The county of Mayo in the West of Ireland has a lot to offer. As well as ancient sites such as the Céide fields and spectacular views of the Atlantic ocean, the local people go out of their way to greet new and returning visitors.
So if your visit to Ireland takes you to the West, here are just three places to take in on a visit to Mayo.
Museum of Country Life
Just outside the town of Castlebar sits the impressive and well named Museum of Country Life. This is the fourth and only part of the National Museum of Ireland’s buildings that lies outside of Dublin. Irish Politics being a very local business, no doubt every politician in Mayo has taken full credit for this major coup of getting a nationally funded museum outside the capital city, and for that matter ahead of the Republic of Ireland’s other main cities of Cork and Galway. If you have heard about the 'miracle' of an airport in the town of Knock in Mayo, immortalised in the Christy Moore song, you can imagine similar forces being at work!
This is a great place to visit, whether you have travelled West within Ireland, or if you have flown across the sea to get here. For those who have grown up in Ireland, there are many familiar items on display that will bring you back a generation to the not so distant past. Your grandparents house will have hosted many of the objects. There are installations with irons made of iron, rather than the plastic of today, beautifully coloured cigarette packets and emblems like the Child of Prague, that adorned the walls of Irish houses. There are corners of interest all over, from a range of items found in a blacksmith’s forge to old style news agents complete with razors that John Wayne would have approved of. There is an area displaying weapons used around the time of the 1916 Irish civil war with photos and uniforms from the era bringing it to life. And for the kids, there’s magnified views of old hurling balls made of horse hair along with an array of items that grabbed the small ones' imaginations, not to mention their parents.
Nobody got bored, always a concern, with lots of stop-off points for kids to scribble and colour, with plentiful supplies of pens and coloured pencils. A woven hen-house was a particular favourite with it’s 'please touch' sign and the surprise of a colourful cloth hen inside. For older children, a video of whaling off the Achill Islands, thankfully in black and white, proved captivating. The exhibits give you a real sense of what a normal day was like in Ireland not that long ago.
Westport House Pirate Adventure
Yes it’s not Disneyland, but for some old-school fun fair thrills for the kids and the opportunity to join in yourself, the Pirate themed Adventure Park in Westport House is an established favourite for many Irish families. If you are in the West of Ireland and need somewhere for the children to let loose in - Westport House and the Pirate Adventure park is the place to go.
There’s something uniquely Irish about sitting on a wooden pirate boat with twenty or so strangers, in full rain-gear, as you are suddenly swung backwards into the air and then back down again, with only a steel bar to hold you in as your rear raises itself from the seat. You get to scream with the rest of the ‘pirates’ on board and on the second time around you’ll be sticking your arms up in the air with the best of them. And then there’s the log flume, which looks like it would be best used for transporting rocks up a mine, rather than humans up to an inevitable drop. You will get knocked around in your small ‘boat’ that you’re sitting on, as it makes its way up to the drop that compared to big and brash theme parks would seem measly. However, when you are at the top before the drop it dawns on you that there is nothing to grip to, so you hang on to the kids (you’re unlikely to be on this contraption unless you have them with you) and hope that they and you don’t topple out on the way down. And the soaking you get as you land and the hysterical laughs of the kids makes it all the more memorable.
For the thrill averse, there’s a leisurely trip on the pedal-powered 'swans' around the beautiful waters surrounding Westport House, or a knee to chest trip on the steam train. The good news is that even when the queues are long, you will get to the top pretty quickly . There is a great slide where, if you have helped the kids climb up, you will find there is only one down - so be ready to slide down with a small potato sack around your feet. The chances are that you will want to do it again!
It is easy to forget with all the activities that there's a fantastic house to explore on site. So, do not forget to drop into Westport House itself. With authentic duelling guns among the many interesting items on display, you get an insight into Ireland under English rule. The never worn ceremonial Earl of Sligo jacket is an impressive reminder of the way Ireland was a vastly different place less than 100 years ago.
Downpatrick Head - The Wild Atlantic Way
Not unique to Mayo, but something not to miss while you’re visiting is the Wild Atlantic Way. A particularly bright spark in the Irish tourist board came up with the concept of the Wild Atlantic Way not so long ago, a grand route of small and lesser travelled roads that is expanding all the time as it winds its way around the coast of Ireland.
Jokes used to abound about driving around Ireland that if you asked for directions the locals would give you advice along the lines of “you could go left or right, but it depends what time you want to get there”. And there lies the central point of the Wild Atlantic Way - sure you could get to the historical or scenic spot you want to get to in fifteen minute, if you use the main road, but if you take the ‘scenic’ way you’ll get to take in the beautiful coastal sites that this part of the world has to offer.
Marked by distinctive blue signs at intervals along the route, The ‘way’ is an ideal route for those with little sense of direction, like myself, and lost tourists from afar to find their way around. It even tells you whether you’re going north or south - which if you have travelled down endlessly bending and veering roads in Ireland before, is great reassurance that the road you’re going down will lead you (eventually) to where you are going.
More often that not, somewhere is a breathtaking view of the ocean or of rugged mountain terrain and roads that give your brake pads a good workout. Downpatrick Head situated close to the Ceide fields is one such site. You can choose to admire the scenery from further on down the road at various viewing points, with its sea stack standing amid the battering sea. Or you can get up close and personal and check out (from a safe distance) the blow-hole that stands within the head. If you picked up some leaflets of the area, this impressive site which really gives a sense of Ireland’s position at the mercy of the power of the Atlantic.
Wild Atlantic Way
Co. Mayo, Ireland