Journal Volume 4 2004
County Mayo Tour April 2003
By Geraldine Herrera
On a bright Monday morning we left Greystones by coach. We travelled in style and comfort and were well entertained by our driver Ciaran. After a brief stop for coffee we set off for Ardagh. Travelling in such luxury can have its drawbacks. We learned this after trying to negotiate a low bridge and so we took the scenic route and met Paddy Egan at the award winning heritage centre at Ardagh a little later than planned.
After lunch we were shown around the centre, an old schoolhouse built in 1898. Paddy gave us a brief history of the village. We learned of its mythical roots, its importance as an early church and its development into an estate village. Ardagh is also famous for its writers and musicians: Oliver Goldsmith, Sir Walter Scott and Turlough Carolan. Regrettably we didn't have time to follow the town trail, as we had to proceed to the Atlantic Coast Hotel for a welcome drink and dinner.
After our meal we were given a slide show by Gerry Bracken to preview our tour for the following day. This tied in beautifully with the lecture given by Chris Corlett in February. Gerry Bracken worked with Chris on his book: Antiquities of Co. Mayo. One of the slides showing the rock of Boheh was of particular interest. The cup, ring marks and spirals that cover this large, natural, outcrop of rock are typical of a style of art dating to the end of the Stone Age. Gerry noticed that from this exact point one could view what he terms the “rolling sun”. On the 18th of April and on the 24th of August one can actually observe (weather permitting) the setting sun roll down the side of Croagh Patrick. These dates coincide with traditional dates for planting and harvesting.
On the second day of our trip, Gerry acted as our guide for the day. Our first stop was at Aghagower (The Field of the Spring). Aghagower is a Patrician foundation with a round tower and a ruined abbey. St Patrick established a church there at the early stages of his missionary work. His last visit is well recorded by bishop Tireachan who lived before 656. St Patrick spent the winter of 440 - 441 there in preparation for his Croagh Patrick pilgrimage. We had the opportunity to view some of the interesting monuments in Aghagower i.e. leaba Phadraig, Teampull na bhFiacal, Tobar na nDeochaun (The Well of the Deacons) and Dabhach Phadraig (St Patrick's Vat or Tub).
Our next stop was Murrisk, at the base of Croagh Patrick. Opposite the visitor's centre was the magnificent yet somewhat disturbing National Famine Monument. This superb memorial by John Behan commemorates the anniversary of the famine. We also had the chance to see Murrisk Abbey allegedly founded by Augustinian friars in 1456. The east window was of interest with unusual carved heads on the outside wall. The holy water stoop at the east end of the church should also get a mention. It was then time to head for Louisburgh and lunch.
After an eventful morning we were ready to sit back and enjoy the scenic route through Doo Lough Valley. The weather was perfect, blue skies overhead and stunning scenery. Gerry provided information on various sites throughout the afternoon. We arrived back in Westport in time for a quick visit to Clew Bay Heritage Centre, which traces the history of West port from Pre-Christian times to the present. That evening we enjoyed another delicious meal and some of our group continued to enjoy the night into the early hours.