Trip Reports

Trip Report Wild Atlantic Way – Mayo & Achill Island

Keem Beach, Achill Island

Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way takes you on an unforgettable journey of tiny roads reaching out into the ocean, dramatic cliffs, golden beaches, spectacular lighthouses and tranquil villages and towns.  

This is the second post in a blog series authored by Melanie Nelson. She will share her day-to-day experiences of her trip along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, county by county. Today’s Trip Report takes you on a journey through county Mayo and the stunning Achill Island, where the award-winning movie "The Banshees of Inisherin" was shot.

Follow Melanie’s upcoming Blog Posts as she uncovers the myth & magic of Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way! 

Photos: Girls just wanna have fun!
Melanie - author of the blog – and her travel buddies Jody, Maggie, Tammy, Leah and Lori


Kerry Experience Tours took us from County Sligo to County Mayo's Westport via the town of Ballina lying at the mouth of the River Moy, Ballycroy National Park (almost 50 square miles of unspoiled bog and a great place to see peat turf), and Achill Island (the largest of the Irish isles reached by bridge).

Exploring Achill Island is County’s Mayo’s lovely secret. Among our stops we enjoyed Grace O’Malley’s Castle (also known as Kildavnet castle built about 1429 and held by the pirate queen of Ireland), Deserted Village at the base of Slievemore mountain (unmortared stone houses abandoned during the famine), and scenic Keem Beach (think white sand and clear water sheltered by rugged cliffs).


Cloudy and windy, occasional sun.


Clew Bay Hotel right in the middle of the delightful little village of Westport. Comfortable rooms, nice breakfast buffet, and the best coffee of the trip. Highly recommend!


George, the owner and operator of Westport's Friends Bistro, emigrated from Romania to pursue culinary arts. His education and experience took him to Italy, Monaco, and finally to Ireland. He opened the tiny restaurant (capacity less than 20) with his sister Elena and good friend Victor. All three serve as the staff for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. George works the customer-facing front while the other two work the kitchen serving up artistically plated delicious meals. Mine was an outstanding chicken and roasted vegetables followed by Crêpes Suzette, a flambéed dessert consisting of crêpes sauced with caramelized sugar, butter, orange juice, zest, and Grand Marnier, served as the pièce de résistance. Highly recommend!


A great day exploring County Mayo's Achill Island and surrounds, a popular summer coastal holiday destination for the Irish, but rather off the beaten path for Americans. Despite the many jewels in western Ireland, the genealogist in me enjoyed our stop at the Kildownet Old Cemetery located near the southern tip of Achill Island.

The graveyard extends from the country road to the shore of the bay and encompasses the partially restored ruins of St Dympna's Church founded in the 7th century. Legible headstones in the graveyard date back to 1817. Several unetched stones mark numerous graves of famine victims. The community probably couldn't keep up. Thirty-two young people who drowned in 1894 are also buried here. They had been crossing Clew Bay for the steamer in Westport that was to take them to Scotland for potato picking when their boat capsized in a sudden gust of wind. Broken clay smoking pipes strewn across another grave designated the final resting place of a prominent storyteller.


Grace O’Malley (Gráinne Ní Mháille) was born in Belcare Castle, County Mayo, about 1530 as the only daughter of an Irish Chieftain, Owen and Margaret O'Malley. The sea-faring family controlled Clew Bay where their clan fished, traded, and taxed others who fished off their coasts. To avoid catching her long hair in her father’s ship’s ropes, she cut off her hair.

At sixteen Grace married Donal O'Flaherty, a clan leader in-waiting who tutored her in leadership, politics, and pirating. Shortly after giving birth to her son, she appeared on deck with her newborn in arms to defeat Algerian pirates who had boarded her ship.

Grace successfully defended her land and defeated her rivals (usually the English) and is remembered as the pirate queen of Ireland.

Photos below: Kildavnet Castle - Grace O'Malley's Castle, County Mayo


As we learned of George's journey to become a chef and restaurant owner, he was asked how he ended up in the small town of Westport. He explained in his heavy Romanian accent that he followed a friend to Ireland. The area captured his heart once he saw County Mayo's famous landmark, Croagh Patrick (St. Patrick's Mountain) soaring 2,500 feet over Clew Bay and the entire western coastline. St. Patrick is said to have fasted for forty days on its summit. Thousands of pilgrims climb it every year on the last Sunday in July, a custom which goes back to at least the Middle Ages. I shall put this on my list for my next visit.

Trip Reports

Read other posts in this Blog Series "Trip Report Wild Atlantic Way" here

About the author

Melanie Nelson is a devoted aunt to five nephews, skillful genealogist, ardent fan of the Florida Gators, U2 zealot, gin tippler, avid traveler (anywhere in Ireland!), amateur photographer, and eager learner. She fused her passions into her business which offers genealogy research and family heritage planning. The Emerald Isle holds a piece of her heart. Find out more at MelNel Genealogy and her posts about Irish genealogy in the Tracing your Irish Roots blog series.

Tailormade Multiday Tours of Ireland

Interested in learning more about a tailor-made multiday tour of Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way? Find out more here.

About Kerry Experience Tours

For a truly local experience in one of the most charming and warm cultures in the world, Kerry Experience Tours will show visitors the most magical parts of Ireland. On offer are private day tours, and multiday tours  tailored to suit your wishes. Enjoy the most scenic drives, spectacular land and seascapes, historic wonders, inspirational places, and hidden gems off the beaten path, completed with background information and stories. Enjoy the absolute best Ireland has to offer, creating memories that last a lifetime. Join Kerry Experience Tours and find the Ireland you’ve always imagined.