On our way back from Belmullet and golf the other day, we drove past Ballycroy National Park. We had never been there, so we decided to plan a visit. That visit took place yesterday on another of our lazy days. As we start to rest and decompress here in Westport we really begin to sense how busy and "scheduled" we are when we're at home. To be able to stay up late, with no fear of having to drag ourselves out of bed based on the dictates of an alarm, has been wonderful. And a luxury we are on the edge of abusing - out of bed today at 9:30 - pure indulgence. Westport has a beneficial and palliative effect on our souls.
Ballycroy National Park was established in 1998. It is Ireland's sixth national park and is comprised of over 25,000 acres of bogland and high terrain, including the Nephin Beg mountain range. It is regarded as a place of great solitude. On your way from Westport, you go just past the Mulranny Park Hotel and take a right towards Belmullet. Remember, you’re in the Gaeltacht – the Irish language part of the country – so you might be best to look for this on the brown sign - Béal an Mhuirthead. Continue along.
From Robert Lloyd Praeger’s observations of the area (1937) - "Indeed the Nephinbeg range of mountains is I think the very loneliest place in this country, for the hills themselves are encircled by this vast area of trackless bog........ I confess I find such a place not lonely or depressing but inspiriting. You are thrown at the same time back upon yourself and forward against the mystery and majesty of nature."
Trackless bog. If you are brave enough to go off well-marked paths, you best be a skillful hillwalker. The Mayo Mountain Rescue team is occasionally called out to find lost souls in this “trackless bog.”
However, if you’re fortunate enough to be there in winter, be sure to take advantage of the lack of light pollution. You’ll be completely mesmerized by the number of stars you will see. In fact, “Wild Nephin Ballycroy National Park” was designated as a Gold-Tier International Dark Sky Park in 2016. Gold-tier designation is given only to the most outstanding areas – ones of exceptional dark skies and peerless views. One can see these exciting nightscapes over a 360 degree vista. You’ll have plenty of time to explore – remember Ireland only has seven and one-half hours between sunrise and sunset at the Winter Solstice – December 21st.
The Ballycroy visitor centre has nice displays and some interesting audio-visual. There's a walking path with a nice high observation point. You’ll be able to look across to Slievemore and Croughaun Mountains on Achill Island and over toward the Belmullet Peninsula.
And, of course, there’s a very lovely café. I can recommend the cappuccino and the hazelnut loaf with chocolate ganache…