Of Ireland’s western counties, all blessed with wild drama and wistful beauty, County Mayo is one of the lesser known. Ashford Castle is just on its edge, across the border from its more famous neighbor, County Galway, and thus privy to the serene loveliness of Mayo as well as the must-see sites of Galway. Within reach are freshwater lakes perfect for fishing, mountains to hike, the mystical bogs of Connemara, cultured cities and tiny fishing villages, and areas where Gaelic is still the lingua franca.
Lough Corrib is the second largest lake in Ireland, covering some 68 square miles and harboring 365 islands. It’s connected via an underground channel to nearby Lough Mask. Both lakes are home to brown trout and salmon. Ancient woodlands surround the lake and Ashford Castle, but the landscape changes quickly the further you travel. To the west, the rugged quartzite summits of the Twelve Bens rise over Connemara’s lake-dotted peat bogs and rare flora, and Lake Mask is home to the unusual phenomenon of limestone pavement, a vast expanse of eroded rock covering the earth.
Neolithic and early Christian ruins are scattered across County Mayo, and Saint Patrick is said to have ministered here. This is the birthplace of pirate and chieftain Grace O’Malley, one of Ireland’s great legendary figures. The area was badly hit by the Irish potato famine, and more than a century and a half later, Mayo remains an area of small farms, plenty of sheep, and seemingly not many people.
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