County Mayo coat of arms
Often sidestepped by visitors who head, instead, to the lumbering mountains of Connemara in Galway, County Mayo is the picture-perfect version of the west of Ireland, with its delightful villages and sweeping bays. Even the people of Mayo have a soft, warm and quiet demeanour to match their landscape. But there’s more to this place than meets the eye. Mayo is also a place of miraculous events, where wild, windswept valleys are frozen in time, and the rugged coastline – at the heart of the Wild Atlantic Way – was once ruled by a pirate queen.
Mayo is a great place for superlatives. It’s where you’ll find the highest point in Connacht – Mweelrea at 814 metres – and Ireland's largest island, Achill Island, which boasts the country’s highest cliffs, Croaghaun, as well as numerous pristine beaches. Then there’s Ceide Fields, the most extensive Stone Age monument in Ireland.
The county is not short of spiritual wonders either. Mayo is home to Ireland's most spiritual mountain, Croagh Patrick, where St. Patrick is said to have fasted for forty days and nights, as well as the Knock Shrine, one of the most important Marian shrines in Catholicism, where Mary, St. John the Evangelist and St. Joseph are said to have appeared before a group of locals in 1879. St Mary’s Well in Ballina is another quirky religious sight; the ancient holy well is topped with a tiny stone chapel which dates back to 1798.
Visiting Mayo is mostly about its vast emptiness and beautiful landscapes, which were the inspirational setting for the John Wayne film, The Quiet Man (there is a visitor's centre in Cong, a prominent filming location), as well as many Irish plays and stories, including John Millington Synge's The Playboy of the Western World, and the Lady Gregory/WB Yeats collaboration Cathleen Ni Houlihan. It's possible that the county is so revered in literature because it was among the counties most badly affected by the Great Famine.
The Lost Valley farm tour offers a glimpse of what life was like for the rural people here before the Great Famine – ancient potato ridges are still visible on their land, and the Bourke family (who’ve farmed here for 300 years) have many tales to tell about their local history. Discover more at the National Museum of Country Life near Castlebar, or at the Granuaile Heritage Centre in Louisburgh, where you’ll also learn about Grace O’Malley, the Queen of Umaill and chieftain of the Ó Máille (O’Malley) clan otherwise known as the ‘Pirate Queen’. Remnants of her family legacy can be seen in and around Clew Bay, such as Rockfleet Castle. Many O’Malleys, supposedly including Grace herself, were buried at Clare Island Abbey – which can be reached via a 25-minute ferry from the mainland.
Today Clew Bay and its estimated 365 islands are a hotspot for surfers, sailors and watersports enthusiasts. Prefer your adventures on dry land? Travel by two wheels on the Great Western Greenway, a 41km scenic cycle path following the old Westport-to-Achill train line, or tackle one of the county’s countless mountain, coast or island loop walking trails.
Alongside its natural wonders, the county has a few lively towns that are well worth a visit, including its county seat, Castlebar, as well as Ballina and Westport, the latter of which is a popular birthday and stag party destination known for its fun nightlife and traditional pubs such as Matt Molloy’s, where live music draws a crowd every night of the week.
Mayo has also produced some pretty important people, including former Irish Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, and Mary Robinson, the first female President of Ireland.
Our 101 team have been working with local tourism, business, community and Council initiatives to bring you some of the best ways for you to live your connection to Mayo.
County Mayo is one of Ireland's most visited counties given its incredible scenery. They also have two of our top '101-Must-Visit' locations; Achill island and Croagh Patrick. Achill is a super spot for a family or surfer holiday, and you could spend a month there. If you climb Croagh Patrick, you will be literally retracing St. Patrick's footsteps from hundreds of years ago and looking down on breathtaking views of Clew Bay, the bay with over 365 islands...one for each day of the year!
Hi Michael and 'Saunders' - we are launching a new 'missing ancestors' database which should help you both...and a new list of genealogists for our team. Watch this space for more info.
Looking for info on my GG Grandpa Capt James OConnor born Roscommon 1806?? Came to the Fort in Goderich Ont Upper Canada1836.
Hi looking for information on John Durkin born 1847 in Charlestown County Mayo married Catherine Bryne born 1853 she was born in Derryborne County Wicklow.They left to live in Lancashire but when what date ,why, did they have other relatives in Ireland please.He was a coachman,perhaps where my love of horses comes from.