We took a trip along the North Mayo coastline to visit amongst others, Downpatrick Head and the Ceide Fields and were left pleasantly surprised with how stunning this part of Ireland is.
Our first stop was Killala, a quaint seaside village. Killala was the scene of the last major engagement in the 1798 rebellion. The Irish rebels, helped by the French, held onto Killala for 32 days but on the 33rd day, after 20 minutes of fierce fighting 600 Irish troops were killed and the rebellion was effectively finished.
Within a small area of the village there’s a round tower, an old deanery, a Church of Ireland cathedral and the area has an old world feel to it.
As I was browsing through our Wild Atlantic Way passport I noticed that Downpatrick Head was featured and after a quick google realised that it was along the route to the Ceide Fields.
A nice bit of luck especially given it was the highlight of our trip that day.
Dun Briste is a 50 metre sea stack that sits 80 metres off Downpatrick Head.
St. Patrick founded a church at Downpatrick Head and legend has it that Dun Briste was caused by the man himself. He was so angered by a local Chieftain who wouldn’t convert to Christianity he struck the ground with his crozier causing a piece of the land to break away from the mainland.
St.Patrick also drove all the snakes out of Ireland – is there anything this guy couldn’t do?!!
A more logical explanation for Dun Briste is that it was caused by a storm in the 14th century with the inhabitants saved by ropes from the mainland.
Other points of interest here include a blowhole where rebels in the 1798 Rebellion hid out as they were being pursued by soldiers, but unfortunately a high tide swept the rebels away.
A Lookout Post used during World War II and also the large Eire 64 sign from 1942-43 which was used to inform pilots they were flying over Irish territory.
Downpatrick Head is simply stunning and gives the Cliffs of Moher a good run for its money. It’s not flooded with tourists and parking is free – take that Cliffs of Moher!!
We next drove the short but very scenic journey to Ceide Fields.
Ceide Fields is a Neolithic site and contains the most extensive field systems in the world. It’s well worth doing the tour as it really helps to explain the significance of the site.
The visitor centre has a futuristic pyramid shape design which blends in well with the landscape.
Across the road from the visitor centre is a viewing point where you can view some of the spectacular Mayo coastline and cliffs and also see as far as Downpatrick Head.
We also drove the Mullet peninsula and visited several of the many sandy beaches along this scenic coastline and stopped at Blacksod Harbour with it’s picturesque lighthouse which was built in 1864 of local granite blocks and has an unusual square design and a connection to world events.
In June 1944, under an agreement with Britain, Ireland although neutral during World War II, continued to send weather reports. The local lighthouse keeper Ted Sweeney sent the daily forecast which predicted stormy weather, unbeknownst to Ted, his report was used by General Eisenhower and Winston Churchill to delay the D-Day landing until the storm had passed.
Mayo is a large county and if you are planning a visit it’s worth staying a few days as there are lots of things to do and see, check out this blog post on west Mayo.
The seaside village of Enniscrone in west Sligo along the wild atlantic way, has long been a popular holiday destination, going back as far as the 19th century, when the Victorians began visiting the small seaside village, located on the shores of Killala Bay in west county Sligo. It has been a popular destination since the 1850’s, when the local landlord, Robert Orme built the Cliff bathhouse for holidaymakers to enjoy the Atlantic ocean, the old bathhouse building still exists to this very day.
In the winter of 1909, a newly married couple visited the village on a short holiday, while one of the spouse’s planned a short relaxing break, the other had more grisly plans.
On the 10th December 1908, Michael Gallagher a native of Mayo and a Constable in the Royal Irish Constabulary, married Sarah Knox, a 22 year old young woman from Crossmolina in Mayo. Michael was older at 30 years old and had joined the RIC in 1898. He was described as a powerfully built man and nearly six foot tall.
Michael told Sarah as he was eleven years in the force he needed to have a longer service before getting married and so the marriage was to be kept secret. Sarah remained living at her family home at Cloonkee, Crossmolina, Co. Mayo, unaware that it was after seven years a member of the R.I.C. could marry.
In November 1909, Sarah received the following letter written from the barracks at Aclare, Co. Sligo.
Dear Sarah – Just a line to let you know I received your welcome letter a few days ago. I am glad to see by it you are well. I will meet you Thursday next, 4th Inst. at Ballina at the usual place. Then we can have a few hours before we start for the seaside. Keep your mind to yourself, and I will get a few days at home about the matter. Excuse haste – post leaving. – Yours as ever.
x x x
At Enniscrone, Co. Sligo the couple stopped off at a hostelry and Michael asked for two rooms for himself and his “sister”. There were no rooms available and they secured a room elsewhere as man and wife. Later that day, the couple were observed by the Coastguard as they went for a walk on Saturday evening at 5 pm strolling along the pier.
Two hours later, at 7 pm, Michael returned to their accommodation alone and didn’t alert anyone to Sarah been missing. Michael paid the hotel bill and left Enniscrone village and cycled back to the RIC barracks in Aclare in south Sligo, a distance of 19 miles (31 kilometres).
On Sunday morning, the body of Sarah was discovered by two fishermen. An investigation was quickly launched and it wasn’t long before the woman was traced back to the hotel and walking with a man the previous evening. When tracked down at Aclare barracks, Michael Gallagher denied being at Enniscrone with a woman. He was allowed to sit at the fire in the dayroom as a search was carried out. Being granted permission to go to his room he “dashed out the back door into the dark night. In a moment all was confusion and alarm. The police abandoned their search and snatching lanterns ran in pursuit of the fugitive. Some jumped on bicycles and rode furiously down the different roads.”
At the Inquest into Sarah`s death, held a few days later, when her brother was being questioned, a jury member remarked
“I suppose he got a fortune when he got married”
“Yes” said witness, “but not all.”
Dowry system in Ireland
Dowry (generally called ‘fortune’ in Ireland; spré in Irish) is money or property brought by a bride to her husband at marriage. It was an important matter in nineteenth-century Ireland. In the past, many marriages in Ireland were set by financial standing, and by today’s standards it would be nice to think love and compatibility came into the equation, this was not the main reason for marriage in Edwardian times, despite this, in the majority of cases love did grow through companionship and endearment, sadly this wasn’t the case for Sarah and Michael.
Though some brides married without dowries, payment could be substantial for others. The need for dowries helped parents to control their children’s choice of marriage partner. Not surprisingly, dowries were often the cause of disputes, particularly because they were sometimes paid by instalments or full payment was delayed.
The Inquest was opened by Dr J. Flannery and was held at the Enniscrone coastguard building, as the landlady of the hotel was giving evidence, a telegram was received, the fugitive Michael Gallagher, had been found with his throat cut at Harlech’s Lodge in Aclare, Sligo.
“The reading of the wire was received by the Jury with loud applause, which the Coroner promptly suppressed. The Jury found that Sarah Gallagher had been murdered by her husband who drowned her.”
Sarah’s funeral attracted many mourners, “The whole countryside afterwards followed the funeral cortege for miles along the roads home.”, which was in stark contrast to Michael’s funeral.
The funeral of Michael Gallagher took place from Aclare to Bohey near Crossmolina. Practically unanimously all car-owners refused to hire out their vehicles for the occasion. There was vigorous booing as the funeral passed and one woman flung mud at the hearse. A special force of police from Crossmolina met the cortege as it passed through Sarah Knox`s village. It was quite dark when the body was laid in the grave, and no priest was present.
Poignantly, on the morning of her murder Sarah had complained to a fellow guest that “she had lost her wedding ring and cried long and bitterly because she thought it was an ill-omen.”
A wedding ring was later found in Michael Gallagher`s possession when he was searched.
The Coroner thought it was money related and Michael had been insane, but it was thought it was premeditated if he took the ring from Sarah in the morning. Her brother, said Michael had sent 10 shillings on one occasion, that the marriage was known about in Sarah`s parish but he did not know if Michael`s family knew. Perhaps he married her for money, but did not get all he was expecting, if the marriage became known to his superior’s it would have been a black mark on his career. He had Sarah coached to call him Tommy at the boardinghouse but she slipped up a couple of times and called him Michael. Her brother said she often complained that Michael did not bring her away, but the excuse about not being long enough in the service was believed by Sarah’s family.
We spent three days in Westport in county Mayo in the west of Ireland. Westport is a lively town with a great atmosphere and lots of things to do.
On the first day we climbed Croagh Patrick mountain, which is located about 10 kilometres outside of Westport. There are great views from the top of Clew bay. The weather can turn as we found out, heavy rain and gale force winds! so wear lots of layers, even in Summertime.
In the afternoon we strolled around Westport town, which is a heritage town. The town was built in the 1780’s in a Georgian architectural style, for the workers and tenants on the John Browne estate, the Marquis of Sligo. The town has lots of lovely old buildings and a riverside Mall walk.
On the third day, we hired bikes and cycled from Westport to Newport and back again on the Mayo Great Western Greenway cycle route, which was 22 kilometres in total. From Newport, you can cycle onto Mulranny which is another 18 kilometres and from there to Achill Island which is another 13 kilometres. The Greenway is 42 kilometres one way to Achill Island. There are several bike rental shops located in Westport, which offer handy shuttle services, they will drop you out to Achill Island, Mulranny or Newport and you can cycle back or you can depart from Westport and arrange to be collected from one of those locations.
We used regular bikes but if you haven’t cycled in many years, I recommend getting an electric bike, especially if you plan on cycling the full route, the route is mainly flat but there are some hills.
We had dinner in JJ O’Malley’s bar & restaurant, the food was excellent here, I recommend the salmon fillet dish and also the Clock Tower restaurant.
For drinks we went to the famous Matt Molloys pub, which is owned by one of the Chieftains band. The pub has a trad session every night. We also had drinks in MacBride’s pub, MJ. Hobans bar and The Porter house bar, which also host trad sessions.
Have you cycled the Mayo Greenway or climbed Croagh Patrick ? Let us know how you got on.
Click here to find out what to do and see in North Mayo.