The mothership of Mayo abbeys, Ballintubber Abbey lies just 20 minutes drive from Westport. This magnificent structure – still in use today – was built in 1216 by Cathal Crobhdearg O Connor, King of Connacht (Cathal of the Wine Red Hand). A small church that once lay close to the present abbey was founded by St Patrick in 441.
Ballintubber Abbey is the only church in Ireland founded by an Irish king that is still in regular use, and couples regularly say their marriage vows in this most romantic of historical settings. They say that even those with the coldest feet will commit. Try saying ‘I don’t’ with a string of long-dead kings and saints watching. Not possible.
Museum of Country Life
The snappily named National Museum of Ireland – Country Life at Turlough Park is a treasure trove of all things traditional. Travel back in time to a world before industrialisation, and discover what it was like to live in the countryside between 1850 and 1950. Artefacts and displays, archival video footage and interactive screens will transport you back to an era when life was harder, but also somehow gentler.
The museum also frequently holds exhibitions, talks and workshops, so you never know what you might stumble across. Don’t forget to take the time to visit the gloriously Gothic Victorian mansion and its gardens, parkland and woodland. There’s a café too, for refuelling.
Lough Carra really is a natural wonder, and one of Mayo’s most valuable natural assets. The largest marl lake in Ireland, it is part of the Great Western Lakes complex and covers 1,560 hectares, joined to Lough Mask by the Keel River.
An extension of the Burren, the lake’s marl floor is lime-rich, giving the water a wonderous pale-green colour. Lough Carra’s limy bed and its ecology of unusual habitats and rare species make it unique not only in the west of Ireland but in Europe.
Down through the year, this natural beauty has drawn many famous scientists and naturalists, inspired countless artists and poets, and made many fishermen very, very happy.
Rising out of a forest on the north shore of Lough Carra is the stark, stately skeleton of Moore Hall. Built in the 1790s by the Moore family, it was sadly destroyed by fire in 1923 during the Civil War. However, plans are now underway to partially restore the stately home and to turn the grounds into a nature reserve. Lesser horseshoe bats now inhabit Moore Hall’s walls – and these will be not undisturbed.
The network of woodland trails surrounding the house feels like the stuff of fairy tales. A wander to ruins of a church and an old family tomb adds to the otherworldly feel. Passing through the dappled beechwood light, you eventually come to a beautiful view of Lough Carra, glowing a strange and beautiful green as its marl floor reflects in the sunshine.
Looking for a short, easy and accessible walk to suit all ages and abilities? Wouldn’t mind a gorgeous view and a few swans thrown in? Look no further than Castlebar’s lovely Lough Lanna Loop, just 20 minutes from Westport.
This walk is only a kilometre long, and can be done easily in half an hour, so it’s ideal for families. There’s a path the whole way, making it buggy and wheelchair friendly too.
Along the route, keep an eye out for the small bronze sculptures made by Westport artist Elaine Griffin, each relating in some way to Castlebar’s recent and distant past.
The loop can be accessed through Lough Lannagh Holiday Village. Park up and head down past the conference centre on the left.