Tag Archives: westport Ireland

Ireland, Westport to Sligo

Wild Atlantic Way Westport to Sligo

Westport Quay was busy today in the sunshine so we stopped for a while and walked around the harbour and the souvenir shops but it seemed rather modern and we didn’t find it especially thrilling so we didn’t stop long and carried on to the town instead.

Westport was a different place completely today in the sunshine and the grey clouds of yesterday had been replaced by a canvas of blue.  What a lovely place, flower beds in full bloom, drinkers spilling out of pubs onto the pavements, courteous motorists who always stop to let you cross the roads, free parking and friendly people everywhere.  We spent an hour or so in the town, found somewhere that we rather liked for evening meal and made a reservation and then had a Guinness in the street before returning to the B&B.

Westport Ireland Dancing and Music

We had a good night, an excellent meal and then an hour or so in a pub with more traditional Irish music and an overdose of Guinness and walked home later under a clear sky that surely meant good weather again for the next day.

In twenty-four hours our situation had improved one hundred percent and we looked forward to another good day ahead.

In the morning it was gloriously sunny, this was going to be a very good day indeed and then encouraged by Richard I made a decision that spoiled it.

Instead of taking the direct route to our next stop in the town of Sligo we thought it might be a good idea to head west for a while and visit Achill Island which everyone seemed to be recommending as an especially scenic experience so after breakfast and settling up our accounts we took the coast road into trouble.

At first things went well enough and we stopped regularly to admire wide sandy beaches, look out over Newport Bay across the water to Croagh Patrick and to examine sites where ships of the Spanish Armarda were wrecked on the rocks in 1588 and it was about at this point that Kim’s mood started to change and as usual I failed to spot the warning signs of rapidly emptying patience reserves.

Ireland Beach and Croagh Patrick

We carried on now to Achill Island and after about twenty minutes of boring countryside and nothing in particular to see Richard made the fatal mistake of asking Kim if everything was alright?  I was beginning to detect simmering discontent in the back seat and thought “oh dear Richard, wrong question”. “Do you want the honest answer?” she said and then the penny dropped straight through – the patience tank was empty and Kim was not enjoying this particular stretch of The Wild Atlantic Way as much as I had thought she might so after a brief debate we turned the car around and looked for a more direct route to Sligo.

This wasn’t very successful at all because we were some distance out of our way and I knew deep down that it was probably going to take a couple of hours or so, maybe even three, to reach our destination and Kim’s temper was rapidly reaching boiled lobster point.

From Achill to Sligo there is no alternative but to take a slow circuitous route around the Nephin Mountains because this is an especially remote part of West Ireland and no roads cross the peat bogs and the conifer forests that are a principle feature of the area. We stopped for a coffee and a visit to a National Park information centre but this didn’t especially help so the only thing to do was to drive as quickly as possible now to see how quickly I could get to Sligo.

County Sligo Postcard

I was driving like a rally driver but with stops the journey took almost six hours and Kim was keen to keep reminding me that she had earlier consulted Multimap and the direct route was estimated to take just an hour and a half! It didn’t help when I took another unnecessary coastal detour which proved especially pointless as it wasn’t particularly close to the sea and all of the pubs were closed for the afternoon.

To my relief we eventually arrived in Sligo at about four o’clock and luckily the hotel was a good one with pavement tables in the sun so we bagged an empty one and sat and calmed down (this was a process that took longer for some than for others) and later we made a first visit to the town centre to identify somewhere suitable for evening meal.

It had been a mixed sort of day, good start, bad in the early middle, very bad in the late middle and good again at the end and I was forced to agree with Kim however that on an exceptionally fine weather day it was a shame that we had spent so much of it in the car.

We agreed that on the next day we would do a few less miles!

W B Yeates Sligo Ireland

Ireland, Croagh Patrick and The Irish Famine

St Patrick Croagh Patrick

On account of the previous day rain and fearing the worst I was somewhat reluctant to draw back the curtains to reveal the weather but as promised the sky was blue with just a smattering of cloud and just a few miles away I could see the top of Croagh Patrick, Ireland’s Holy Mountain and major Pilgrim magnet.

I was pleased about that because that is where we were planning to go today.

The tradition of pilgrimage to this holy mountain stretches back over five thousand years from the Stone Age to the present day.  Its religious significance dates back to Pagan times when people are thought to have gathered here to celebrate the beginning of the harvest season.  Today, when there aren’t so many Pagan visitors, Croagh Patrick is best known as a Pilgrimage site in honour of Saint Patrick for it was on the summit of the mountain that he fasted for forty days in 441 AD and the custom has been faithfully handed down ever since over the generations.

Each year, The Reek, as it is colloquially known, attracts about one million pilgrims. So many in fact that the pathway is becoming loose underfoot, unstable and dangerous. On ‘Reek Sunday’, the last Sunday in July, over twenty-five thousand pilgrims visit the mountain which makes it rather congested.  At the top, there is a modern chapel where mass is celebrated and confessions are heard.

We set off immediately after breakfast and at mid-morning found the visitor centre car park which was already quite full and we could see ahead of us a line of people tackling the arduous climb.  A  lava stream of kagools and backpacks making steady progress up and careful progress back down.

The first part is quite straight-forward, a set of steps that ends at the first stopping point where Pilgrims stop to photograph a statue of St. Patrick statue erected in 1928 and paid for by funding from Irish ex-pats in the USA.

Here he is, St. Patrick, the original Fidget Spinner…

St Patrick Fidget Spinner

After that the going quickly began to get really tough because let me tell you this is not an easy climb up a steep glacial valley littered with boulders and sharp stones which makes it difficult to keep safe footings. It is hard enough in a stout pair of shoes but on pilgrimage days some people prefer to climb in the traditional way – bare-footed. Nothing on earth would persuade me to do that I can tell you!

Ireland-Croagh-Patrick-holy-mountain

The climb has two stages. The first ascends up a rocky foothill covered in heather and moss with a narrow stream running next to the well-trodden path. It took us about forty-five minutes to complete. Apparently it gets even more difficult after that so rapidly running out of enthusiasm for the project, we collectively agreed that we were not sufficiently adventurous to try and find out so after a short debate we took our photographs and made our tentative way back to the car park and going down is harder than going up believe me!

I decided that if anyone ever asked me if I have climbed Croagh Patrick I could genuinely say yes just so long as they didn’t specifically enquire if I got all the way to the top.

Back at sea level we visited the ruins of a medieval abbey and walked for a while on a long sandy beach and then visited the National Famine Monument which is a powerful piece of sculpture which depicts a Coffin Ship with skeleton bodies and commemorates the anniversary of the Irish Famine.

Ireland National Famine Memorial Westport

In terms of human tragedy, the famine was probably the single most important event in modern Irish history but to a certain extent they brought it upon themselves.    It seems that at that time Irish people lived almost entirely on a diet of potatoes and that a working man would eat as much as fourteen pounds a day, that’s almost two tons a year or about an average sized hippopotamus, about sixty golf ball sized tubors every day – that is a lot of potatoes, to put that into perspective that is roughly equivalent to about two hundred and fifty standard size bags of potato crisps and that is a lot of crisps (chips if you prefer).

Now, I know potatoes are versatile – boiled, roasted, baked, mashed, chips (fries if you prefer), dauphinoise, gnocchi etc. but I imagine this sort of diet can become awfully monotonous!  The Irish however were so fond of potatoes that they ate it to the exclusion of anything else; they didn’t grow vegetables, keep chickens for eggs or catch fish from the rivers or the sea.  They just grew potatoes!

Potato Recipe Book

Unfortunately not only did they rely completely on the potato they specialised in just one variety.  It was rather unflatteringly called the ‘Irish Lumper’ which was a heavy cropper even in poor soil and wet conditions but by all accounts didn’t even taste very nice and was described as a “wet, nasty, knobbly old potato.”  It was also particularly susceptible to the potato blight virus and a succession of harvest failures in the late 1840s led to starvation, death, farm failure, cruel and vexatious evictions by English absentee landlords and eventually mass emigration to the United States.

Interestingly it is most likely that the virus came from the United States in the first place (just like the phylloxera virus that infected French vine crops at about the same time) but regardless of this they blamed the English and five million Irish (80% of the total population at the time) chose to go there anyway.  Today nearly sixty million people in the USA, almost 20% of the population, claim Irish heritage and twenty-four out of forty-six of US Presidents (including Donald Trump) have claimed Irish ancestry.

In complete contrast to the previous day the weather was glorious now so we stayed for a while and had a Guinness and then made our way back into Westport.

Ireland Westport Beach