Knock may not be one of Ireland’s most famous locations, but it is the perfect gateway to one of Ireland’s best-kept secrets. Mayo and the neighbouring county of Sligo are the overlooked relatives when it comes to Ireland’s family album of scenic lovelies, but, although this region may not be as popular as Killarney or Dublin, its low profile just adds to its charm. Car hire is the best way to get around this part of the world, as public transport, when available, is neither comprehensive nor reliable.
Just over 60km from Knock Airport, the town of Westport
is definitely worth a visit. Nestling in the southeast corner of Clew Bay, Westport has an idyllic charm that quickly demonstrates why the town was voted Ireland’s Best Place to Live in 2012. Meander along the tree-lined, flower-filled boulevard known as The Mall, and enjoy dramatic views of the nearby mountain, Croagh Patrick.
You won’t find any bars or restaurants lining the sand; you cannot hire sun umbrellas or loungers; you might not even see any people at all, but the beaches on Achill
may be the best in the world. Stunning and secluded, Achill Island’s five Blue Flag beaches are linked to the mainland via a landbridge on mainland Mayo. Achill is home to the Atlantic Drive, a 40km stretch of coastal magic.
The Quiet Man Village in Cong
Now more than 50 years old, John Ford’s 1951 classic The Quiet Man, holds a special place in many people’s lists of favourite films. Starring John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara, it was set in the iconically traditional village of Cong on the Mayo-Galway border. About a 40-minute drive from Knock, the Quiet Man Cottage Museum
is the ideal destination for anybody looking for a total immersion in The Quiet Man experience. Take a look at the cottage’s ground floor: It has been designed as an exact replica of 'White-o-Mornin' Cottage, the home of Maureen O’Hara’s character.
Recognised as the only abbey in Ireland founded by a monarch that has been in continuous use for almost eight centuries, Ballintubber Abbey
is situated near Lough Carra, south of Castlebar. Ballintubber is part of Tóchar Phádraig, a 35km pilgrimage road that ends at Croagh Patrick. Although the abbey was suppressed and damaged during the Protestant Reformation, Catholics continued to worship there during penal times. The nave, chapter house, and Dorter area have since been re-roofed, in time for 800th year celebrations in 2016. Contemporary outdoor attractions include an abstract Way of the Cross, an underground year-round Crib, and a Rosary Way.
St. Patrick's holy mountain, Croagh Patrick
is an ancient pilgrimage site located five miles from Westport. Climb the 764-metre peak, following in the footsteps of Patrick, and discover spectacular views of Clew Bay and south Mayo. The climb is best tackled in summer (April-September), but this is Ireland, so bring rain gear to protect you against frequent showers. Strong shoes are also recommended. If you are reasonably fit, it should take about two hours to climb to the summit, and an hour and a half descend. There are a lot of loose stones to contend with on the way down, so be particularly careful in wet weather.