Guest Post: From Wexford to North Mayo, a Slow Burner Love Affair by Michael Guilfoyle - Visit North Mayo

Presenting this week’s related guest blog post by Michael Guilfoyle. Michael, an accomplished writer and journalist with a focus on the west and the hills, has consistently contributed to a range of travel and outdoor publications, including notable features in The Irish Times and Mountain Views to name but a few. We hope you enjoy his introductory contribution below concentrating on north Mayo.

From Wexford to North Mayo, a Slow Burner Love Affair

I grew up as far from North Mayo as one can get in Ireland. But for many summers of my growing, my parents would pile us kids into our black Morris Minor and later, Ford Prefect and Ford Cortina and drive us complaining and fighting all the way from Wexford to Lecanvey on the south shores of Clew Bay. In the beginning in the 60s, it’s hard to believe now, but the cottage we stayed in had no running water and it was my job to walk over the drumlin opposite our summer abode to an ancient well every morning of those summer stays. I still remember so well the feel of the wooden handle and the metallic sound of the arc of wire scraping in  the eyelets of the white vitreous enamel pail that it was my duty to fill.

And one of those mornings, in early June and not long released from school in Wexford for the holidays, was to instil an image and a memory which is still easy and wistful of recall to this day, many long decades later. I’d fetched the water many times, I’d done this little walk through wind and rain and in-between, but there was something special about this occasion, and it told me so.

It was sunny and windy, and the air was cool and clear, and the field I walked through to the well was dancing with buttercups and daisies and greenest of early summer grasses; and, as I crested that little drumlin garden, Clew Bay and the long ramparts of North Mayo were laid out before me in a great undulating and unbroken line of hills stretching along the whole length of  the opposite north shore of the bay. The beauty of high blue sky and the  lively blue/white bay, and especially of the long blue/purple line of the hills literally stopped me in my tracks, my child’s mind even then recognising that this was very special, worth taking time to be present to and remembering.

From Maps to Mountains in North Mayo

I was interested in maps, even as a child, and my Dad bought me the old ½ inch sheets 10 and 6, and often in those days I perused the map-shape of the land north of that line of hills, but for years and years it remained unseen and unvisited, a veritable terra incognita. And there was enough where I was, I suppose, to occupy a child, the mackerel fishing off the tip of Bertra, pier jumping at high tide at Carrowmore, fishing for trout in the Carrowniskey River near Louisburgh and for tope and skate and monkfish in among the beautiful little drumlin islands of Clew Bay, the exciting annual night pilgrimage up the Reek, and the odd trip away down to exotic Tullaghbawn, or as it’s called now “Silver Strand”. But still I wondered what lay behind that line of hills, hills I soon learned to name from Nephin away in the east all the way to Croghaun on Achill, the most westerly tip of Mayo. I knew the shape of North Mayo but never could see it, even from the top of the Reek. But that was ok, I’d my whole life ahead of me.

My first serious expedition  into North Mayo came in the late 70s when my dog Sandy and I back packed the Bangor Trail, detouring over the top of that remotest of Irish mountains, Slieve Car, from where, for the first time, the whole world of North Mayo with its intricate bays and islands and its wild expanses opened up to me. Ok, being young and foolish, I chose midgy August days and nights for the trek and learned a lesson that even Sandy remembered till he died, that is if dogs remember anything really.

The Bangor Trail 📸 David Flanagan

Since then, over all the decades, North Mayo has had a very special place in my heart. I’ve trekked the precipitous edge of its  beautiful rugged north coast, indeed in 2022 camping along the way from Belderg right around An Bhinn Bhui (Benwee Head) to the beach below Cill Ghallagain (Kilgalligan). On that more recent trip and many more previous one day outings I’ve visited those remote little communities of Port an Chloidh (Portacloy) and Port Durlainne (Port Urlin), on one occasion at these little places witnessing a howling north gale roaring into the narrow bays and blowing surf and spray away above their shingle storm beaches. And of course I’m drawn back and back, year after year, to walk the north coast of the Mullet Peninsula, to cycle most of the now well-surfaced roads of North Mayo, to crisscross time and time again the rugged unique wilderness of the Nephin Begs (one time lost in the dark and getting out by sheer good luck), and of course to visit with my mind and imagination the wonder of the Ceide Fields and the drama of Dun Briste at Downpatrick Head. There are just so many places and little corners in North Mayo; and its ever- changing skies and seas and colours, mean no one place is ever the same.

Cliff Walk at Kilgaligan, Co Mayo Ireland
Cliffs at Benwee-Head, Co.Mayo 📸 Mayo North Tourism

 A few places, though not many, remain unvisited but are on my list, and one of them is the Inishkea Islands off the Mullet Peninsula , another is to pay more attention to the beautiful eastern loughs of North Mayo, and not to be always seduced to the wild western and northern hills and shores of North Mayo. But sometimes I can’t help it.

I’ve wandered all corners of Ireland over the decades, and I would never compare one place with another. We are privileged to live on the most beautiful island. But I can only observe where my heart lies, and where it tells me to go to get my ‘fix’ of wild western magic.  And that’s nearly always ever Mayo, easily my favourite county in Ireland. Which part, whether north of south? Well, that’s a toss-up and whether such a toss-up falls as heads or tails, I’m more than happy to accept!  

by Michael Guilfoyle, 4th February 2024

Upcoming Features

Stay tuned for an upcoming blog post by Michael as he takes us on a journey through “The Wild North Shore of Achill” next week. Make sure to revisit for an immersive experience.

In the meantime, explore some of Mr. Guilfoyle’s captivating articles below which featured in The Irish Times:

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