Spoiled for choice: beautiful beaches along Ireland's west coast
Ireland's west coast is spoiled for beautiful beaches.
But there are still some dramatically scenic areas that remain virtually unknown to those planning trips along the Wild Atlantic Way.
One such place is the Mullet Peninsula, which extends 20km out into the ocean from Belmullet.
The peninsula, anchored at its southern tip by the hamlet of Blacksod, has one of the highest beach-to-coastline ratios anywhere in Ireland.
This makes it a virtually unspoiled area for walking, sea sport, fishing and photography.
Views in almost all directions have different mountain ranges as a backdrop, from Slievemore in Achill Island to the Nephin mountains.
Almost anywhere you turn, there's a long, sandy beach. From the blue flag beaches of Mullaghroe and Elly (looking onto Blacksod Bay) to the livelier Atlantic beaches of Cross and Faulmore, there are over 10km of walkable beaches on the narrow peninsula. With so much sandy shoreline, visitors are frequently alone on whatever beach they land on.
Because of its natural amenities, sea sports are gaining a foothold in the area.
Elly Bay's Colaiste Uisce caters for teens doing watersport summer camps 'as Gaeilge'. For adults and families, Wavesweeper Sea Adventures (wavesweeperseaadventures.com), runs surfing, kayaking and coasteering sessions weekly throughout the year. The adventure sport company also conducts 'mud runs' for when it's wet.
For accessible walks, Erris Head provides one of the most dramatic and stunning coastal treks in the entire northwest. This is closely rivalled by the small road skirting Blacksod and Faulmore, with the huge cliffs of Achill Island looming a few miles across the bay. One particularly nice road walk is from Faulmore Beach to Una’s pub, which takes about 30 minutes.
But even if you’re not feeling up to it, a drive around the peninsula yields a lot.
There’s a lovely sheltered bay in Scotchport, about a mile down the road from a large blowhole called Dun an mBo. This is situated beside an excellent view of Eagle Island Lighthouse, one of the most storm-battered lighthouses in the country. The coastline along this stretch is also worth stopping by for the sheer power of the waves battering rocks. Even on a calm day, the swells can be huge.
And it’s well worth a trip to see the lighthouse in Blacksod, one of the most unique of its kind in Ireland. For history buffs, this was the lighthouse that signalled to the Allies that clear weather was in store as they planned to launch D-Day during World War 2.
For golfers, the area is blessed with one of the country's best dune-based golf links courses in the country, Carne.
Decent pubs are in plentiful supply, with hostelries such as McDonnell's (Belmullet) and Una's (Blacksod) providing a good atmosphere.
Accommodation is reasonably good too. The main hotel in the area is the three-star Broadhaven Bay Hotel (Belmullet). Its main competition is The Talbot Hotel, a boutique hotel in the centre of town.
To eat, there's a decent Chinese restaurant in town (The Phoenix) and a couple of good cafés, including An Bistro Rioga and An Builin Blasta. The best place to stock up on general supplies is either the Eurospar just outside of town or the Centra on Main Street.
Excellent day trips include Dún Briste at Downpatrick Head, the Carrowteige cliff walk and Ballycroy National Park. All are between 45 minutes and an hour’s drive.
For those with additional time, it’s also worth a drive down to Doohoma, passing through Geesala.
And if you’re feeling really adventurous, you can sometimes catch a boat out to the beautiful Inishkea islands, about 10km off the coast. There’s a full abandoned village there and remnants of when it used to be Ireland’s biggest whaling station early in the last century.
Alternatively, if you want to experience real Atlantic sea swells, a boat trip out to the Stag islands is an experience to remember. Be warned, though: you’ll need a hardy stomach. Even in calm conditions, the natural swell bobs boats up and down.
With all of this on hand, why is the Mullet Peninsula not one of the country's top beach holiday spots? One reason is the relatively long journey there. From Dublin, it's a solid four hours in a car travelling at the maximum speed limit.
Belmullet is also a little windier than many other coastal spots.
However, the long car ride is more than worth the trip. With so many beaches and so few other tourists competing for your sense of serenity, the Mullet Peninsula is an absolute haven for stunning scenery, sea sports and other pursuits.