After stays in Cappoquin and Kinsale, Westport was our base for the next four weeks.
Westport, County Mayo, was our home for the month of December. Westport is about an hour north of Galway on Ireland’s west coast, in the southeast corner of magnificent Clew Bay. The town itself was designed in 1780 in the Georgian architectural style, and is surrounded by dramatic vistas and rugged terrain. Looming over the town is Croagh Patrick, famously named for St. Patrick. From Westport, we explored much of County Mayo and many points beyond.
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This is the view from our cottage just west of Westport, looking north across Clew Bay. Being from Florida, we were delighted to awake one morning to the sight of snow on distant mountains.
Much of County Mayo is comprised of rolling hills dotted with farmhouses. The pastures are laced by hedgerows and threaded by “boreens” (narrow roads).
Mountains as much as a half-mile high provide dramatic backgrounds.
Croagh Patrick is one of those half-mile-high mountains. This is the view of it from our yard the morning it snowed. Croagh Patrick had been a site of pagan pilgrimage, especially for the summer solstice, since 3,000 B.C.
Seen here shrouded in clouds, the mountain is now a site of Christian pilgrimage. Saint Patrick reputedly fasted on the summit for forty days in the fifth century A.D. On “Reek Sunday,” the last Sunday in July, thousands of pilgrims climb the mountain. “The Reek” is a nickname for the mountain.
Clew Bay, with its hundreds of drumlins (glacial islands), provided stunning views just steps from our door. Sometimes it was smooth as glass.
An old moss-coated stone pier jutted into the bay near our home.
On a stormy night it would be easy for a driver to mistake the pier for a road!
And it did indeed get stormy. Sometimes Clew Bay is wracked by strong winds and fierce storms off the Atlantic. Click this picture for a short (about one minute) video of Clew Bay when the winds were howling. The video will open in a new window.
County Mayo is surrounded on three sides by water.
The bay supports a thriving seafood industry.
Evidence of the harshness of life on the sea abounds.
Crashing waves always entertain.
…especially when accompanied by a rainbow!
Rainbows are pretty much an everyday occurrence in western Ireland. This double beauty was visible from our yard.
The frequent rains that keep the place green most of the year often bring these delightful arcs of color. This is another double rainbow.
Céide (pronounced “Cah djuh”) Fields is an archaeological site on the north coast of County Mayo. It is the most extensive Neolithic site in the world, dating from about 3,500 BC.
Céide encompasses fields, houses and megalithic tombs concealed by the growth of blanket bogs over the course of many centuries.
Céide Fields is situated on imposing cliffs overlooking the Atlantic. For a sense of scale in this view, those little white specks in the green patch are sheep in a grassy pasture at the top of the cliff.
Visitors can go to an observation deck at the very edge of the cliffs. This view is looking straight down into the churning surf.
We visited Céide Fields on Christmas Day. It was closed for the season, and completely deserted, of course. We hopped the fence and explored it on our own.
Doolough Pass and the Famine Walk
County Mayo is also the site of an infamous tragedy that occurred during the Great Famine or an Gorta Mór (The Great Hunger in Irish). In the fourth year of the famine in a place where 90% of the population depended on the blighted potato crop for survival, hundreds died in a single heinous incident.
In March of 1849, starving people in and around Louisburgh, County Mayo, were desperate for help. Some 600 of them were told by British officers to report the next morning to Delphi Lodge to see if they qualified for some relief. The Lodge was 12 kilometers (~7.5 miles) away.
At the end of a hellish night’s walk through cold wind, rain and sleet, the starving Irish were given no relief, no food of any kind. They were simply turned away. The next day, the roadsides between Delphi and Louisburgh — and the shoreline of Doolough — were strewn with dead bodies.
“According to local tradition, up to 400 people may have perished between Louisburgh and Delphi; many of them so light and weak that they were blown into the lake by the strong wind. Corpses were found by the roadside, some of them with grass in their mouths from one last futile attempt at nourishment.” (NewStatesman, May 7, 2009)
We retraced their journey by car, but every year people walk the route to commemorate the tragedy that occurred. Here Sarah places a stone on a memorial to the victims.
A cross commemorates Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s participation in the march here in 1994. The monument has an inscription from Mahatma Gandhi: “How can men feel themselves honoured by the humiliation of their fellow beings?”
These days, in the Doolough Valley, as in most of rural Ireland, sheep can be found wandering by the roads.
Since they wander so freely, their wooly coats are dyed in their owner’s distictive colors to identify them when it’s time for shearing or marketing.
Electronic tags help in the round-ups.
Whether they are naturally friendly, or just hoping for a handout, the sheep always seem to notice the humans who stop to watch them.
No hillside is to too precarious for them!
We grew very fond of them as we traveled the countryside.
Westport at Night
Westport’s town center was designed in the late 18th century in the Georgian style. Christmas decorations graced the town while we were there in December.
Westport is no sleepy village. The town is famous for its nightlife.
Even in December, there was live music in many pubs.
Click this picture to see a short video (1:37) of Westport nightlife, walking past and through the pubs. The video will open in a new window.
Matt Molloy’s pub is owned and operated by one of Ireland’s great musicians. Molloy played flute in The Chieftans and other Irish bands.
Inside Molloy’s a visitor can listen to traditional music sessions seven nights a week.
Click this picture to hear a brief (less than a half-minute) sample of the music we heard that night. It was too dark to get a good video picture but the sound is good enough. The video will open in a new window.
We got to know another Wesport pub pretty well. Cronin’s Sheebeen is a short walk from where we were staying. In this view, a dusting of snow tops Croagh Patrick in the distance.
Our hosts are regulars at Cronin’s. Here I am enjoying losing money in a friendly game of blackjack at the Sheebeen with host Brian (center) and his friends.
We’ll return to Cronin’s for Christmas Eve in our next post. We’ll also share the photos from our visits to Achill Island, Connemara, Galway, and Donnegal. See you then!