A Warm Welcome In WestportPosted on: 20 November 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves
Ireland's only fjord, holiest mountain and tidiest town are among the attractions of this part of Mayo.
The area of Westport in County Mayo, Ireland, combines beautiful scenery, history and a friendly welcome with plenty to do from shopping to outdoor activities.
Westport In Pictures
Ireland's Tidiest Town
Westport is proud of its recent national Tidy Towns title, won thanks to keen-eyed citizens scouting the streets for signs of litter. The Georgian planned town centres on the Carrowbeg river and the North and South Malls, tree-lined streets that run alongside it.
The Saturday market by the riverside and Thursday morning's country market in the Town Hall sell local crafts, home baking, cheeses, flowers, vegetables and souvenirs. The town is pleasant to walk around and its numerous charming shops include speciality retailers, art galleries and craft shops. If you're feeling creative or looking for a rainy day activity, classes on offer include painting, stained-glass making, or pottery painting.
Comfortable hotels, a wide choice of restaurants and friendly Irish bars make Westport an ideal base for a break in the area. Come evening you can relax over a hearty or gourmet meal, or visit one of the pubs such as Matt Molloy's - owned by the Chieftains musician - or a quieter establishment, for your pint of the black stuff. Many of the hotels have spas so you can treat yourself to some rejuvenation.
Down at the quay there are more shops, pubs and restaurants, with views of the Atlantic. At Clew Bay Heritage Centre you can learn more about the history of the area from pre-Christian times to the present.
Walking In And Around Westport
There are many walking routes in and around Westport. Visitors can take a guided walk around town starting from the clock, follow a path that was once the railway to the quay, amble along the riverbanks or stroll beside the sea. You can follow the Clew Bay Archaeological Trail across 21 sites for 22 miles. Walking holiday companies cater for the dedicated rambler.
Dominating the southern side of Clew Bay, Croagh Patrick is a 765 metre / 2,510 foot high mountain. A place of pilgrimage since pre-Christian times, Saint Patrick fasted there for forty days in 441 AD and now on Reek Sunday, the last weekend in July, thousands of pilgrims ascend the holy mountain. Some climb the stony path to the summit barefoot. A chapel was built at the top in 1905, which is open every day in summer and celebrates Mass on Garland Sunday and 15th August. Teach na Miasa, the visitor centre at Croagh Patrick's base, features information and history, a restaurant, craft shop, showers, lockers and car parking. It's open every day in season.
Opposite is the National Famine Memorial, opened in 1997. The 'Coffin Ship' reflects not only the long shadow of the Great Famine but also people suffering from starvation around the world.
Ireland's pirate queen, Grace O'Malley or Granuaile, captures the imagination of many visitors to the area. It can be hard to separate fact from myth, but it's fascinating to follow the trail of this legendary 16th century lady around the area.
Historic Westport house, built on the site of one of Granuile's castles, is still owned by her descendants, and has been home to generations of Marquesses of Sligo. It's open in season for guided tours around the stately yet cosy house, while outside visitors can enjoy its magnificent setting on the shore or family attractions including swan pedaloes and a miniature railway. There's a bronze statue of Grace in the grounds.
Those with O'Malley mania can get a further fix at the Granuaile Visitor Centre in Louisburgh, open in season.
Islands And A Fjord
Clew Bay was the haunt of Grace O'Malley, and you can take trips from one to four hours around the dramatic coastline. Try to spot marine wildlife at the Blacksod Bay Seal Caves, see the highest seacliffs in Europe or enjoy a view of the islands. On Clare Island there's a medieval Cistercian abbey with a canopied tomb and O'Malley crest, said to be Granuaile's grave, and one of her towers. There's also Achill island, linked to the mainland, unspoilt Inishturk, and you can spot smaller islands owned at times by the Moonies and John Lennon.
You'll need several rolls of film or a large memory card for your digital camera for the truly stunning scenery on a cruise at Killary, Ireland's only fjord. The vast expanse of water with hills dramatically sloping into the fjord looks spectacular in the light of a clear day. The luxury ship has an on board bar and restaurant, so you can sight-see in comfort even on rainy days, then in summer there are barbecue cruises on Sunday lunchtime or Friday and Saturday evening in July and August. See salmon and mussel farms, and look out for dolphins in warmer weather.
With all that water fishing opportunities abound, in the river or ocean. You might catch trout and salmon, though ensure you have a licence.
A whole range of water sports is available including surfing, kayaking and sailing, with tuition if needed. For relaxation, the clean sandy beaches are perfect for walking, swimming or sunbathing when the weather allows.
Ireland and horses are synonymous, and the west of the country is home to the hardy and good natured Connemara pony. Westport offers beach and mountain trekking for experienced riders as well as short treks on quiet rural roads for the less confident. The rural roads are also ideal for cyclists.
Westport's 18 hole 260 acre golf course hosted the Smurfit Irish PGA Championship, and here you can drive your ball over Clew Bay. There's also a nine hole course, a driving range and summer pitch and putt in the vicinity.
Though the appeal of the area is its natural beauty, Ireland is prepared for a rainy day with plenty to do under cover. Foxford Woollen Mills are worth a visit if you fancy some retail therapy with a range of quality items including clothing from scarves to suits, jewellery, plus colourful blankets, other interior accessories and souvenirs. There's a good restaurant, and an interesting video presentation explores the mills' history, from its founding by an enterprising nun.
The National Museum of Ireland, Country Life has several floors recalling the everyday lives of ordinary people in rural Ireland from 1850 to 1950. Some of the exhibits will seem familar from your own childhood or grandparents' tales, while others are uniquely Irish with traditions preserved by the National Folklife Collection. The museum is just outside Castlebar.
Kylemore Abbey began life as a castle, completed in 1871, with Victorian mod-cons including a deluge system that proved its worth when fire ravaged the house in 1959. Benedictine nuns purchased it in 1920, and now you can visit the main building, used as a boarding school, the pretty neo-gothic church with striking tri-coloured Irish marble columns, the mausoleum for the original owner's wife, and the Victorian Walled Garden. Visitors can walk through the stunning setting of lake, mountains and woods, before rounding the trip off at the nice restaurant and craft shop.
A Holiday In Westport
The green hills, dramatic coast and traffic-free roads make Mayo perfect for a driving tour, with routes such as the Atlantic Drive around Achill island that takes in hairpin bends and sheer drops. To get to Westport there's the ferry if you fancy driving across Ireland, but Knock airport or Westport rail station are easy options. You can then hire a car, or the area is also well served by bus and ideal for walking.
Beat high season with a break in spring or autumn. Special holidays are available for weeks, weekends and mid week. Hotels such as Westport Woods offer inclusive themed breaks from murder mystery, bridge, spa and dancing to golf, bowling, equestrian and walking.
The region hosts various music, arts and cultural festivals so you could time a trip to coincide. Whenever you decide to visit, you're sure to find lots to experience and a warm welcome in Westport.
Tourist information: www.discoverireland.ie/westport
Tourist information: www.destinationwestport.com
Croagh Patrick: www.croagh-patrick.com
Achill and Clew Bay boat trips: www.achilladventures.com
Killary fjord boat trips: www.killarycruises.com
Knockranny House Hotel - 4 Star, spa: www.khh.ie
Carlton Atlantic Coast Hotel - 4 Star, spa: www.atlanticcoasthotel.com
Hotel Westport - 3 / 4 Star, spa: www.hotelwestport.ie
Westport Plaza Hotel - spa: www.westportplazahotel.ie
Castlecourt Hotel - 3 Star, spa: www.castlecourthotel.ie
Westport Woods Hotel - 3 Star, spa: www.westportwoodshotel.com
Clew Bay Hotel - 3 Star: www.clewbayhotel.com
The Wyatt Hotel - 3 Star: www.wyatthotel.com
Atlantic Coast Holiday Homes - 4 Star, self-catering properties: www.achh.ie
The Harbour Mill - 4 Star, apartments: www.theharbourmill.com
Knock airport: www.knockairport.com
By Cherry Butler
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