Westport, Co Mayo, Ireland Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Westport, Co Mayo, Ireland

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Just imagine lying on a beach with dramatic mountains and cliffs all around and over the sea in the distance an orange sun is dropping towards the horizon.

Well if you want to experience the real thing then you should pop down west for a while - the wild west of Ireland. Some parts of County Mayo bring a new meaning to the word 'remote'.

This entry is about Westport. A small town on the western edge of Mayo. It is not the most remote part of the county and is easily accessible by car, bus and train. But with using Westport as a base you can explore all the wilds of Mayo.

But first you should explore Westport. It's a beautiful, small town which was planned and built in the 18th Century by the landlord at the time (it is one of the few planned towns in Ireland). The Mall is a beautiful small river which is lined by old elm trees on either side. Also overlooking the town is Ireland's holy mountain, Croagh Patrick (see below).

Westport has a population of about 5 - 6,000 and 60 pubs. Matt Moloy's is run by a musician from the famous traditional Irish music band the Chieftains and is always good for trade, music and a good pint. Across the street is the old fashioned pub of (Johnny) Moran's - The Pub Where Dreams Come True. Henehan's is another favourite but suffice to say that nearly all the pubs are worthy of a visit, unless you hear dance music from the outside, or if they seem very 'young'.

What to do in the Area

Well, if you're into mountains, you are surrounded by them on all sides here. To the south are the 12 Bens or mountains, Maumturks, Mweelrea etc. Actually the Turks and Bens are in Galway, but many think of them as being in Mayo, along with the rest of the mountains in the area. Anyway they are easily accessible from Westport. To the north are the wild Nephins and Achill Island's Croaghan. And just a few miles out the road is Croagh Patrick. While the highest of these is only a meagre 814 metres what they lack in height they make up for in adventure, remoteness and solitude. You will rarely meet another person when out on these hills and because of this you need to be well prepared. Many would say that the Turks and Bens offer the greatest challenge and the greatest rewards. And for epic scenery with Croaghan down on Achill you can't go wrong. Or even just a visit to Achill Island is an epic.

Croagh Patrick, known to locals as the Reek, is an imposing sight. Seen as a perfect pyramid from many angles it is regarded as the archetypal mountain shape of most people's imagination. This pyramid can be seen from most of Mayo and indeed some other counties. This is a holy mountain and every year approximately 100,000 pilgrims climb up a well-worn path. While this mountain does not offer the remoteness and solitude of the other hills in the area it does offer a unique experience. The views over Clew Bay with its alleged 365 island are impressive to say the least. A word of warning though, just because so many pilgrims climb the mountain does not mean it is safe. Indeed care should be taken as 20-30 people are stretchered off by the Mountain Rescue Team who are kept very busy during the summer.

Also on the last Sunday in July every year up to 20,000 pilgrims climb the mountain. The pilgrimage on this day can be traced back to pagan times when it was done as a thank you to the sun god. Up until the 1970s this pilgrimage was done at night time and up to 60,000 people climbed it. There is also a tradition of climbing it in your bare feet. If you do climb it, and however you do climb it, don't litter the mountain and do as little damage to it as possible as it is fragile and always remember to have a pint in Cambell's at the bottom.

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