Westport – home of Ireland’s Pirate Queen
Westport has to be one of my favourite places in Ireland. Voted one of the best places to live in Ireland for many years it has won Ireland’s Tidy Towns competition several times over. Westport has to be one of the most charming villages in Ireland and it is perfect for a getaway or added to your Irish bucket list.
Located about a 1hr 30 minutes drive from Galway City, this stunning area of Ireland has stunning landscapes, gorgeous deserted beaches, atmospheric ruins and bags of Irish heritage and history. There is so much to see and do around Westport from the Great Western Greenway, Clew Bay (my favourite area), The Blueway, Achill Island, Clare Island, and of course Croagh Patrick.
We spent a weekend in Westport and have happily been back on our Irish road trips several times. Finding a housesit nearby is next on our agenda so we can spend some quality time in the area as it is a place in Ireland that we would love to live in.
Westport Ireland Travel
The Westport Train Station is located on Altamount street in Westport and is a short walk away from the town centre.
Ireland West Airport (Knock) is the closest Airport to Westport Town. The drive time is approx 50 mins.
Shannon Airport to Westport is approx 2 hrs driving.
Dublin Airport to Westport is approx 3hrs 15mins driving. You can rent a car at any of these airports and drive to Westport.
The Westport Train Station is located on Altamount street in Westport and is a short walk away from the town centre.
How far is Westport from Dublin?
It is 222 km from Dublin to Westport and you can either rent a car from Dublin Airport or take a bus from Heuston Station. Westport can be reached quite easily by train from Dublin which takes 3 1/2 hours, by car, or by plane to Knock Airport. The train station is located a bit out of the town on Galway road.
Map of Westport
History of Westport
Westport is a heritage town that was designed by James Wyatt in 1780 which means the architecture is Georgian in style.
The area of Westport once belonged to a 16th-century seafaring clan called the Ó Máille clan, who controlled the Clew Bay area, then known as Umaill. These days you may know of the clan as the O’Malley and the Pirate Queen Grainne.
The original village of Westport was located on what is the front lawn of Westport House. The population at the time was around 700 and the town had a high street and a small port on the Carrow Beg River.
When the Browne family decided to build their home – Westport House – they moved the town to make way for their gardens and renamed it Westport. Westport is one of the few heritage towns that is considered a “planned town” and one of the few in Ireland.
James Wyatt added to the original house designed by Richard Cassels and it became the manor house of the Marquess of Sligo.
Westport follows the style of towns introduced by the Normans and incorporates the river Carrow Beg into the town layout with low stone walls and tree-lined promenades and lovely stone bridges crossing the River.
Top things to do in Westport
Visit Westport House
Westport House is simply full of treasures and artefacts that will fascinate anyone interested in Irish culture. Known as “Ireland’s Most Beautiful Home”, this Palladian manor house is still privately owned the tour really brings these stories to life and showcases the treasures contained in over 30 rooms and 6 permanent exhibitions available for you to explore.
Westport Pirate Adventure Park
Located on the grounds of Westport House the Pirate Adventure Park offers a great deal of fun for the whole family. You can take a turn in a pedalo on the lake, there’s a variety of soft and hard playgrounds, rides from the Cannonball Run, Pirates Swinging Ship to a plunge log flume ride and much more to be enjoyed.
Westport Adventure Park
Westport Adventure Park is located a 10-minute drive from Westport town centre in Knappagh. You have to be over the age of 7 to enjoy the centre’s adrenalin-inducing activities. These range from archery tag, zip wires, high ropes challenges and laser combat to name a few.
Westport Train Tour
The Westport Train Tour is an all-weather sight-seeing tour that tells the story of Westport. It starts at Westport House’ town centre gate and runs through the estate to Westport Quay and then back to Westport town. This is the perfect way to see Westport (particularly if you have walking issues). The tour lasts around 45 minutes and runs from October to March.
Westport Town Centre
You will find no lack of things to buy in Westport from the traditional knits and woollens to simply outstanding artisanal arts and crafts. For those that are foodies, there’s the Food and Craft Market or hit up the Westport Country Markets. Don’t forget to stop by Westport Tourism to gather information about what there is to see and do in Westport.
Westport Food & Craft Market
Westport Food and Craft Market takes place on Saturdays from March to December in Westport, County Mayo. A selection of fresh local produce, homemade foods and crafts are available to the public.
Westport Country Markets
Westport Country Markets are held every Thursday at The Boxing Club, James St, Westport. Produce includes organic vegetables, baked goods, jams and chutneys, free-range eggs and fresh flowers. Traditional crafts include pictures, toys and greeting cards woodturning, patchwork, homespun wool, handwoven items, hand knitting and all goods are produced locally.
Famous for its variety of festivals here are a few you won’t want to miss.
Westport Horse & Pony Show – 2nd & 3rd June
Dating back to 1741, Westport Horse and Pony Show has long been an annual favourite among locals and visitors alike. It is held in Knockranny.
Westport Folk & Bluegrass Festival – 14th – 16th June
Westport Folk & Bluegrass Festival showcases the best of local, national and international folk and bluegrass acts. The Festival also consists of music workshops, musical lunch and pub gigs.
Westport International Sea Angling Festival – 19th – 23rd June
Westport International Sea Angling Festival is a 1-day shore event and 3-day boat event in the beautiful waters of Clew Bay. Now in its 56th year, it is the longest-running Sea Angling event in Europe.
Westport Festival of Music & Food – 29th & 30th June
Set amidst a stunning 400-acre site in the heart of Westport town in Mayo, the Westport Festival of Music and Performing Arts will be an annual two-day celebration of music and song, embracing the very best local and international rock, folk, Celtic and acoustic sounds.
Ballina Salmon Festival – 8th – 15th July
Ballina Salmon Festival is Ireland’s premier family-orientated Festival giving thousands of people, eight days of fun-filled artistic and cultural events catering for all age groups. The Lady of the Moy competition and the street festival are among the many highlights.
Achill Seafood Festival – 19th – 22nd July
Féile Bia na Mara – Achill Seafood Festival is a weekend of fun and feasting to celebrate Achill’s rich maritime heritage and seafood culture.
Westport Street Music Festival – 27th – 29th July
Westport Music Festival features national and international music acts throughout the town. There are lots of activities for all ages including the extremely popular heritage day.
Croagh Patrick Annual National Pilgrimage – July
Each year, The Reek, as it is colloquially known, attracts about 1 million pilgrims. On ‘Reek Sunday’, the last Sunday in July, over 25,000 pilgrims visit the Reek. At the top, there is a modern chapel where mass is celebrated and confessions are heard. Individuals and groups come from all over the world and include pilgrims, hill climbers, historians, archaeologists and nature lovers.
Achill Summer Walks Festival – 24th – 27th August
Explore the secluded beaches, hills and secrets of Achill’s stunning landscape during this walking festival. There are walks for all levels and all of the walks will be guided by a fully qualified local guide
Westport Horse Fair – 24th September
Westport Horse Fair dates back to 1741 and has many classes of ponies and horses on the day. The fair includes showing classes in the morning and also a dog show.
Westport Arts Festival – 30th September – 9th October
Now in its 34th year, Westport Arts Festival has long since established itself on the West coast calendar as an exciting and diverse event. The festival is a locally-run event and gives an exciting insight into the lively community in Westport with a feast of theatre, dance, recital and music. There are children’s events, exhibitions and workshops.
The Helm Skate Festival – 6th & 7th October
The Helm Skate Festival is now in its 18th year and the prospect of catching one of Clew Bay’s monster skate is a key factor in attracting anglers from all over Europe to this end-of-season event.
The Blueway of Mayo
The Blueway is a network of water trails at which you can experience a variety of water-based activities, including kayaking and snorkelling, in a safe controlled environment.
You can find the County Mayo Blueway around Mannin Bay and Old Head along with Keem Beach on Achill Island.
The Blueway Snorkel Trail
You will find the snorkel trail at the beach just west of the pier wall. The trail continues north for around 1/2km to the western headland. There is a wide variety of sea life to watch including shoals of fish and shore crabs along with anemones and other plant life.
The Kayak Trail
The kayak trail is accessible either from the beach or the slipway on the east wall of the harbour. The 5.5 km trail will bring you along the shore from Old Head to Lecanvey pier passing a number of small beaches and short sections of the cliff along the way. Only the start of this trail in the vicinity of Old Head itself is suitable for beginners.
Grace O’Malley’s (Ireland’s Pirate Queen) home of Clare Island on the Blueway, offers coasteering, snorkelling, and raft-building.
The Great Western Greenway is Ireland’s longest off-road walking and cycling trail and is part of the National Cycle Network. This simply gorgeous route is way-marked, mostly traffic-free with solid surfaces that are perfect for walkers and easily accessible for wheelchairs and those with walking issues.
The paths meander past rivers, stone bridges small but delicious cafes serving light lunches, fabulous Irish bakes and scones – gorgeous dripping with cream scones.
So many fabulous Irish beaches are in and around Westport many are Blue Flag designated and perfect for families.
Old Head Beach
Old Head is a Blue Flag Beach located around 3.5km east of Louisburgh. The beach has a small harbour, a sandy beach – very popular for families and a woodland walk. Louisburgh village has a number of shops, pubs and dining outlets.
Old Head is a safe area for swimming, with lifeguards on duty during the summer months. A more exposed trail extends west from Old Head harbour to the beach at Calla passing caves along the way. At just under 5 km, this trail has no easy exit points and should only be undertaken by experienced kayakers in good weather conditions.
Beaches near Westport
Louisburgh: Carrawmore beach
Killala: Ross strand
Belmullet: Mullaghroe beach, Elly Bay beach
Murrisk: Bertra beach
Mulranny: Mulranny beach
How do I get to Achill Island from Westport?
Achill Island Co Mayo is the largest of the Irish islands with a coastline of almost 80 miles.
The best way to get from Westport to Achill Island without a car is to take the 456 bus from the station, or to drive as Achill is connected to the mainland by a swing bridge and is accessible all year round.
Kildamhnait Castle, on the southeast coast of Achill Island, is a 15th-century tower house associated with the O’ Malley Clan, there is also a 16th-century church, graveyard and holy well you can visit.
Achill Mission known as The Colony is situated at Dugort and is one of Achill’s most famous historical sites. In 1831 the Protestant Reverend Edward Nangle wanted to convert the Catholics of Achill to his version of Christianity and founded a mission at Dugort, which included schools, an orphanage, a hospital, a hotel and cottages. Famous and quite successful the mission declined after Nangle’s death and was closed in the 1880s.
Close to The Colony, at the base of Slievemore mountain lies the Deserted Village. This village was inhabited until An Gorta Mor or the Great Hunger. You can still see the ruins of nearly 80 one-room houses and in the fields the “lazy beds” where potatoes were grown
Beaches of Achill Island
- Keem Beach, Keel Beach, Dugort Beach, Golden Strand, and Dooega Beach.
Lying just west of Murrisk is the famous Croagh Patrick known around these parts as the “Reek”. You can park at the Murrisk Car Park for free and check out the Visitor’s Centre.
A sacred place long before St. Patrick climbed it in 441 AD, the Reek was a site of worship as far back as 3000 BC. Croagh Patrick’s name comes from the Irish ‘Cruach Phádraig’ meaning ‘Patrick’s Stack’. The mountain is known locally as The Reek, from ‘rick’ or ‘stack’ as traditionally turf and hay is stacked in ricks that mimic the shape of the mountain.
In pre-Christian times, Croagh Patrick was known as Cruachán Aigle. Historians believe the older name is connected to a pagan harvest deity, the dark god Cromm Crúaich, later known as Crom Dubh. The literal interpretation is Eagle Mountain.
Traditionally on the last Sunday in July, thousands of pilgrims climb the summit in honour of Saint Patrick who, according to tradition, fasted and prayed on the summit for forty days in the year 441. Masses are held at the summit, where there is a small chapel.
From ancient times pilgrims have climbed the mountain barefoot or on their knees, as an act of penance, a practice that continues to this day. This is not an easy pilgrimage by any stretch of the imagination, friends who have climbed the summit say it is phenomenally difficult and many have been injured attempting the climb as it is loose rock underfoot and very slippery.
Cairn of Stones
At the base of the mountain’s cone lies the ‘Cairn of Stones’ and the legends tell of the pagan gatherings at Lughnasa here. Lughnasa is celebrated on August 1st and is the beginning of harvest season. The stories say that pagans would gather to celebrate Lugh and Danu in the Celtic tradition to honour these Celtic Gods and pay homage through the Fire Festival.
The cairn – Leacht Beanain, is named after St Patrick’s disciple Benignus, and it is the first of Croagh Patrick’s three prayer stations. A pilgrim must walk around Leacht Beanain seven times and recite seven Our Fathers, seven Hail Marys and one Creed, before starting the most gruelling part of their pilgrimage.
Croagh Patrick Chapel
At the summit of Croagh Patrick, there has been a chapel since the 5th century. Archaeological excavations discovered the remains of the foundations of Teampall Phádraig (St. Patrick’s Chapel).
In 1905 a new building was constructed by 12 local men. The stones and cement were hauled up the mountain by donkeys and in tribute to their work donkeys are still used on the annual pilgrimage day Reek Sunday.
Westport Mayo Walks
Mayo is famous for its beautiful scenery. Here are five circular walks you can walk or hike while in Westport
The Murrisk Loop which is a 5k walk is actually a combination of three walks – the Mountain Loop, Pier Loop and the Abbey Walk.
It begins at the Murrisk Car Park and this walk offers incredible views over Clew Bay. Along the walk, you will pass a Bronze age cooking site, a Mass rock, a stone fort and lazy beds or potato ridges that date back to the Great Hunger.
A National Famine Memorial can be seen on this walk. This haunting bronze sculpture is a true “coffin ship” with skeletons woven through the sculpture depicting and commemorating all those who died on the voyages to North America.
The ruins of this small Friary which was built around 1457 by Hugh O’Malley used to contain some of the relics of St Patrick.
On Achill Island, you will find the Granuaile Loop. You can stop for a pint at the start from Johnny Patten’s Public House, Derreens, this 6.8km trail passes along old bog roads and open moorland. On this loop, you will see some outstanding views of Croagh Patrick, Clare Island and Clew Bay. You will pass by the deserted village of Ailt and see at least 40 large stone cairns.
Lough Lannagh Loop
A much easier walk is found at Castlebar’s Lough Lannagh Loop, which is just 20 minutes from Westport. A buggy and wheelchair accessible route it covers a kilometre. Along the route, you will spot some small-scale bronze sculptures made by Westport artist Elaine Griffin, each relating to Castlebar’s recent and distant past.
At Brackloon Woods on the Owenwee River, you can simply let your mind get lost in these ancient oak woodlands, deep mossy crevices and prehistoric ferns. This is an easy looped walk of 4km just 7 km from Westport itself.
Clew Bay Wesport
Clew Bay is simply outstanding, once the home territory of the O’Malley’s and the famous Pirate Queen Grainne Clew Bay is the ideal spot for a staycation or weekend getaway.
You will find some fabulous BnB’s at Clew Bay and don’t forget to visit the Shebeen for some traditional music and a pint of the black stuff.
If you are feeling hunger Pangs the Two Towers Restaurant will serve up some of the best and freshest seafood in the area.
Clew Bay Heritage Centre at Westport Quay.
Clew Bay Heritage Centre traces the history of Westport ned town and the Clew Bay area from pre-Christian times to the present. Artefacts, documents and photographs connected with the general Westport area and of course Grainne the Pirate Queen can be found here.
Rockfleet is a tower house that was built in the mid-16th century. It was home to Pirate Queen Grace O’Malley and her husband Richard Burke ‘Richard of Iron’ from 1566. O’Malley is believed to have died here. The castle was restored in the 1950s and is open to the public in the summer season.
Grace O’Malley was born around 1530 to Owen O’Malley, the chieftain of a clan that ruled the area around Clew Bay on the west coast of Ireland for more than 300 years. During that time, they built wealth from both piracy and legitimate trade with France and Spain.
Westport Golf Club
For those of you more leisurely inclined how about a round of golf just 5 minutes outside of town on one of Ireland’s finest parkland courses. The Westport Golf Club is a championship venue that has hosted the Irish PGA tour and it has over 260 acres of some pristine parklands on the shores of Clew Bay.
The Boheh Stone is also known locally as St Patrick’s Chair. On April 18, and August 24th on The Reek a strange natural phenomenon occurs. The setting sun appears to roll down the northwestern side and this occurrence can only be seen from the Boheh Stone.
This incredible work of Neolithic art is probably over 4000 years old. Found along a narrow side road and tucked behind a derelict house this large outcrop of rock has over 250 petroglyphs carved on it.
Some of the markings are similar to those found at Newgrange in County Meath.
Burrishoole Abbey is a beautiful ruin, standing beside a quiet, tidal estuary. It was founded by Sir Richard de Burgo for the Dominican order in 1469, who resigned his lordship before entering the friary, where he remained a friar until his death four years later.
It fell into ruin in the 18th century and the roof finally collapsed in 1793. Today, the nave, chancel, tower and south transept remain and there are ruins of domestic buildings and a cloister to the north.
The cemetery is still in use; take a stroll around the grounds and seek out the oldest inscribed tomb in the Abbey, that of Alan O’Kelly which has a Latin inscription dated 1623.
Where to stay in Westport
We absolutely loved our stay at the Ardmore Country House on the shores of Clew Bay. This lovely boutique hotel is a 5-minute walk from Westport harbour.
A small, and intimate, 4-star hotel that offers large rooms and fantastic breakfasts in a peaceful setting. Rooms at the Ardmore Country House are individually decorated in a country-house style. They offer free Wi-Fi and some have sea views. Spacious en suite bathrooms feature luxurious toiletries and separate bath.
Where to eat in Westport
We were only in Westport for a weekend but we had some of the best food we have eaten in Ireland and trust me that is saying something. We obviously didn’t eat breakfast out but had two superb dinners that have still to be beaten in value and taste. Westport also has some awesome cafes for a light lunch.
Located in Clew Bay right on the harbour we had dinner here and were blown away by the food. Now I have never liked mussels I found them way too chewy with no flavour. Guess what? After eating fresh mussels pulled from the sea that day The Towers awesome seafood platter I am now a huge mussel fan. We were afraid that the price we thought the platter at was so cheap we couldn’t believe it was for two people – turns out it was and we had even decided at that price each we didn’t care it was so damn good.
An Port Mor
From the freshest seafood from Clew Bay and Connemara to local vegetables, artisan cheeses and meat reared on lush green fields; An Port Mor is a true foodie treat. Customers won’t allow them to take their House Specials of Pot-Roasted Pig’s Cheek with Kelly’s Black Pudding and 21-day aged Ribeye Steak off the menu. They like to play around a little with ingredients, but they take their food very seriously. Think signature creations that you won’t find anywhere else like Crab Cakes in a Seaweed Polenta and Coffee, Almond and Black Pepper Bread. This is a true West of Ireland restaurant inspired by local produce. Sorry but we tucked in so fast I didn’t even have time to take photos.
No trip to Westport would be complete without taking in some traditional music and a pint. You simply can’t go wrong with a visit to Matt Molloy’s. Matt and the world-renowned Chieftans brought Irish music to the world and here at this fabulous little traditional pub you can feel part of that world – this is truly an authentic Irish experience – besides you can’t go wrong with a great pint of the black stuff lol.
So have you been to Westport? What did you think?
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