Ballycastle, Co. Mayo - Visit North Mayo

Main St Ballycastle 📷 Bartek Rybacki and Mayo North

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, 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.

Ballycastle in North Mayo 📸 Bartek Rybacki and Mayo North Tourism ©

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.

Attractions and Amenities in Ballycastle, Co. Mayo

The Céide Fields Visitor Centre 

Céide Fields, Co. Mayo by Alison Crummy / Fáilte Ireland
📸 by Alison Crummy / Fáilte Ireland

Visit the most extensive Stone Age Monument in the world, the Céide Fields, located 8km west of Ballycastle towards Belderrig. Preserved beneath the wild blanket bog is a 6,000 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 visitor 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 6,000 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 along the guided tour and you can discover a buried wall for yourself using a centuries-old method of probing. 

There is also a brand new state of the art visitor centre with exhibitions, audio-visual display and tearoom, 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.

Downpatrick Head 

Dún Briste Sea Stack from Downpatrick Head – Credit: Shutterstock/Michael Gismo

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.

Dún 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.

History and Heritage in Ballycastle, Co. Mayo

The area boasts standing stones, ring forts, stone circles and no fewer than 30 court tombs. The Standing Stone in Doonfeeny Cemetery is the second largest in Ireland.

Doonfeeny Standing Stone, Ballycastle

Activities in Ballycastle

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. 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 Killerduff 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 – Visit Ballinglen Museum of Contemporary Art

Ballinglen Arts Foundation hosts Art Exhibitions by international artists during the year in the Ballingllen Gallery.

The Ballinglen Museum of Contemporary Art is located adjacent to The Ballinglen Arts Foundation. The Ballinglen Museum of Contemporary Art is the first museum devoted to contemporary art in the west of Ireland.

The new museum houses an archive of almost 800 works of art, created over the past twenty nine years by Ballinglen Fellows who have visited the region and stayed for weeks at a time, becoming part of the very fabric of the community.

The Ballinglen Arts Foundation and The Ballinglen Museum of Art in Ballycastle County Mayo Ireland
The Ballinglen Arts Foundation (L) and The Ballinglen Museum of Art (R)

Try your hand at wool spinning amongst other activities Killala Woolcraft

If you are looking for a unique experience here in North Mayo, then pop into Annie Gambrill, the owner of the unique Killala Woolcraft which is located in Ballycastle, Co.Mayo.

A textile artist by profession, her works are inspired by nature, colour and texture. Killala Woolcraft host a range of demonstrations and workshops throughout the year.

Find out more about this fabulous activity here.

Killala Woolcraft
Annie from Killala Woolcraft based in Ballycastle, County Mayo

Tourist Information in Ballycastle

Tourist information can be found in Céide Craft Stack located on upper Main Street.

Eating in Ballycastle

Call into June’s Café (formally Mary’s Cottage Kitchen) for breakfast and lunch, as well as some sweet treats. For opening times and menus please visit their Facebook Page. If you’re looking for sustenance after a day’s adventures then Healy’s Bar is the place to go for an evening meal.

Accommodation in Ballycastle

See our list of accommodation in Ballycastle, Co. Mayo (click on the ‘Ballycastle’ tab).