Lough Mask and Lough Na Fooey. And, oh yeah, hand-crafted gin
We’ve just left Ballintubber Abbey and we’re headed over to experience the beauty of Lough Mask. We’ll put ourselves back on the N84 (Galway Road) and go south (follow signs for Ballinrobe). Be on the lookout for the R330, where we’ll turn right. Soon we’ll see the R300, the road we’ll take towards Tourmakeady and the western edge of the lough. Many of the signs are in Irish in this area, so you may have to look for “Tuar Mhic Éadaigh.” You’re in the “Gaeltacht” where Irish is recognized as the primary language. Don’t worry, everyone speaks English as well, but you’ll be blessed to eavesdrop on some native speakers – a bit of local color.
The drive along the lake is beautiful so be sure to stop and take a generous number of pictures. Keep an eye out for a beautiful derelict church up on a hill to your left. Pull off for some pictures – you’ll be richly rewarded with moss-covered, tumbled walls and a lovely high Celtic cross.
You should also visit Tourmakeady Falls. It’s a bit back off the road, but worth finding. It’s in an unspoiled setting and is a favorite photo spot. You’ll need to take a short stroll through the woods to get there.
One more must-visit. An exciting new craft spirits producer, the Loch Measc Distillery, has opened in Tourmakeady and is well-worth your visit. They conduct tours Monday through Friday at 11, 12, 1 and 2. The distillery produces craft single malt whiskey, vodka, and a very well-regarded small batch gin.
From their website:
“We craft tiny batches of wonderfully rich spirit by hand in our beautiful copper pot stills. These stills were made for us by traditional coppersmiths based on the ancient Alembic Still design. If you look at our stills you can see every careful hammer blow. In keeping with our micro-distillery ethos, we have up-cycled, recycled and adapted much of our equipment, sourced from various small breweries, distilleries and dairy farms.
“Our gin is inspired by the wild juniper berries that grow around Lough Mask. A glorious abundance of botanicals thrive around our distillery. Ours is a confident, juniper led gin that packs a flavoursome punch and leaves you with a taste of the wild Irish countryside.“
They say their gin makes a fine G&T and I firmly believe you need to personally verify this statement. Maybe even two or three times… I can assure you, you can get your best manifestation of this classic cocktail at Madden’s Bistro in the Clew Bay Hotel. I have it on good authority that the barman has some Loch Measc gin in stock. And, of course, you really should wait ‘til you get back to Westport. You don’t want to be stopped for “drink driving.”
We’ll head out from the distillery and continue southward toward Lough Na Fooey, a beautiful glacier lake nestled in its own valley. Stay on the R300, you’ll climb some hills and switchbacks, crest a summit and the lake will reveal its beauty. You are certain to burn up some of your camera’s SD card here.
Time to head back home toward Westport. We’ll continue along the R300 and turn right when we reach the R336. Again, breathtaking beauty as you head toward Leenaun. The largest mountain in front of you will be Co. Mayo’s tallest peak – Mweelrea, which sits on the banks of Killary Fjord (Ireland’s only fjord). Remember, make your right in Leenaun and catch the M59 back to Westport. You’ve had a memorable and fulfilling jaunt around the Mayo lake district. Go have that well-deserved G&T…