I took advantage of the lovely early June weather to travel the Monasteries of the Moy Greenway, the walking and cycling route that will link Ballina and Killala when it’s completed.
It was a most enjoyable journey starting in historic Killala town that took me along a route that was once walked by the French army in 1798.
I enjoyed panoramic views of the Moy estuary as it enters Killala Bay and stopped off along the way to visit some of the best-preserved monasteries from Ireland’s ancient past.
The trail is a journey through the history of this part of North Mayo and passes under one of the two remaining railway bridges. There is a second railway bridge still standing nearer Killala, but it is not part of the trail.
The close proximity of six well-preserved monastic settlements gives the trail its name, The Monasteries of the Moy Greenway.
I began the Killala end of my journey in the town park adjacent to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The beautiful walled park was once the grounds of the Killala Fever Hospital, but, thankfully, today it is a happier place where children can play and adults can take a leisurely stroll.
The Killala Greenway winds its way through the lovely deciduous woodland that is part of the Killala House estate.
The stately mansion, designed by architects Millar and Symes in 1893 for Lady Augusta Gore Knox, has been restored by its owners who have done an impressive job including the addition of a pond with a spectacular water fountain that can often be seen at weekends. The owners have plans to open the gardens to the public.
The mile-long racetrack alongside the trail is part of Killala House Stables, a modern horse training enterprise with big plans. The stables at Killala House date back approximately 120 years and have been tastefully restored.
Near to the exit of the Killala House estate, there is a park bench, erected by Killala Community Council, and dedicated to the memory of Sean Hannick, a local businessman and community activist who died in 2015.
The inscription reads:
Come and sit a while in loving remembrance and deep appreciation of Sean’s immense voluntary contribution to the Killala community and further afield.
Sean Hannick was a very proud Killala man.
December 1943 to January 2015.
On the outskirts of Killala, the trail takes you over the busy R314 road and along the track of the old Ballina to Killala railway. Surrounded by swampy ground, tall reeds flourish in this marshy terrain decorating the verges of the route before you pass under the old railway Overbridge.
The single-arch Overbridge a relic of the Midland Great Western Railway (MGWR) line that once connected Ballina to the pretty harbour in Killala is among the trail’s most interesting features.
Old Railway Bridges
The bridge is a lovely reminder of the 10-mile Ballina branch railway extension to Killala.
The Ballina to Killala branch line was built for £29,000 and opened in January 1893. Plans to extend the line to Blacksod via Ballycastle where it was hoped a transatlantic shipping route could be developed never came to pass. Hotels were built in Ballycastle and Belderrig in anticipation of the arrival of the railway and the elegant old buildings are still standing to this day.
The Killala line was closed to passenger traffic on October 1st, 1931, but goods trains continued to run from Ballina, at 13.45pm and return at 15.15pm daily, until the track was finally closed on July 1st, 1934.
After passing under the old railway bridge, the walk continues through a rural landscape of farmland and wetlands, close to the River Moy estuary where there is lots of bird life to see.
Lough Calog, surrounded by reeds and other large grasses, alongside the trail, is an attractive feature and home to bird life such as Grey Herons and various species of waterfowl.
Old friaries along the trail
At nearby Bullockpark, you can pick cockles and mussels at low tide and walk over the sandbanks to pretty Bartra Island – but be sure you bring your wellies.
There is also a view of Moyne Abbey tower, a reminder of why the trail is called The Monasteries of the Moy Greenway.
The Monasteries of the Moy refers to the old friaries that are dotted along the trail at Moyne, Rosserk, Ballina, and Rathfran, north of Killala.
As you make your way towards Ballina along the Western Way through Ballysakeery and Carrowkelly, you pass close to another well-preserved friary at Rosserk on the banks of the Moy which is worth visiting. Tobair Mhuire Holy Well with its tiny chapel is close to the old abbey at Rosserk.
This part of the Greenway has yet to be completed, but it is a quiet road suitable for both walkers and cyclists.
The Ballina section of the Greenway through Belleek Wood to Knockatinole was opened in July 2016 by Michael Ring TD, Minister of State for Regional Economic Development.
The Belleek Wood trail must surely be one of the most scenic and pleasing walking and cycling trails anywhere in the world as it passes through the mature woodland of native Irish trees and along the banks of the River Moy.
It is wonderful to see that work on the Ballina and Killala sections of the 10km off-road trail is now finished and all that remains is for Mayo County Council to complete the section along the road from Rusheens through Carrowkelly to Belleek.
Walkers and cyclists are in for a real treat when the Greenway is finally finished. In the meantime, there is still much to enjoy along the Ballina and Killala sections of the trail.