County Mayo is one of the larger counties in Ireland and is a hugely popular tourist destination due to the religious Knock Shrine. In the village of Knock you’ll find a shrine dedicated to the apparitions that occurred here in the 1800’s. The shrine welcomes well over a million visitors a year and was the main reason for the construction of Knock Airport. Its importance to the Catholic Church has been reflected by the visits of Mother Theresa and Pope John Paul II who bestowed upon Knock the Golden Rose, a rare papal token of honour.
Aside from the famous shrine there is plenty to see and do in County Mayo. Its coastal boundaries provide beautiful golden beaches, amazing views of the Atlantic and outlying islands as well as a multitude of water sports such as surfing, windsurfing, kayaking, boating and much more. Off the coast of Mayo you’ll find Achill Island, the largest of Ireland’s islands, which can be accessed by the road bridge connecting it to the mainland. There’s even more scenic beauty and water activities available on the island as well as a cultural experience of a lifetime as the lifestyle on the island is reminiscent of an Ireland from decades ago.
The towns of Westport and Ballina offer a more modern experience compared to the surrounding villages dotted across the land. These towns continue to grow and put a major emphasis on tourism as you’ll find many tour operators based here. There is a vibrant nightlife consisting of a wide range of pubs, clubs and restaurants to suit any mood.
Croagh Patrick is a 2507 foot tall mountain twenty miles west of Castlebar and five miles from Westport, and is also an important pilgrimage site. Affectionately and locally known as the ‘Reek’, the last Sunday in July every year – called Reek Sunday – sees tens of thousands of pilgrims climb the peak as they have done for the last 1500 years. Before that, Croagh Patrick was the site of summer solstice worship from before 3000 BC, but it earned its place in Christian reverence since Saint Patrick spent forty days and forty nights fasting on the summit.
Just ten miles from Castlebar, in the town of Westport, is the eighteenth century Westport House. The home was built by the Browne Family on the remains of Grace O’Malley’s sixteenth century castle, overlooking Clew Bay, Achill island and Croagh Patrick. Being direct descendants of the Pirate Queen, the Brownes have built a Pirate Adventure Park to celebrate Grace O’Malley’s time as head of the clan and ruler of the seas. The Adventure Park includes a Pirates Plunge Flume Ride, swinging Pirate Ship, indoor play area for younger children and many more rides and attractions.
Achill Island is Ireland’s largest coastal island, and is reached by a bridge completed in 2008 from Polranny. Achill is about a forty-mile drive from Castlebar. The island features one of Grace O’Malley’s Castles, the Achill Mission, Kildamhnait church and the mysterious Deserted Village. The cliffs of Croaghaun are the tallest sea cliffs in the British Isles, and the third tallest in Europe, which are most impressively viewed from the water. Slievemore mountain dominates the middle of the island and underlines the astonishing natural beauty of the surroundings, even with the extra development from the current population.