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To say Mayo’s beaches are pristine is not to romanticise, as 10 of its beaches have attained Blue Flag status, international recognition of the quality of bathing water, as well as environmental, education and other criteria.
An integral part of childhood in Mayo is going to the beach. Running along the wide and never ending strand in Mulranny or mucking about in rock pools at Old Head are what childhood memories are made of. To say Mayo’s beaches are pristine is not to romanticise, as 10 of its beaches have attained Blue Flag status, international recognition of the quality of bathing water, as well as environmental, education and other criteria.
Surfers travel the globe to catch waves and not just in California or Australia. Mayo is considered a world-class surfing destination. Favourites among surfers are Keel Strand in Achill, Elly Bay in Belmullet and Carrowniskey Beach near Louisburgh, which started one of the first surf schools in Ireland. The full force of the Atlantic Ocean and the crystal clear waters in a beautiful natural environment is a winning combination. Kayaking, wind surfing, and snorkelling have grown in popularity in recent years with the emergence of adventure companies.
Devastating storms hit the region in winter 2013/14 causing serious damage to some of the coastline causing a few beaches, including Bertra & Mulranny to lose their Blue Flag statuses for now.
The approach to Keem Beach in Achill is breathtaking as you meander down clifftop roads to the pristine waters and golden sand of the horseshoe bay, passing glistening purple amethyst quartz exposed in the cliffs en route. A Blue Flag beach, the cove is nestled in between the Croaghaun Mountain and Benmore Cliffs providing shelter from the winds coming in from the Atlantic. Paul Henry’s iconic 1910 painting, ‘Launching the Currach’ is set here. On view in the National Gallery of Ireland, in Dublin, the painting depicts traditionally clad fishermen launching their boat from the strand. In the mid-20th century, this beach was the centre of shark-hunting activities, as shark oil was a valuable commodity for use in the aerospace industry.
At the beach in Dugort, on Achill Island, you might see seals swimming or basking on the rocks near the seal caves, where a colony lives. In the 19th century seals were over-hunted and what once was a large colony is substantially smaller now. There is a lovely grassy area behind the beach and Slievemore Mountain, home to the Deserted Village, punctuates the beach’s end.
Whether you crave waves and swells or gentle undulating shallows with rock pools, the beaches north to south, from Ross Beach to Dooega Head to Silver Strand provide dunes, rugged cliffs and expanses of smooth golden sand. The experience of floating weightlessly in the silver-blue Atlantic waters is one of sheer joy and contentment. Add to that extensive views in all directions, from unspoiled jagged coastline, to Croagh Patrick’s majestic cone, to Clare Island in the far distance or Achillbeg and you can see why Mayo’s beaches are a treasure in all seasons. Whether swimming, engaging in water sports, walking or just sitting contemplating sunset, no two beaches are quite alike and yet, between them, there is something for every taste.