Category Archives: Mayo Walks

Inishbiggle (Inis Bigil)

Inishbiggle (Inis Bigil in Irish) is a small island (just under 3km2) that lies between Achill Island and the mainland off the west coast of Ireland. We had the opportunity to visit the island a couple of weeks ago. The journey, just takes a few minutes in a small boat from the mainland.

Boat ride

Boat ride – looking back to mainland

The island has only very small roads and with hardly any cars, is the perfect place to walk and enjoy the beautiful scenery.

Inis bigil

Inis bigil

One of the oldest building on the island is the church, a small pretty building on the eastern side of the island.

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The island was only first inhabited in 1834. At it’s peak the island had a population of 171 and throughout the early 20th Century the population remained about one hundred. By 2006 the population had dropped to just 24. Today, there are just ten households occupied throughout the year and only 14 people living on the island permanently. The majority of inhabitants are over 50 years of age. The ferry man told us there was no longer any children living on the island.

 

In the past, farming and fishing would have been the main occupations but today only a couple of landowners continue to farm (sheep and cattle). Tuft is still being cut in some places.

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The island has a magical quality to it. It is so peaceful, the views are stunning and the light is special.

But at the same time there is a sadness, a feeling that humans time here is coming to an end. The men who took us across on their boat were very conscious of the changing climate. They could already see the impact on their community, with rising sea levels and increasing strengths of storms. They showed us at how extra stones cages have had to be installed at the pier to protect it and how the floating platform needed and extra 30cm added to the top to deal with higher tides and storm surges. We often think of sea rise as only affecting tropical islands but for these islanders it was very real too.a

 

The island’s isolation is both it’s magical charm and it’s potential ruin.

Inis bigil

Inis bigil

 

Ferries to the island are available from the mainland at Doran’s point or from Achill island, see this link.

 

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Claggan Mountain Coastal Trail

One of the things that really make me happy is time spent with my family and particularly when this involves exploring nature, somewhere new. We had been to Ballycroy National Park before but this boardwalk trail we had only driven passed before.

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Boardwalk over bog

The wooden boardwalk rises you slightly above the bog , so you can look down and admire the heathers and beautiful grasses in their winter browns and reds.  Here and there bog pools are dotted and interpretation boards hint at what you may see on a summers day.

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All around you can admire views of mountains, such as Claggan Moutain, (even if covered in low-lying mist) and the bay.  In fact it is hard to imagine it as the sea as it seemed so calm. And you can also see why it would have been a favourite pirate hiding place in years gone by.

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Boardwalk trail, Claggan moutain and the bay

The boardwalk leads you to the sea shore where yet another surprise awaits.  There in the water, and jutting out from the deep peat banks are ancient trees. Known as bog oak (though they may be oak, yew or pine) these tree fossils could be 5 or 6 thousand years old. They have basically been preserved in the acidic peat soil. Some, are slowly been colonised by seaweeds.

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Bog oak stump

This is a special place. It is not just the spectacular scenery that make me happy but seeing these ancient trees is a powerful link to the past.

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Bog oak with seaweed

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Sculpted remains of an ancient tree

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Balla Town Park

A couple of weeks ago we visited Balla Town Park. The park, managed by the local community, consists of a series of walks, we choose the fairy village trail.

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Fairy Village Trail

The town was left land by a local landlord.  In 2015, the community applied for a Neighbourwood scheme. An area of 35 acres of old estate wood was cleared of encroaching laurel and planted with 3000 young deciduous trees. These new trees, along with the existing old trees, now make a wonderful diverse woodland. The old trees include oak, beech and horse chestnut trees.

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Old oak trees with newly planted trees in foreground

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Mixed tree ages

Well laid paths, benches, picnic table, tree trail and interpretation boards all add to the visitors experience. The fairy village including some lovely sculptured way markers, are a great addition particularly for the younger visitors. They are a great incentive for encouraging young ones to go for walks and explore. It is hoped to install a bird hide in the near future. Birds boxes and bats boxes have been erected and there are plenty brash piles for wildlife too.

The Neighbourwood scheme is funded by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine. It aims to encourage communities to  woodlands as a local community amenities.

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Balla Town Park

Balla Town Park is a wonderful example of what can be done to create a great resource of local people and visitors.

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Clare Island

Visiting Clare Island off the west coast of Ireland has been on my bucket list for a couple of years. We recently had the opportunity to visit the Island and even though it is January we decided to go. We were not disappointed.

Clare Island, is approximately 7km long and 4km wide, and lies 5km of the west coastal of Ireland.  The highest point Knockmore (“An Cnoc Mór” in Irish, meaning great hill) is 462m. Today, there is a population of about 160 though many of the houses on the island are holiday homes.

We took the ferry from Roonagh pier, just outside Louisburg, on a cold but bright morning. The sea was choppy and hopping from the pier steps into the ferry had to be timed with the swell. Once all the passengers were safety on-board, the crew hoisted a trailer full of hay with the aid of a small crane. This was quickly followed by an ancient jeep.

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Clare Island

In less than half an hour, we found ourselves alongside the Clare Island pier. We took the road heading west from the harbour, and part of the Clare Island loop walk. Looking inland the land rose to Knocknaveen. Out at sea, we could see the smaller island of Inishturk.

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The mainland from Clare Island

At this time of year, many of the facilities are closed but thanks to the hospitality of a local family we enjoyed some tea and hot chocolate,  and also learned a little of Island life. There is only a primary school on the island so once children reach their teenager years they leave for secondary school on the Monday morning ferry, returning to the island on Friday evening.

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12th Century Abbey

We continued our walk, pausing for lunch, at the island abbey, unfortunately also closed for repair. There was then a steep climb along the road as we headed inland, but we had an extra treat of seeing an Irish hare! The land is grazed mostly by steep, with a few cattle, donkeys and ponies.

After crossing the interior of the island, we headed south-east back toward the harbour. Close to the pier stands a Tower House once owned by Grace O’Malley the famous pirate queen (whom I have written about previously).

We left the island on the 16.15 ferry back to the mainland.  We were further blessed with a magnificent sunset over Inishturk and the sighting of three bottle-nosed dolphins (too far off to get a decent photo). I can safely say that we were all take by the beauty of the island and the hospitality of it’s inhabitants. And we hope to make a return journey later in the year.

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Sunset over Inisturk from the Clare Island Ferr