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Legends and cliff tops on Carrowteige Loop Walk

The Carrowteige Loop Walks in remote North West County Mayo are among the most spectacular coastal loop walks to be found anywhere in the world.

The cliff-edge trail brings you along a walk that will have you stopping every few yards to take in the breathtaking views over Broadhaven Bay, and gaze in wonder at dizzying cliff edges and rocky islands.

As you progress along the trail, you will also overlook Kid Island, a rocky outcrop standing against the mighty North Atlantic, and towards the end of the walk, you will be a stone’s throw from the natural wonder that forms the Stags of Broadhaven.

Carrowteige (Ceathrú Thaidhg) is an Irish speaking seaside village, situated at the north-west tip of Co Mayo in Kilcommon (Cill Chomáin) parish in the barony of Erris.

The trail-head for the three looped cliff walks is located at Carrowteige’s popular summer school, beside Garvin’s grocery and hardware store, on your right, as you enter the Gaeltacht village.

Hills and history

You have a choice of three loop walks:

  • The blue arrows for the Children of Lir loop, which is 10km.
  • The red arrows are for the Black Ditch Loop, which is 13 km
  • The green arrows for the shortest loop

I recommend taking the blue trail which will take about 2 hours.

The guidebooks will tell you to begin your walk at the Irish summer school car park in the village, but we like to park near the beautiful beach at Carrowteige and walk across the sand dunes to the start of the trail.

However, if you are visiting the area for the first time, you are probably better to start from the trail-head at the school in the village.

As you make your way to the start of the walk, you will pass historic Cill a’ Ghallagáin (Kilgalligan) graveyard which gives this townland its name.

If you have time, you can visit the grave of Saint Gallagán, the patron saint of the area whose resting place is marked by a large mound in the northeastern corner of the cemetery.

A stone slab bearing an inscription of a Maltese cross, unearthed on top of the mound, indicates it dates back to the Early Christian Period.

My favourite trail is the Children of Lir Loop, which is 10km, following the blue arrows, and takes between 2-2.5 hours to complete.

The start of the walk is mostly along a boggy embankment, known as The Black Ditch, which was built over the centuries by local people to prevent animals from falling over the cliff edge.

A stiff climb follows, but it’s worth it for the wonderful views of Broadhaven Bay and the entire length of the Mullet peninsula that await you when you reach the summit.

On a clear day, you will be able to make out Ballyglass Lighthouse which has been warning sailors for centuries of the treacherous North Mayo coastline.

Spanish Armada

Broadhaven Bay and the northern tip of the Mullet as seen from a vantage point along The Carrowteige Loop Walks. Photo: Anthony Hickey
Broadhaven Bay and the northern tip of the Mullet as seen from a vantage point along The Carrowteige Loop Walks. Photo: Anthony Hickey

During the 16th century, a number of ships from the Spanish Armada sunk off the coast of North Mayo, including the Santiago. There are tales of Mayo pirates stealing gold and valuables from ships which tried to take shelter from rough seas. The many caves along this stretch of coastline provided the perfect cover for these pirates.

In more recent times, the British Navy used Broadhaven Bay to test the guns of its big battleships in the summer of 1914 before the outbreak of World War 1. It was reported that the warships booming gunfire could be heard as far away as Carrick-on-Shannon in Co Leitrim.

After you have recovered from the exertions of scaling the hill, you can look forward to an easier walk along a boggy embankment as you head inland for a short while and away from the cliffs.

After you descend down a steep gully and cross a stream, you will return to the cliff walk and be greeted by more magnificent views of Kid Island and the wild and beautiful north Mayo coast in all its splendour.

Kid Island is used for grazing sheep in the summer months and marks the most easterly point of Broadhaven Bay.

Stags of Broadhaven

As you turn right and reach Benwee Head, one of the highlights of the walk comes into view.

The Stags of Broadhaven are sea stacks that are between 650 and 950 million years old and arch out of the North Atlantic like some huge prehistoric sea monster.

The jagged rocky islands jut from the sea to over 100 metres above sea level. One of the rocks is bisected by a long narrow cave which can be explored by sub-aqua clubs.

The Stags are just a part of the fascinating geology of North Mayo. The rocks along this stretch of coastline are among the oldest in Britain and Ireland.

Composed mainly of shales, schists, and gneisses, they result from tectonic processes which occurred 600 million years ago.

This is a good spot for a picnic before continuing your journey.

Children of Lir Sculpture

Walkers who take the Carrowteige Loop Walks can look forward to magnificent views of Kid Island. Photo: Anthony Hickey
Walkers who take the Carrowteige Loop Walks can look forward to magnificent views of Kid Island. Photo: Anthony Hickey

North Mayo has a rich folklore heritage and the Children of Lir Sculpture, at Na Príosúin, which you arrive at soon after you leave Benwee Head commemorates the legend of the Children of Lir.

The monument is part of Tír Sáile – The North Mayo Sculpture – inspired by the 5,000-year-old Céide Fields Neolithic site near Ballycastle on the North Mayo coast.

Legend has it that the four children were transformed into swans by their evil stepmother, Aoife, and condemned to live on the waters of Ireland for 900 years, the last 300 to be spent off the beautiful North Mayo coast.

According to folklore, the Children of Lir are buried on the nearby island of Inis Ghluaire (Inishglora), located off The Mullet.

The return leg of the walk is a leisurely stroll along country lanes with more magnificent views of mountains, inlets, and sea before finishing in Carrowteige.

If you have time, visit the beautiful sandy beach at Carrateigue and when the tide is in the calm waters are perfect for swimming. An enjoyable and refreshing way to round off a lovely day.

By Anthony Hickey

Follow writer and photographer, Anthony Hickey, as he travels around his native Co. Mayo, Ireland.

2 replies on “Legends and cliff tops on Carrowteige Loop Walk”

The Carrowteige loop walk really is a must see. I don’t think you will see anything more spectacular in Europe.. |Take your time and don’t be in a hurry to finish the walk !! excellent , cant wait until spring and start doing the trails of Mayo again.

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