Even by Mayo standards, the Mullet peninsula is remote! Stuck out there, pretty much surrounded by the Atlantic – next stop Newfoundland! Its not exactly huge – about 33km long and 12 km at its widest point – so could be explored in a day without too much driving. That would give enough time to enjoy 2 excellent walks and delve into some history and lore. Of course, should you get a spell of good weather here, you won’t be able to tear yourselves away from the beaches….
The town of Belmullet – Béal an Mhuirthead – is the gateway to the peninsula and the best place to pick up bits and pieces for your picnic.
Elly is just one of the gorgeous beaches you’ll encounter on your drive. Located 9km south of Béal an Mhuirthead, it’s ideal for swimming, sailing, surfing and whatever other water sport you’re in to. The whole bay is of international ecological importance because of its diverse habitats.
Keep the camera handy as you drive along…..
Blacksod harbour is at the very end of the Mullet peninsula
There is a small fishing port here and a bit of a beach.
How can one tiny harbour have so many stories…!!
The Spanish Armada
We all remember the highlights: in 1588, the Spanish Armada – some 130 ships – set sail from Lisbon with the intention of meeting up with an army from Flanders and invading England. They were out-manoeuvred by the English in the English Channel which, along with bad weather, caused them to scatter towards the North Sea. The only means of returning to Spain was around Scotland and Ireland. About half the fleet never made it back.
On Sept 21st, 1588, the Sancta Maria RATA Encoronada made its way into Blacksod Bay only to run aground in rough weather. The survivors burnt the ship and made camp. After a few days, 2 more ships – DUQUESA Santa Ana and SENORA de Bebona – arrived and the RATA survivors were picked up. The DUQUESA was subsequently wrecked off the coast of Donegal but the SENORA made it home.
The Tuke Fund
During the Great Famine (1845-49), charities such as the Society of Friends (Quakers) played a major role in alleviating distress in the west of Ireland. A close relationship between the Quakers and the west continued and, decades later, James Hack Tuke was sent to the region to check on living conditions. Tuke concluded that the large population couldn’t possibly be sustained by prevailing agricultural practice. Emigration was the best long-term solution but it would only be effective if whole families went – leaving their small empty holdings to be consolidated into decent sized viable farms.
In 1880 Tuke toured the United States and Canada, seeking suitable areas – with good work opportunities and decent wages – for settlers. Following negotiations with various authorities, emigrants would be allowed access to the US if they had letters proving that family or friends would help them. Others would be sent to Canada.
Tuke then appealed for subscriptions to establish an emigration fund. £100 would enable a family of five to emigrate to Canada and have enough left to survive their first winter (by which time they should be planting their first crops and supporting themselves). There was no shortage of interest – between 1882 and 1885, 9482 people were assisted by the fund.
Blacksod Bay was the main departure point for Mayo and the first 350 people left in March 1883. It was noted in the newspapers that the usual scenes of grief were largely absent. This may be down to the fact that whole families were emigrating voluntarily and together so there was less sense of an ‘American Wake’ about the departures (American Wakes were heartbreaking occasions where parents said goodbye to their children knowing they would never see them again). Over the next year, some 3,297 emigrants sailed from Blacksod, mostly for Boston.
A lovely memorial garden remembers those people who left. Individual pedestals, which show the ships that sailed from Blacksod, come together to form a boat shape.
Blacksod and D-Day
Blacksod Lighthouse was built in 1864 and was to play an essential role at the end of World War II.
In 1944, planning for the Allied invasion came down to one vital but uncontrollable factor – weather.
D-Day was scheduled to take place on June 5th, but moon and tide conditions would also suit the following two days – 6th and 7th.
On the 3rd June, Blacksod lighthouse keeper, Ted Sweeney, delivered his hourly weather report by phone to London, warning of “a Force 6 wind and a rapidly falling barometer”.
(Blacksod’s importance was due to the fact that it was the first land-based observation station in Europe where readings could be taken on prevailing European Atlantic weather systems. Despite our neutrality during the war, Ireland had continued to send weather reports to Britain under an arrangement dating back to Independence).
With evidence that gale-force winds, low cloud and heavy showers would still affect the English Channel on June 5th, Eisenhower decided to delay the landing by 24 hours, hoping that the invasion would not have to be postponed until the following month when moon and tide conditions would again be suitable.
On June 4th, a new report from Blacksod indicated the weather was clearing enough to allow for the landing on June 6th in Normandy.
As it turns out, weather in the English Channel for the following month was the worst in 20 years!
A recent tragedy – still so fresh in all our minds..
On March 14th, 2017, Irish Coast Guard helicopter Rescue 116 was supporting a rescue mission for an injured fisherman off the coast. It was heading back to Blacksod lighthouse for refueling when it clipped the small island of Blackrock and crashed into the ocean, killing its four crew members.
Teampall Deirbhile (St. Deirbhile’s Church)
Deirbhile founded a convent here in the 6th century and devoted her life to the poor and the sick. St. Deirbhile’s Church sits in a beautiful place, overlooking the Atlantic and the islands. These ruins are probably 12th century – replacing an earlier structure.
(Teimpell = church / Leaba = bed)
If you can squeeze yourself 3 times through the window, you will never die by drowning!
Deirbhile arrived here in the 6th century from county Meath. She came to escape an admirer in whom she had no interest. Not giving up that easily, he followed her and proposed. She questioned him as to why he wanted to marry her – he replied that it was her beautiful eyes. In response she gouged out those beautiful eyes! That was the end of the suitor! When he’d departed – in haste no doubt – she washed her eyes in the waters of a well and her sight was restored!
Tobar Naomh Deirbhile (St. Deirbhile’s Well)
It is alleged that the water from the well – which is fed from an underground spring – still has curative properties for eye problems!
The station consists of walking around the well nine times (3 times on the knees and 6 times standing) reciting the Rosary (3 times).
A pilgrimage takes place annually on August 15 in honour of the saint.
The ruins of Glosh Tower stand proudly on a prominent hilltop overlooking the entrance to Blacksod Bay. It was one of 82 Napoleonic Towers built by the British between 1801-06 around the coast to warn of a French naval invasion of Ireland.
Each tower was built on high ground with a clear line of sight of the neighbouring towers which were spaced anything between 7 and 14 miles apart. The towers had 50ft masts from which suspended a series of flags and ‘balls’ which were used to transmit messages between the stations. Combinations of flags and balls at various positions on the mast would spell out words and numbers which could be spotted through a telescope from the next tower.
View after view after view……
Cross Beach Loop Walk
Just look at this place! It goes on forever! Miles of white sand perfect for swimming, surfing or just walking…..
….and your picnic!
Cross Beach Loop Walk
Starting at the Old Cross Abbey ruins at the edge of the beach, a choice of 2 trails – 5.7km and a longer version at 7.6km – offer lovely walks and stunning views.
You go along the beach – best done at low tide – for about 2.5km….
Leaving the beach, the trail crosses the dunes and heads inland towards Cross Lake….
The lake is known for its geese and swans. Waters are shallow and therefore popular with kite surfers – especially learners.
This is where the trail divides – the longer option bringing you all the way around the lake or, sticking with the shorter laneway, you head back through farmland towards the trailhead at the Abbey.
You’ll have great views of the islands of Inishglora, Inishkeeragh and the Inishkeas.
The Children of Lir are said to be buried on Inishglora….
The Children of Lir
Lir and his wife (the king’s daughter) had 4 children – Aodh, Fionnghuala, Fiachra and Conn. When his wife died he married the king’s other daughter, Aoife, who loved the children at first but in time grew jealous of their father’s affection for them.
One day she took them on a visit to the king but when they reached Lake Derravarragh she put a spell on them and turned them into swans. Fionnghuala begged her to put some limits on the spell. Aoife allowed them to keep their human speech and gave them the gift of singing the most beautiful music ever heard. They were to remain at the lake for 300 years, then 300 years on the Straits of Moyle between Ireland and Scotland and 300 more years in Erris. The sentence would be lifted when the first bells of Christianity were heard in Ireland.
Lir went looking for his children and heard their voices at the lake. Grief stricken, he told the king what had happened. The king asked Aoife what she was most afraid of and she said ‘the howling North Wind’. Her father turned her into a ‘witch of the air’, doomed to listen to the howling north wind forever and her screams can still be heard during a storm! He decreed that no one could kill swans in all of Ireland – a law that remains in Ireland to this day!
For 300 years, men came from all over Ireland to listen to the beautiful music. Then the swans flew to the Sea of Moyle where they lived in cold and misery. They also suffered greatly in Erris.
After 900 years they returned to their old home. Of course their father was long dead and the place was desolate and empty. They flew back to Mayo to Inishglora where they first heard the Christian bells and met St. Mochaomhog.
Aoife’s spell was broken. The feathers fell away and the 4 very old withered siblings were baptised by Mochaomhog before dying peacefully. They were buried as they had lived – together always.
Close to Inishglora are the Inishkea Islands. Many birds – including the mute swan, peregrine, oystercatcher and the corncrake – benefit from the protection of the islands. Half of Ireland’s wintering Barnacle geese make their homes here. About a third of the country’s Atlantic Grey Seals live around the rocks and you might even spot a dolphin, porpoise or whale.
The remains of monastic settlement can also be found here – St. Colmcille founded a monastery on Inishkea North and St. Brendan the Navigator had links with the islands.
The Inishkeas were home to a thriving fishing community until 28th October 1927, when ten fishermen were lost at sea. Only two fishermen survived the disaster and the islands were deserted shortly after. The Norwegians set up a whaling station on Rusheen – a tidal island near Inishkea South – the remains of which are still evident.
Cross Beach is not the last stunning strand you’ll come across on your drive –
Dún na mBó
Dún na mBó – meaning ‘the cattle fort’ – is one of the most spectacular blowholes in Co. Mayo. Imagine the crash of Atlantic waves here during stormy weather!
The two lighthouses on Eagle Island were switched on in September 1835. One stopped functioning after a storm in 1894, but the beacon of the second lighthouse still guides ships navigating the waters off the treacherous Mayo coastline.
At first, two keepers and their families lived out here but conditions were very tough and the families were eventually rehoused on the mainland. In 1988 the lighthouse was automated and the last keepers were withdrawn.
We’ll finish our tour of Mullet Peninsula with another lovely trail – the 5 km Erris Head Loop Walk. I know you’ve been exposed to spectacular views all day but you won’t want to miss this…
Apart from a scramble over a few stiles, it’s plain sailing. The boggier parts of the trail are crossed via boardwalks and signs warn of cliff edges….
Neither monk nor sheep has ever occupied the 1.6 billion year old ‘Stags of Broadhaven’. The 4 pyramid shaped rocky islands in front of us are almost impossible to land upon so the bird population is left in peace..
This was once a coast watch station.
Over 80 such markings – each given its own number – were constructed in the early 1940’s to allow World War II pilots know they were flying over Ireland – which was a neutral country.
This pillar was once part of a structure that collected information for the meteorological service
What’s so special about that patch of grass!!!! With the amount of space they have, the sheep have all gathered right on the cliff edge!
Once back at the carpark, the coffee truck is hopefully open for a well earned treat….
Where exactly are we!!!
That’s the Mullet Peninsula – right up in the northwest corner of the county.
A few bits and pieces….
Beyond Belmullet, there are very limited options for refreshments – especially during Covid restrictions. Coming from Dublin, we are used to coffee trucks everywhere at the moment but we only came across one at Erris Head. We travelled each day with a flask of boiling water and coffee and bought sandwiches in supermarkets or petrol stations – just in case…
There is a Tourist Office in Belmullet.
There’s no such thing as bad weather – just bad clothes! This is a very exposed part of the coast – even on a good day, that wind can blow in from the Atlantic! Belmullet gets a fair bit of rain, regardless of the season! Be warned!
Many roads are quite narrow. Always be prepared to pull into gateways when meeting oncoming traffic – this isn’t a right of way issue so no playing ‘Chicken’ and no getting into the ‘why should I be the one.…’ frame of mind! Whoever can pull aside safely is the one to do it! Don’t panic if you get stuck behind a tractor – it’s not going far. Don’t be afraid to ask for directions – people will be delighted to help you. Be ever alert for pedestrians, cyclists and sheep!
We forgot to bring binoculars! There’s lots to look at out at sea – the area is dotted with islands which means wildlife – so make sure to pack a set.
As with any part of Ireland – Seize the Day! If the sun is shining then forget the itinerary and get out of that car! On the other hand, don’t waste a wet day sitting in a hotel room – if you have a car, you’ll still enjoy some spectacular scenery and manage a beach walk…