Rothar Routes

Cycle routes & pilgrim journeys in Ireland and Europe …..

Posts tagged ‘Mayo’

Coast to Coast Day 4

I finally got to leave Mayo – a huge county. I could spend a fortnight cycling around it to truly take it all in! Heading into the legendary Ox Mountains, a place I’ve been intrigued with since primary school. The name conjured up some kind of magic and I recall reading fables set in the Mountains. So I was looking forward to cycling across the range today.

Love the traffic free local roads and lanes!
End of the road?

The hills were shrouded in cloud cover as I made my way out of Ballina along the winding back roads of Mayo and now Sligo. Soon the roads turned to lanes that brought me right up into the cloud and the mist where giant wind turbines suddenly appeared

Up with the wind turbines. Where did the sun go?

It was a case of putting on and taking off layers for the early part of today’s route. Rain jacket on, sweating, rain jacket off… Eventually I got off the mountain and had a brilliant road descent down by Lough Talt. With rain falling I decided to divert off my planned route and went directly into Tubbercurry along boring straight regional roads. Not my style at all.

One of the places I want to visit was one that I have passed by on a few occasions going to club matches in Sligo. The Caves of Kesh. I was delighted I took this circuitous route to take them in. They are a dramatic site, a row of 13 cave openings perched on the western edge of Kesh Mountain, part of the Bricklieve Mountains. They have long been part of the rich folklore and myth of the area and are associated with Fionn MacCumhaill, leader of the Fianna. and the Tuatha De Danann. They can be accessed by a steep winding path and care is needed along the cliff edge. The effort is worth it as there is a certain mysticism in walking through the caves and the views are amazing from the cave openings. If ever in the area, be sure to make the Caves a stopping point!

Caves of Keash
Caves of Keash
Panting heavily after the climb up to the Caves of Keash!

The plan was to then go up into the Curlew Mountains to ancient Carrowkeel but it was raining and cloudy and the effort it would take wouldn’t justify today! Instead I crossed over the edge of the Curlews and flow down into Boyle, County Roscommon where the local arts festival was in full swing. Accommodation was scare but I eventually got a B&B out the road. Had some great craic in the Crescent Bar owned by Dennis Dodd. What a character! It was so enjoyable listening to the banter between Dennis and his loyal customers. Great entertainment altogether.

81 kms today.

Coast to Coast Day 3

Lag Fliuch le Uinsionn Mac Graith
Carraig na Faoileoga
Teach Dhónaill Uí Chléirigh
Strapa Chaora Pheigí
An Bád Bréige
Na Stacaí
Toinn a'Ghiorráin Bháin
An Charraig Mhór.

The place names, or logainmneacha, of the coastline around Dún Chaocháin roll off his tongue as Gaeilge. There is something enthralling listening to native Irish speakers. Uinsionn Mac Graith played in goal, and was captain, of the first Rathvilly team to win the Carlow SFC in 1983. He is a native of Portacloy in the Mayo Gaeltacht and we had a noon rendezvous on today’s leg of the Coast to Coast.

The names are so descriptive – they had to be as they were landmarks for the fishermen and farmers and the names give an insight into the natural and manmade landscape. They tell a story of the various customs and history of past times and of the people of the area. Uinsionn is an expert on the area. He knows every rock by name, he knows the geological history reaching back to 600 million years ago! The depth of his knowledge is staggering, from Pre-Cambrian times to the early Celts, through the Norman conquests, to famine times and the War of Independence. A love of place. Encapsulated beautifully in his joint publications with his good wife Treasa Ní Ghearraigh – Logainmneacha agus Oidhreacht Dhún Chaocháin, Teampaill Chill Ghallagáin and various walking guides of the area. We spent a lovely four hours walking and chatting along the cliff walks above Portacloy – is this beach the safest in Ireland? It is an unspoilt haven. On our way up to Teachain a’Watch we met a group of workers on their way down from some restoration work on the old watch tower. Listening to them chatting as Gaeilge was like listening to poetry. The melodious lilt of the Irish language transported me to another Ireland.

Portacloy Beach

To meet Uinsionn I first had to cycle the beautiful Pullathomas cycle loop with its lovely coastal views. Uinsionn lives in Glenamoy and he was at the gate keeping a close watch in case I would miss the house. The weather was up and we took a spin out to Portacloy and had a quick recon of the Children of Lir Loop. The poor children of Lir of course spent 300 years as swans on Lake Derravarragh in Westmeath, 300 years on the Mull of Kintyre and the final 300 years on Erris. Magical walking in every sense. Our next walk took us up as far as Teachain a’Watch at the furthest end of Barr na Rinne, one of 83 look out posts constructed around the coast in 1941 to monitor warships during the Second World War. Nearby, a sign Éire 63 is outlined on the ground in quartz stones to indicate neutral Ireland for aircraft flying overhead.

Teachain a’Watch under reconstruction as part of the development of local Loop Walks
A cement basin outside the watchtower was used by the occupants for washing and shaving! Visitors seemed to have found a new use for it with coins being left as some kind of wishing well!

We finished up our tour of the area with refreshments back at the MacGraith home in Glenamoy. I am forever grateful for the hospitality of Uinsíonn and Treasa who were so kind and helpful to me as they proudly showed me around their locality. Community in action.

It was getting on now in the afternoon and I just made it to the Céide Fields as it was closing, so I only managed a very quick run around this world famous neolithic site which features the oldest known field system in the world. Perched on the edge of the wild Atlantic, it is wonderfully located along this remote cost line. Well worth more than a fleeting visit like mine.

Cliffs near Céide Fields

The climbing was over now and thankfully a grand descent to Ballycastle the nearest village to the iconic Downpatrick Head. I didn’t visit it on this occasion as the clock was against me and instead I headed for Killala and Ballina. Over my right shoulder was looming presence of mighty Nephin, the tallest stand alone mountain in Ireland. It really dominates the flat landscape around it. Mayo’s Mount Fuji! There was a notable change of scenery as I got further east; the vast blanket bog had morphed into a more agricultural landscape with plenty of hedges and trees defining this more productive farmland. 90 kms cycled and a few hours spent walking along the Ceathrú Thaidhg Walks best described by Lonely Planet as “The finest sustained coastal walk in western Ireland, with. profusion of precipitous cliffs, crags, caves, chasms and islands along the remote North Mayo coast”. I Couldn’t have said it better myself!

Coast to Coast Day 2

Belmullet and Broadhaven
Achill Island o'er the wave
Croagh Patrick's holy mountain
By the waters of Clew Bay
Clare Island, home of Granuaille
Old Newport well I know
All the friendly places on
The coastline of Mayo

From the song recorded by the Mulloy Brothers of Mulranny

View from my room in Mulranny

The weather forecast is for a heatwave but luckily this part of the country seldom experiences temperatures of that nature and this week was no exception. While the south east basked in 30 degree heat it was a much more normal summers day on the road from Mulranny to Belmullet, perfect for cycling and with a tail wind behind me I couldn’t have been happier!

The road cuts between the hills as it leaves Mulranny and the scenery opens up into wide vistas towards Wild Nephin National Park, one of the most remote areas in the country. It covers an immense 15,000 hectares of blanket bog and unspoiled wilderness. It’s magnificent. The whole Erris area likewise is rugged, remote, raw and a delight to cycle through. It wasn’t long until I reached the Mayo Gaeltacht just after passing through Bangor. It was back roads all the way into Belmullet and to be sure to get accommodation I booked a room right away on arrival, left my panniers off and headed out the Blacksod Bay.

Blacksod Bay is forever etched in my mind because of the awful loss of life of 4 crew members in the 2017 involving Irish Coastguard Rescue 116 when their helicopter clipped Blackrock island about 10kms off the coast. There was a fair wind in my face heading out across the flat barren peninsula of Erris – every pedal stroke had to be fought for and only the radio commentary of the All Ireland Hurling Final kept me from quitting! It was worth it though as its a lovely route out especially taking in the loop around by Teampail agus Leaba Dheirbhile. With a sister named Dearbhla I simply had to visit!

106kms done approx on day 2. Great day in the saddle!

Coast to Coast Day 1

Should I stay or should I go now?
Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go, there will be trouble.
And if I stay it will be double..

It’s Saturday morning, 16th July 2022 and we’ve a decision to make. This afternoon myself and Mary are booked on the train to Castlebar, heading for Blacksod Bay to cycle Coast to Coast from the West Coast of Mayo to Carlingford, County Louth. Mary tested positive for Covid on Friday and its impossible for her to do the cycle. Her Mam too has been under the weather but Patricia and Eleanor are on hand and manning the fort.

Go West. Life is peaceful there. Go west. Lots of open air.

With her blessing, I reluctantly pack my panniers and catch the Castlebar train, feeling guilty. Any regrets were dispelled when an elderly lady I got chatting to gave me three miraculous medals; one for the bike, one for Mary and one for her mother. It felt like a sign from above! Right decision.

Hats off to Irish Rail. Unbelievable value if tickets are bought online – two adults with two bikes cost just €28. Rail staff couldn’t have been more helpful and it really opened any eyes for future bike trips.

The plan was to get the bus from Castlebar to Belmullet and cycle out to start at Blacksod. But it was a grand evening, so instead of boarding, I cycled past and head for Newport and the Western Greenway! It was a perfect evening for cycling; the Greenway was deserted, I only met three other cyclists on it and had it all to myself. The views across the bay to Croagh Patrick are exceptional and the path is terrific, just wandering sheep to worry about – and clouds of biting flying ants!

Wasn’t long till my arms were covered in ants..

It was after 9pm when I reached tropical Mulranny and after three refusals, I was relieved to get a bed above Ciaran Moran’s pub, Moynish House. A good start. 38kms done to ease into it.