A very special place for anglers, walkers and anyone with a natural empathy for big scenery and untamed wildness, Mayo really is magnificent.
A highlight of the Wild Atlantic Way (www.failteireland.ie/wildatlanticway) west coast driving route, its character is defined by a rugged island-studded coastline, vast empty spaces, fish-filled rivers and towering mountains, notably the iconic Croagh Patrick, standing guard over Clew Bay and the handsome planned town of Westport.
And Mayo has great food and hospitality too, making it the perfect destination for food lovers who also enjoy the outdoors. But Mayo’s biggest USP – and a marketing stroke of genius – is the 42km Great Western Greenway (www.greenway.ie) walking and cycling route, between Westport and Achill Island, and its younger sister, the Gourmet Greenway (www.mulrannyparkhotel.ie/gourmet-greenway-getaway), a unique food trail along the route, created by Mulranny Park Hotel and local food producers to showcase the area’s artisan foods of. All this, plus a major food and cultural festivals – including Westport Food Festival (5th-7th September 2014) - make Mayo a must-visit destination for food lovers.
Bervie, Achill Is. (www.bervieachill.com) A special hideaway since 1932, John and Elizabeth Barretts’ beachside haven welcomes non-residents for afternoon tea, also dinner when there is room.
Belleek Castle Hotel, Ballina (www.belleekcastle.com). Amidst ancient woodland beside the River Moy, Paul Doran’s castle featuring 16th century armoury and huge open fires now makes a quirky small hotel, serving excellent food (see Kitchen Heroes).
Stella Maris Country House Hotel, Ballycastle (www.stellamarisireland.com). Originally a coastguard regional headquarters, Terence McSweeney and Frances Kelly’s very special small hotel welcomes with a warm and stylish interior, majestic sea views and local food.
Enniscoe House, Crossmolina, nr Ballina (www.enniscoe.com) Converted outbuildings at Susan Kellett’s charming Georgian mansion overlooking Lough Conn offer a genealogy centre, small agricultural museum with working blacksmith, and restored walled gardens (with tea rooms).
Clare Island Lighthouse, Clare Island (www.clareislandlighthouse.com). An island lighthouse off Ireland’s rugged west coast must offer the ultimate escape. This new Blue Book property (www.irelands-blue-book.ie) offers a stylishly spare yet cosy base to explore the island.
Ballywarren House, Cong (www.ballywarrenhouse.com) Diane and David Skelton’s welcoming country house near Ashford Castle offers very comfy rooms and five-course dinners, by arrangement, in the lovely Garden Room.
Newport House, Newport (www.newporthouse.ie) For the most discerning, KieranThompson’s beautiful riverside house will be the ultimate place to stay on the Gourmet Greenway. Superb wine list and excellent, understated cooking (see Kitchen Heroes.)
Ardmore House, Westport (www.ardmorecountryhouse.com). Secluded in neat gardens above Westport Harbour, Pat and Noreen Hoban’s small hotel features local fish and shellfish on evening menus – and probably at breakfast too.
Stephen Lenahan, Belleek Castle Hotel (www.belleekcastle.com) Ballina, won Bord
Bia’s Just Ask Restaurant of the Year 2014 for enthusiastically showcasing local foods; the cooking is faultless and entertaining – signature dish, “The Drunken Bullock”.
Philippe “Irish Produce, French Heart” Farineau, Head Chef at Mount Falcon Estate, Ballina (www.mountfalcon.com), brings passion and a little ooh-là-là to adventurous seasonal cuisine.
Jonanthan Keane, Head Chef, The Lodge at Ashford Castle (formerly Lisloughrey
Lodge, www.thelodgeatashfordcastle.com) is talented and inventive; a love of the great West of Ireland foods clearly informs his cooking.
Ollie O’Regan Head Chef at Mulranny Park Hotel, Westport (www.mulrannyparkhotel.ie) is closely involved with the development of The Gourmet Greenway, along with a team including GM Dermot Madigan.
Seamus Commons, Head Chef at Knockranny House Hotel (www.khh.ie) employs French techniques creatively and has earned an enviable reputation for gala dinners showcasing local produce.
Frankie Mallon, owner-chef at An Port Mor, Westport (www.anportmor.com), cooks
some of the best food in the area, notably local fish, consistently achieving the stated aim, ‘to give the customer the very best in local fresh produce and value for money’.
Jose Barrossa, Portuguese owner-chef at Sol Rio, Westport (www.solrio.ie) enlivens the town’s dining options with unusual dishes using local and organic food.
The McMahon family – mum Ann and siblings Aran and Colleen – have made Castlebar a food lovers’ destination through their love of local foods and big hearted cooking at Cafe Rua and Rua/Deli (www.caferua.com/ourshop-deli.shtml )
Stefan Matz, Executive Head Chef at Ashford Castle (www.ashford.ie), is a modest chef
whose passion for local food and commitment to supporting artisan producers and independent suppliers has set a benchmark for hotel kitchens.
John Gavin, head chef at Newport House (www.newporthouse.ie) since 1983, displays no interest in fashion, instead producing meals of magnificent relevance. “Cooking which reflects the hospitable nature of the house” showcases home-produced and local foods, notably superb home-smoked salmon (only wild salmon is used).
Susan Kellett, owner of Enniscoe House (www.enniscoe.com) cooks delightfully simple dinners, but her quiet contribution to local food culture – notably through her huge organically worked walled garden – merits special recognition.
FISH & SEAFOOD
Mayo is synonymous with game fishing and wild salmon, especially, is a point of pride
on the great River Moy. The deep, clean waters of Clew Bay also provide the perfect home for Ireland’s most highly regarded farmed salmon, Clare Island Organic Salmon (www.marineharvest.com), while the country’s only organically sea farmed trout is produced at Curraun Blue Trout Farm, Mulranny (087 2858758).
Local producers of quality smoked fish include Keem Bay Fish Products on Achill Island (www.keembayfishproducts.ie), specialists Clarkes Salmon Smokery & Seafood Deli, (www.clarkes.ie), of Ballina and Westport, and Tiernan Brothers of Foxford (www.themoy.com), who will smoke your own catch for you – in fact Michael & PJ Tiernan will do just about everything for you except catch your fish and cook it, they’ll even arrange angling holidays.
The popularity of seaweed is fast-growing – and sea salt too: Kieran and Marjorie O’Malley’s Achill Island Sea Salt (www.achillislandseasalt.ie) has a light flaky texture and flavour that is saltier than the popular Maldon but less intense than Irish Atlantic Sea Salt (West Cork).
Handsome black faced sheep thrive in rugged coastal areas around the county and while it
is, as yet, a concept rather than a brand, Mayo Atlantic Sea Spray Lamb (M.A.S.S.) features on menus and is flagged in some of the county’s excellent butchers including Kelly’s of Newport (www.kellybutchers.com) passionate promoters of local food. ‘Achill Mountain Lamb’ is organically produced by the Calvey family on Achill Island (+353 (0) 43158). Similar to the mountain lamb of Kerry and Connemara, its special environment gives these meats a unique herby flavour and pré salé character.
While this is not a major dairy farming area, outstanding local products include Andrew
Pelham-Byrne’s lovely Gouda-style Carrowholly Cheese, Westport (www.facebook.com/pages/Carrowholly-Cheese) and the Butler family’s renowned Cuinneog Dairy Products of Castlebar (www.cuinneog.com), notably farmhouse country butter and natural buttermilk. An exciting new product just coming onto the market is Ireland’s first sheep’s milk yogurt, Velvet Cloud, made by Michael Flanagan (+353 87 6390841) with milk from the family farm.
BAKERY & SWEET THINGS
Delicious bakes are to be found throughout Mayo, in shops, restaurants, B&Bs and cafés – also delicious handmade preserves like Sean Casey’s unusual Westport Grove range (www.kcb-qrky.eu), and A Taste of Days Gone By (pattishomemadejam.com) made by Patti Moss, who recreates recipes from her grandmother’s cookbook.
There’s honey too – James McDermott & Derek Norton’s Murrevagh Honey, near Mulranny – and some seriously good speciality chocolates including Helena Chocolates (+353 (0)94 902 2755), of Castlebar and Marlene’s (www.chocolatehaven.net) of Westport.
SHOPS & Cafés
The Beehive, Keel, Achill Is. (+353 (0)98-43134)
Everything is home-made at Michael and Patricia Joyce’s neat craft shop with café, with baking a speciality.
The Cottage Coffee Shop, Dugort, Achill Is. (www.facebook.com/pages/The-Cottage) Karan and Paul McNamara beachside café proudly provides visitors with quality local foods and home baking.
Pure Magic Slievemore Rd, Dugort, Achill Is. (puremagic.ie/achill /+353 (0)984 3859) Simple chalet-style continental restaurant with rooms and weekend coffee shop overlooking Keel Lake; authentic pizza is a speciality.
Clarkes Salmon Smokery & Seafood Delicatessen, O’Rahilly St. Ballina (www.clarkes.ie). The renowned salmon smokers and fishmongers also offer speciality foods including sea vegetables.
Heffernans Fine Foods Market Square Ballina (www.heffernansfinefoods.com). Anthony and Geraldine Heffernan’s family butchery (with abattoir) is a one-stop shop with deli, bakery and daytime café – plus smart first floor evening restaurant, Heifer & Hen.
Devour Bakery, Ballinrobe (www.devourbakery.net) Enjoy a coffee and a gorgeous pastry at one of the two tables squeezed into Yvonne and James Murphy’s little bakery; special occasion cakes to order.
Mary’s Cottage Kitchen Main Street Ballycastle (+353 (0)96 43361) Mary Munnelly offers home baking and tasty meals; tuck in beside a real fire or enjoy sea views from the garden. Home-made chutneys and jams too.
Helena Chocolates Cavendish Lane Castlebar (www.helenachocolates.ie). Honorary Mayo man Dirk Schonkeren and his wife Elaine run their shop and café as ‘a chocolate experience’ and produce beautiful handmade chocolates, cakes, desserts and one-off pieces.
Rua (with deli) Spencer St. & Café Rua New Antrim St, Castlebar. Food lovers’ destinations, the McMahon family’s excellent cafés and deli favour local goodies like Nadurtha Organic Pasta from remote Bangor Erris and Achill Island Sea Salt.
Derrymore Farmhouse, Partry near Claremorris (+353 (0)94 954 3173) Aka The Blue Teapot, Vincent and Manita van Dulmen’s little daytime café is a walkers’ gem, offering home baking and products like cheese and honey. Signed at the turnoff for Tourmakeady.
The Food Store, Ballyhaunis Road Claremorris (www.thefoodstore.ie). Niall Heffernan’s thriving store is known especially for meats, but there’s also a bakery, deli, fresh local organic produce and many carefully selected niche products.
Tiernan Brothers Main Street, Foxford (www.themoy.com). Michael and PJ Tiernan’s extraordinary ‘Mayo Angling Advice Centre’ covers all things fishing, including a fresh fish counter and bespoke smoking service for successful anglers.
Blue Bicycle, Main Street, Newport (www.bluebicycletearooms.com) Dainty china and home baking give Phil Chambers’ delightful tea room old-world charm, but the focus on local and home grown ingredients is timeless.
Kellys of Newport, Main Street, Newport (www.kellysbutchers.com) Cheery Sean heads up a great team at this celebrated traditional butchers. They have their own abattoir and outstanding products include their traditional ‘putog’ black pudding (similar to haggis), and their Gourmet Greenway puddings, with seaweed. Next door at Kelly’s Kitchen (www.facebook.com/kellys.kitchen.9), Shauna Kelly’s appealing cooking includes many ingredients from her dad’s shop.
Kate McCormack & Sons Bridge Street Westport (+353 (0)98 25619). Locally reared meats sold by sixth generation butcher John McCormack also go into wholesome dishes like bacon and cabbage or casserole of spring lamb, upstairs in the café.
Marlene’s Chocolate Haven James Street Car Park Westport (www.chocolatehaven.net). Sweet indulgences, with no additives or preservatives, plus café offering diabetic chocolate, coffees and the speciality of the house – Marlene’s Hot Chocolate.
- Crockets on the Quay, Ballina (www.crocketsonthequay.ie) The Murphy family’s popular hostelry offers good food overlooking the River Moy.
- An Cheibh Belmullet (www.thetalbothotel.ie). Traditional nautically themed bar; a relaxing spot to enjoy local seafood.
- Bar One Gastropub, Castlebar (www.barone.ie) Cousin of Dublin’s stylish Saba, Mark Cadden’s smart gastropub is Castlebar’s busiest bar food venue – and a weekend night time hotspot.
- Leonards, Lahardane (+353 (0)96 51003) This classic traditional pub and grocery shop dates back to 1897 and always has the makings of a picnic on the shelves.
- T. Staunton Lecanvey (+353 (0)98 64850/64891 Thérèse Staunton’s great little pub near the ascent to Croagh Patrick is the real McCoy, with an open fire, simple snacks like home-made soup and sandwiches – maybe an impromptu sing-song too.
- Nevins Newfield Inn, Mulranny (www.nevinsinn.com) John and Anne Nevin’s cosy Greenway pub serves wholesome, generous fare, but the real USP is genuine hospitality – nothing is ever too much trouble here, and every visitor is truly welcome.
- The Tavern, Murrisk, Westport (www.tavernmurrisk.com) Myles and Ruth O’Brien’s fine bar and restaurant at the foot of Croagh Patrick showcases the best of local foods, notably seafood from Clew Bay
- The Sheebeen Rosbeg Westport(www.croninssheebeen.com) Just outside Westport, the Cronin family’s popular old world thatched pub overlooking Clew Bay enjoys an almost-waterside location.
- Matt Molloys, Westport (+353 (0)98 26655) Matt Molloy of the Chieftains owns this special pub (1896). No food – eat before attending the famous nightly traditional music sessions.