Exploring Ballycastle: A Quick Road Trip Diary - Visit North Mayo

Discovering North Mayo: A Day Trip from Ballina to Ballycastle

I seized a sunny day recently to enjoy a day trip in Ballycastle to check out some of the sites and visit some of Mayo Norths fabulous members. Starting my journey from Ballina, I made my way through Killala, and onto Ballycastle, which is located along the stunning Céide Coast on the Wild Atlantic Way. (Killala is a gorgeous spot, so tranquil and the home of some incredible and historic sites. I am looking forward to exploring properly another day.)

Ballycastle itself is like something lifted straight from an Irish postcard. It is a picturesque coastal village known for its dramatic cliffs, stunning natural beauty, and rich historical heritage.

The picture perfect village of Ballycastle in North Mayo by: Mayo North Tourism / Bartek Rybacki

Onwards to Ballycastle via Downpatrick Head

Before visiting the village, I took the short drive from Ballycastle to one of the highlights of my journey – Downpatrick Head (approx. 8km drive). Be mindful driving on these small country roads, and once there, prepare for a 500-meter walk from the car park, which can be muddy after rain—proper footwear is essential.

Dún Bríste at Downpatrick Head by Mayo North Tourism

This signature point along the Wild Atlantic Way offers spectacular views of the magnificent sea stack Dún Bríste (Broken Fort), which is said to have separated from the mainland in 1393. This stunning spot is becoming increasingly popular for Instagram-worthy photos. However, don’t just stop here. Downpatrick Head and Ballycastle have much more to offer beyond picturesque views! When seeking your perfect image, please heed warning signs. The clifftop is uneven and unguarded, with strong winds; always exercise caution and keep a safe distance from the edge, especially with children! (Here’s your reminder that it is called the ‘Wild’ Atlantic Way for a number of reasons!)

This spectacular site – Downpatrick Head in North Mayo was also home to 2021 Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series where the Atlantic waters tested some talented athletes to their limits. For anyone not familiar with this, or who may have missed it, check out the following video:

From Downpatrick Head, you can also see the amazing Stags of Broadhaven in the distance. Historical sites here include a World War I lookout tower and a World War II stone aerial marker, “Eire 64.” Explore the remains of a church built by St. Patrick and his statue, along with ‘The Crossing,’ part of Tír Sáile – The North Mayo Sculpture Trail. For art enthusiasts, Tír Sáile is the largest public arts project ever undertaken in Ireland.

Statue of St. Patrick at Downpatrick Head by Mayo North Tourism

Downpatrick Head is truly breathtaking. It’s free to visit, so please remember to #lovethisplace and #leavenotrace while you’re here!

From Downpatrick Head, I made my way back to Ballycastle, and my first stop had to be Mary’s Bakery.

Savouring More Than Just Delicious Treats – The Warm Mayo Welcome at Mary’s Bakery Ballycastle

Mary Munnelly, who is the face behind ‘Marys Bakery Ballycastle’ is an absolute legend in Ballycastle. She is an integral part of everything that makes the Ballycastle and North Mayo community great. Mary is known far and wide for her incredible baked goods, including scones, cookies, and vegan sausage rolls, not to mention her delicious homemade preserves. A visit here will not disappoint. (Mary used to run Marys Cottage Kitchen but now operates Marys Bakery which is a takeaway delight.)

Mary Munnelly of Mary;s Bakery Ballycastle by Mayo North Tourism

I grabbed my takeaway coffee and some of Mary’s famous treats and headed off to ‘The Shambles,’ a lovely, enclosed picnic spot at the top of the village just at the junction where you turn for Downpatrick Head. It’s perfect for enjoying Mary’s treats in a cozy setting. (As a point of interest, the Shambles is one of Ballycastle’s oldest landmarks having been erected circa 1830’s/40’s as a Co-Op for buying local farm produce. It was taken over by the British Government and used as a British Garrison in the late 1880’s, before the Irish Land Commission took it over and was used as a market placefor the selling of animals in the 1920’s. Here it stands today as a lovely picnic stopover).

For anyone visiting Ballycastle, Mary’s Bakery is a must-visit, especially if you have a sweet tooth or appreciate good, honest baking, a friendly smile and great conversation.

Art meets the Atlantic – a visit to the Ballinglen Museum of Art / Ballinglen Arts Foundation

From here, I ventured to the Ballinglen Museum of Art, located just beside Mary’s Bakery, where Una and her team run an extraordinary museum and arts foundation. This place is a haven for artists, offering a brilliant residency program dedicated to supporting artists from around the world. Their artwork draws inspiration from the breathtaking cliffs, sea, and landscape of Ballycastle and North Mayo.

Ballinglen Museum of Art including a lovely portrait of John Burke, whom many locals will know. Credit: Mayo North Tourism

The museum showcases a wonderful range of contemporary artwork, including landscapes, abstract works, portraiture, photography, and prints. These stunning pieces have been created by renowned Irish and international artists who have spent time at the foundation, providing a unique perspective on the area.

Ballinglen Museum of Art, Ballycastle, Mayo. Credit: Mayo North Tourism

The Ballinglen Museum of Art is free to visit (donations are welcome!) and notably, it is the first museum devoted to contemporary art in the west of Ireland. It’s a must-visit for anyone interested in the arts, offering an opportunity to explore at your own pace, immerse yourself in the creative spirit of North Mayo, and appreciate the stunning works inspired by this beautiful region.

Here’s a lovely video recorded in 2023 telling the history and current status of this fabulous place:

Killala Woolcraft A haven of creativity for all

Continuing my journey of creativity, I popped into Killala Woolcraft, where Annie Gambrill, the owner, is truly one of a kind. Located in St.Johns Hall, just beside Ballinglen, this unique activity allows visitors to learn about traditional wool crafting techniques and even try their hand at it. It’s a fantastic way to connect with local culture and history.

St. Johns Church Ballycastle and Annie from Killala Woolcraft. Credit: Mayo North Tourism

Annie teaches workshops in drop spindle, frame loom weaving, rigid heddle weaving, and wool spinning using Irish wool from local sheep. Workshops can be tailored to individual interests. Killala Woolcraft offers a range of demonstrations and classes in everything from knitting to free-flow weaving and natural dyeing.

Annie is passionate about her work, and it shows in every piece. All her creations are inspired by nature, colour, and texture. I would safely say to watch this space. Annie has made a mark on Ballycastle and is quite literally part of the fabric of the place now.

Discover more about Annies story and Killala Woolcraft in our short video here:

Ballycastle BeachOff the beaten track

With some goodies from Mary’s Bakery still in hand, I headed to Ballycastle Beach. It is quite literally just over the road – just over 1km from Ballycastle. Everything is so compact and easy to reach.  Ballycastle Beach which is located at the southern end of Bunatrahir Bay is bordered by sand dunes, making it ideal for sunbathing. The waters are clean and safe for swimming. There is a short 1.8km trail here too if you have the time. Click here to find out more.

Ballycastle Beach- Mairead Melody Carr
Ballycastle Beach. Credit: Mayo North Tourism

The Best of Both Worlds with Hotel and Glamping Accommodation in Ballycastle

  • Stella Maris Shore House Hotel

Again, literally just over the road, I visited Stella Maris Shore House Hotel. This beautiful building was originally a Coast Guard regional headquarters built in the mid-1800s, it was later taken over by the Sisters of Mercy as an old convent before being transformed into a hotel. The doors closed a number of years ago, but it has been brought back to life again as a stunning hotel since April 2024 under the helm of Swiss native Rolf Siegrist.

Stella Maris Shore House, Ballycastle, Co.Mayo. Credit: Mayo North Tourism

The hotel offers breathtaking views of Ballycastle Beach and Downpatrick Head. Rolf’s vision is to preserve its unique charm and antique style while welcoming both locals and tourists. Currently, Stella Maris offers overnight accommodation, event hosting, and a chance to enjoy coffee and cake in the beautiful conservatory by the sea.

Views from Ballycastle Beach with Stella Maris Shore House in the distance. Credit: Mayo North Tourism
  • Céide Glamping

After my visit to Stella Maris, I took a leisurely short drive along the scenic road, passing Killerduff Pier on my way to Céide Glamping. The views of the Atlantic and Downpatrick Head were stunning, with plenty of sheep adding to the charm along the way.  I met with Lianne here who gave me a quick tour. Ceide Glamping was established in 2021 in the aftermath of Covid and offers six cozy pods, each with a comfy bed, private bathroom, and all the essentials. It’s just a short stroll (about 500m) from Killerduff Pier, perfect for water adventures like swimming, surfing, or fishing.

Ceide Glamping in Ballycastle. Credit: Mayo North Tourism

I can only imagine that waking up here would be like a dream—imagine opening your eyes to those breathtaking Atlantic views! Whether you’re out exploring the Ceide Coast or simply taking it easy, Céide Glamping is really unique spot where you can feel somewhat off the grid, relax and connect with nature.

Views from beside Céide Glamping – overlooking Downpatrick Head in Ballycastle, Mayo. Credit: Mayo North Tourism
  • Doonfeeny Standing Stone

One thing I missed whilst here was Doonfeeny Standing Stone (now on my list for my next visit!) The Doonfeeny Standing Stone is the second highest standing stone in Ireland, measuring 4.5 meters (14.5 feet) tall. It is located only about 3km from Ballycastle and parking can be awkward here. If you were staying in Stella Maris or Céide Glamping, you could walk to this historic site either.

Sacred Landscapes Doonfeeney Standing Stone
Doonfeeny Standing Stone. Credit: Mayo North Tourism

From one historic thought to the next……I made my way to the amazing Ceide Fields.

  • Step Back in Time: Exploring the Fascinating World of the Céide Fields

This incredible historic site showcases the oldest known field systems in the world. Whether you’re a history buff or just curious, it’s a must-see. Dating back roughly 6,000 years, these stone-walled fields reveal a Stone Age farming community that’s been hiding in Ireland’s past. Discovered by Patrick Caulfield in the 1930s and later excavated by his son Seamus, an archaeologist, the site unveiled cultivated fields, houses, and tombs beneath the bog land—a truly remarkable find.

View as you enter the Ceide Fields. Credit: Mayo North Tourism

Managed by the OPW, the Céide Fields Visitor Centre is home to the most extensive Stone Age monument globally. With field systems, dwelling areas, and megalithic tombs, it’s a journey back in time. Explore the bogland and soak in the spectacular views. The immersive experience, including a short film and a 360-degree screen, brings history alive, offering a glimpse into the lives of Neolithic farmers.

After your visit to the state-of-the-art visitor centre, head up to the viewing platform for stunning vistas atop 365-foot-high cliffs. Hungry? The Céide Fields Café – Céide Ladle serves up a delicious lunch menu, perfect for a mid-afternoon treat. Or, across the road, Coast Coffee offers mouthwatering treats with some of Ireland’s most breathtaking views, including the Staggs of Broadhaven to the west and Dún Briste to the east.

A visit to the Céide Fields is an unforgettable, immersive experience! There’s an entrance fee, but it’s well worth it. Plus, like all OPW sites in Ireland, entrance is free on the first Wednesday of every month.

Discover more about this remarkable place from Gretta Byrne in our video which was recorded in 2023:

Unexplored Adventures – Saving for another day!

Aswell as the Doonfeeny Standing Stone, another place I missed was the Woolly Alpaca Wonders (and also the trip as far as Belderrig!, both on my ‘To-do list’!)

  • Woolly Alpaca Wonders

One place I regretfully missed was Woolly Alpaca Wonders. However, Jacqui kindly sent me some videos and photos of their delightful alpacas. They have grand plans for this venture, and visitors are welcome to pop in, see, and feed these beautiful creatures for free. Donations are appreciated, and don’t forget to snap a selfie with an alpaca! Again, I would safely say…..watch this space!

Gorgeous Alpacas in Ballycastle. Credit: Woolly Alpaca Wonders

This day trip along the Céide Coast is an absolute must on any North Mayo itinerary. From historic sites to charming local businesses, there’s genuinely something for everyone to enjoy. I can’t wait for my next visit to explore even more of what this beautiful region has to offer, and I hope it has give you some ideas for your own road trip itinerary!

Ballycastle, Co.Mayo. Credit Mayo North Tourism

A Bright Future….

Looking to the future for this beautiful area, for athletes, the Céide Coast Atlantic Run takes places in September. This stunning and somewhat challenging route is a must for all accomplished and budding athletes! Spaces book fast, so be sure to secure your places as soon as possible.

We also look forward to further development of the ‘Wild Atlantic Way Céide Coastal Path’ which many people including The Céide Coast Community group have worked really hard on over the years. Imagine a stunning coastal path linking the Céide Fields Neolithic site to the Wild Atlantic Way Signature Discovery Point at Downpatrick Head? We cannot wait!

I hope you enjoyed reading this blog post. Please let us know where you think we should add to our next road trip or indeed of any amendments or additions you feel should be added to the above! Email: [email protected].

By Mairéad Melody-Carr, Manager, Mayo North Tourism (Date visited: April 2024)

Write A Comment