf-cutting by hand, and laboratory analysis of the sod of turf.
5. Weave an unforgettable experience at Foxford Woollen Mills, Foxford
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, and visit the North Mayo Heritage Centre, near Crossmolina/Lahardane
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 on-site café. While the house is a private family home, the gardens are open to the general public from 30th March to 31 October. The North Mayo Heritage Centre is open from April to October.
7. Explore our sacred past on the Monasteries of the Moy, with a visit to Rosserk Friary or Moyne Abbey, Killala
It’s one of our favourite things to do in North Mayo! 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 from Ballina to Killala (which starts outside the soccer club at Belleek Woods, Ballina), and witness one of the finest and best preserved of the Franciscan Friaries in Ireland, Rosserk Abbey. 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.
8. Walk or cycle through the enchanting Belleek Woods, Ballina – 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 of North Mayo 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 North Mayo. 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?
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.
Enjoy your pick of the above on the River Moy, Lough Conn or Lough Cullin, or on the Atlantic Ocean itself!
Ballina is a hotspot for water based activities, with companies such as Simply SUP, Harbour Sup n’ Sail, Paddle and Pedal, More to Life Adventures and Rachel’s Irish Adventures offering a variety of water-based activities.
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!
11. Learn about one of Ireland’s greatest activists at the Michael Davitt Museum, Straide
Michael Davitt was born in Straide in 1846 to an impoverished tenant farmer family. He would go on to become one of the most important figures in Irish history. A forward-thinking individual, over the course of his career Davitt evolved from a physical force revolutionary to a constitutional politician and human rights campaigner. His role in the formation and organisation of the Land League changed the lives of the tenant farmer class from which he originated, inspiring social radicals and revolutionaries around the world. Davitt’s early life and experiences would go on to shape his moral, social and political views, and provide him with a continued thirst for justice for those who had been oppressed and exploited.
The Michael Davitt Museum, housed in a beautifully restored 17th century penal church alongside Straide Abbey, where Davitt is buried, tells his story and that of the land wars, through photos, artefacts and a team of engaged and passionate guides.
Visit: www.michaeldavittmuseum.ie to plan your visit.
12. See North Mayo through the eyes of artists at the Ballinglen Museum of Art, Ballycastle
One of North Mayo’s newest visitor attractions, The Ballinglen Museum of Art is a public space for exhibition, creative exchange, engagement, research, and meetings. The Ballinglen Arts Foundation is a registered charity offering artistic residency awards – the Ballinglen Fellowship Programme – that enable Irish and international artists to spend time working in this beautiful corner of rural Ireland. Since its foundation in 1992, the Foundation has facilitated hundreds of artists from the United States, Europe, and Asia to come to the small coastal village of Ballycastle, County Mayo, Ireland to be inspired by and create art in response to the landscape.
Upon departure, Ballinglen Fellows donate a work of art, created in response to their fellowship, to the Ballinglen Permanent Collection. This collection now contains over 850 artworks and is a record of 30 years of visits by Irish and international artists to Ballinglen. Reflective of the environment, heritage, community, and soul of this part of North Mayo, it is a unique and significant collection of art that is now displayed in this state of the art gallery.
13. 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 – and lots more to be discovered.
The best way to discover them is to get out and find them!
14. Climb Nephin Mountain – Ireland’s tallest standalone mountain, and the second highest in Connacht at 806m!
Nephin can be accessed from a number of points, but the most straightforward is the recently developed waymarked trail, put in place by Mayo County Council, the Nephin’s Haven group and the local community, that will take you to the top of the mountain. This route takes you along edge of Nephin’s distinct “crater”, which although spectacular, can be hazardous, so caution is urged. To reacth the trailhead, head towards Lahardane from Crossmolina (or pass through Lahardane coming from Castlebar or Foxford) and use this Google Maps link to the Nephin Car Park. Ascend with care!
Once you’ve reached the summit, be sure to capture a selfie, and pop into Barrett’s of Lahardane afterwards for a treat, and to collect your personalised Nephin certificate!