A trip to Erris always belies the old adage that says ‘the anticipation is better than the realisation’. The excitement of looking forward to travelling out to explore the barony is always matched by the pleasure I get from visiting the beautiful seascapes and landscapes that make Erris such a unique place.
And so it was last Thursday – when clear blue skies allowed both the sun and moon to be visible over Mayo at midday – and the frost-coated fields were evidence of a freezing night before when temperatures dropped to -6°C degrees Celsius in many parts of the county.
My first port of call on this late November afternoon was Dun na mBó that spectacular blowhole on the northwest end of the Mullet.
A short walk down the boreen took me to the vantage point looking out at Eagle Island standing majestic against an Alpine sky, its reflection giving the calm sea a deep blue hue as it lapped against the island’s steep and rocky shoreline. It was a scene more reminiscent of July than November.
Below me standing on the rocks, opposite Eagle Island, was an angler fishing for Cod and Pollock. However, he didn’t stay too long as the seas along Mayo’s Wild Atlantic Way are never predictable even when the forecast is for calm conditions and a light 3-4 ft swell.
As my photograph shows, even on a calm day, you can never take the sea for granted – and the breaking wave that came too close for comfort forced the angler to wisely abandon the day’s shore angling for another time.
The Mullet is an amazing peninsula. Its sheltered east-facing side contrasts with the peninsula’s west-facing shoreline that takes the full force of the North Atlantic for many months of the year.
Compared to other parts of Erris, the land on the Mullet has always appeared to me to be of drier, better quality soil, supporting a thriving population of about 2,000 inhabitants who mainly live in the Mullet’s many pretty villages.
Driving back along the L-52380, you pass through one of those lovely villages of the Mullet, Corclough, where I always admire the restored two-storey stone dwellings built for the Eagle Island coastguards’ families in the late 19th century.
Annagh Head is another beauty spot on the Mullet and it was here I sat on one of the countless boulders and rocks that are scattered higgledy-piggledy all along the foreshore.
I sat for a while in the fast fading light watching the small birds dart and flit between the boulders, their tiny bodies camouflaged by the multi-coloured lichens and mosses that grow on the rocks.
Sadly, I am not familiar with the names of birds other than the more common creatures that inhabit my garden. It seems Stonechats are common here among the rocks – but If anyone can identify the birds in the photos above please feel free to comment.
Annagh Head with its view over Eagle Island is also the location of The Beehive, part of Tir Saile, the North Mayo Sculpture Trail. The installation is dedicated to those lost at sea.
And while there are no obvious signs today, that beehives were part of the landscape on the Mullet, there is evidence that beehive structures may have been used during the earliest monastic settlements on the nearby Inishkea Islands.
Before leaving this tranquil place with only the birdsong and the noise of the waves for company, I walked over the steep hill behind The Beehive to look south at the mountains of Achill fading in the distance in the enveloping twilight as the low-lying winter sun dipped towards the horizon.
But the late November Thursday had another delightful surprise in store – nature was keeping its best wine until last.
As I arrived in Belmullet, on my journey back to Ballina, I was greeted by the most wonderful sunset as the dying blaze of the sun cast the warmth of its lemon and orange coloured glow over the buildings along the Erris capital’s shoreline.
I took a few photos and then stood and enjoyed the beauty of a Belmullet sunset.