Clew Bay and Croagh Patrick


Clew Bay, (Irish Cuan Mo) is a natural Atlantic ocean bay in County Mayo . It contains Ireland’s best example of sunken drumlins from retreating glaciers at the end of the last ice age and was inundated when sea levels rose. According to tradition, there is an island in the bay for every day of the year. The bay is overlooked by Croagh Patrick, Ireland’s holy mountain, and the mountains of North Mayo. Clare Island guards the entrance of the bay. From the southwest part of the bay eastwards are Louisburgh, Lecanvey, Murrisk, and Westport; north of Westport is Newport, and westwards from there lies Mulranny, gateway to Achill. From the south side of the bay, between Clare Island and Achill, Bills Rocks can be seen.

 BBC coast documentary  on Clew Bay and Croagh Patrick

Clew Bay was the focus of the O’Malley family possessions in the Middle Ages, and is associated especially with Grainne O’Malley – the legendary pirat queen whose castles on Clare Island and near Newport can still be visited.. During the Irish Civil War in July 1922, 400 Free State troops were landed at Clew Bay to take Westport and Castlebar from Anti-Treaty forces. The bay is also home to Dorinish, a private island purchased by John Lennon in 1967. Clew Bay itself is an internationally recognised sea angling centre hostingmany sea fishing competitions each year and it is renowned for being the best venue for common skate fishing in the country and holds the Irish record for a 160 lb white skate. It is also considered one of the best venues for tope, huss and ray.

Croagh Patrick (Irish: Cruach Phadraig meaning “(Saint) Patrick’s stack”), nicknamed the Reek, is a 764 metres (2,507 ft) tall mountain and an important site of pilgrimage in County Mayo, Ireland. It is 8 kilometres (5 mi) from Westport, above the villages of Murrisk and Lecanvey with Bertra Beach at its base. Magnificent views of Clew Bay and the surrounding south Mayo countryside are spectacular from all stages of the ascent of the mountain.
It is the third highest mountain in County Mayo after Mweelrea and Nephin. On “Reek Sunday”, the last Sunday in July every year, over 15,000 pilgrims climb it. It forms the southern part of a U-shaped valley created by a glacier flowing into Clew Bay in the last Ice Age. Croagh Patrick is part of a longer east-west ridge; the westernmost peak is called Ben Goram.Croagh Patrick has been a site of pilgrimage, especially at the summer solstice, since before the arrival of Celtic Christianity. Saint Patrick reputedly fasted on the summit of Croagh Patrick for forty days in the fifth century and built a church there. It is said that at the end of Patrick’s 40-day fast, he threw a silver bell down the side of the mountain, knocking the she-demon Corra from the sky and banishing all the snakes from Ireland.
Croagh Patrick was one of the biggest ancient sources of Gold in Ireland and the gold of some ancient gold hoard discoveries in Britain have been chemically traced back to this mountain. A seam of gold was discovered in the mountain in the 1980s: overall grades of 14 grams (0.45 ozt) of gold per tonne in at least 12 quartz veins, which could produce 700,000 t (770,000 short tons) of ore – potentially over 300,000 troy oz of gold (worth over Euro 350m). Mayo County Council elected not to allow mining, deciding that the gold was “fine where it was”. An archaeological excavation licensed by the National Monuments service commenced on August 2 1994. It discovered evidence of Christian activity but also showed that Croagh Patrick was a place of tremendous importance in the pre-Christian era, as indicated by the discovery of a Celtic hill fort encircling the summit of the mountain. The exciting discovery of a dry stone oratory push back further in time our knowledge of pilgrimage architecture on the summit. It is akin to the Gallarus Oratory in County Kerry and has been radiocarbon dated to between 430 and 890 AD.

Lecanvey (Irish: Leac an Anfa – flagstone of the wind) is a seaside village in County Mayo, Ireland, between Westport and Louisburgh, about 2 km west of Murrisk. It has a small beach with Lecanvey Pier, a Catholic church and Stauntons Pub.

Murrisk (Irish: Muraisc) is one of the Baronial divisions of County Mayo and also a village in County Mayo, Ireland, on the south side of Clew Bay, about 8 km west of Westport and 4 km east of Lecanvey. The ruined Murrisk Abbey just to the seaward side of the village was an Augustinian abbey founded in 1457 by the O’Malley family. It was suppressed in the Reformation, but survived for some time. Murrisk is also the site of Ireland’s National Famine Memorial, designed by Irish artist John Behan, which abstractly resembles a coffin ship filled with dying people. The monument was unveiled in July 1997 by President Mary Robinson.

Bertra Strand – the nearest beach to Westport – is a spectacular location as a 2 km longshore Bar with Sanddunes juts into Clew Bay giving amazing views of the Islands and Croagh Patrick. This blue flag beach It is a favorite with Wind-surfers and Kite-surfers and one of the best sea-angling and bird-watching spots in the area.

Pirate Queen Grainne Ni Mhaille (c. 1530 – c. 1603), usually known in English as Grainne O’Malley or Grace O’Malley,, was Queen of Umaill, Chieftain of the Clan O Maille, and an Irish pirate known as “The Sea Queen Of Connaught”. She and her clan are an important influence shaping the history and identity of the Clew Bay area. Her castles and strongholds such as the Clare Island Castle and the Carraigahowley Castle near Newport can still be visited and there is an interpretive centre in Louisburgh.

BBC Documentary on the Pirate Queen’s Castle on Clew Bay

She was the daughter of Eoghan Dubhdara O Maille, chieftain of the O Maille clan and a direct descendant of its eponym, Maille mac Conall. The O Mailles controlled most of what is now the barony of Murrisk in South-West County Mayo and recognized as their nominal overlords Mac William lochtar IE-W.PirateQueenGraceOMalley.26Bourkes, who controlled much of what is now County Mayo. Unusual among the Irish nobility of the time, the O Mailles were a seafaring family and taxed all those who fished off their coasts, which included fishermen from as far away as England. According to Irish legend, as a young girl Ni Mhaille wished to go on a trading expedition to Spain with her father, and on being told she could not because her long hair would catch in the ship’s ropes, she cut off most of her hair to embarrass her father into taking her, thus earning her the nickname “Grainne Mhaol” ( from maol bald or having cropped hair). The name stuck, and was usually anglicised as Granuaile.
Even as a young woman Grainne Ni Mhaille was involved in the business of sailing ships and international trade. Around the time of her first husband’s death came the initial complaints to the English Council in Dublin from Galway’s city leaders that O’Flaherty and Ni Mhaille ships were behaving like pirates. Because Galway imposed taxes on the ships that traded their goods there, the O’Flahertys, led by Ni Mhaille, decided to extract a similar tax from ships traveling in waters off their lands. Ni Mhaille’s fast flat bottomed ships (with sails and Oar) – suitable for the shallow waters around the inner islands of Clew Bay would stop and board the traders – and demand either cash or a portion of the cargo in exchange for safe passage the rest of the way to Galway. Resistance was met with violence and even murder. Once they obtained their toll, the O’Flaherty ships would disappear into one of the many bays in the area. By the early 1560s, Ni Mhaille had left O’Flaherty territory and returned to her father’s holdings on Clare Island. She recruited fighting men from both Ireland and Scotland, transporting the gallowglass mercenaries between their Scottish homes and Irish employers and plundering Scotland’s outlying islands on her return trips. In an apparent effort to curry favor with the English, which were engaged in a re-conquest of Ireland at the time, Ni Mhaille went to the Lord Deputy of Ireland and offered two hundred fighting men to serve English interests in Ireland and Scotland.
Ni Mhaille attacked other ships at least as far away as Waterford on the south central coast of Ireland, as well as closer to her home port in northwestern Ireland. She did not limit her attacks to other ships. She attacked fortresses on the shoreline, including Curradh Castle at Renvyle and the O’Loughlin castle in the Burren. She also attacked the O’Boyle and MacSweeney clans in their holdings in Burtonport, Killybegs and Lough Swilly.
Ni Mhaille was wealthy on land as well as by sea. She inherited her father’s fleet of ships and land holdings, as well as the land her mother had owned. Around the time of her meeting with Queen Elizabeth I of England, she owned herds of cattle and horses that numbered at least one thousand. Piracy pays – she was wealthy.