Ballycastle - Baile an Chaisil - the town of the stone fortress lies on the beautiful rugged coast of North Mayo. Its northern boundary is exposed to the wild Atlantic ocean, to the west are the lovely Stags of Broadhaven (600 million year old rocks), to the east lies Killala Bay, to the south are the towns of Crossmolina and Ballina.
Ballycastle is a small but thriving community which has much to offer visitors. We have a rich history, going back at least 5000 years. Our ancestors left evidence of their way of life at the Céide Fields where an Interpretative Centre has been built. We have long sandy beaches and tall threatening cliffs along the seafront. The cliffs at Céide reach a height of 365 feet and give a panoramic view of horizontal layers of sandstone 350 million years old.
Myth, legend, history and folklore all thrive in this ancient place. One can be entertained for hours with stories from the time of our patron saint, St. Patrick, through the darker days of the Penal times, when his followers sought hiding in the bleak bog land and onto more recent anecdotes of fair days and football matches. But Ballycastle does not live in its past, it grasps its present while reaching out to the future. Ballycastle and its environs, due to the diligence and enthusiasm of its community has made much progress in recent years.
The parish of Ballycastle is a combination of the two ancient parishes of Kilbride and Doonfeeney. The north coast road is reputably the most scenic coastal road in Ireland and it is here that the first settlers began to farm the slopes of the Behy/Glenurla hillside over 5000 years ago. The name Ballycastle was in use as early as 1470 and was referred to as a parish in the Catholic directory of 1836. By this time it was a thriving small town.
The overall area is extremely rich in items of interest to biologists, archaeologists and students of history, megalithic tombs, early Christian and mediaeval ruins.
The Céide Fields Interpretative Centre is built at the site of the most extensive Stone Age Monument in the world. Preserved beneath the wild blanket bog is a 5000 year old landscape of stone-walled fields, dwellings and megalithic tombs. The people who lived here were peaceful farmers tending their livestock. There is no evidence that they were under threat of attack. The Interpretative Centre explains not only the archaeology but also the botany, geology, and zoology of the site.
The people who left Céide because of the growing bog probably went no further than a few miles down the road. The bog never grew and farming continued in the low-lying land around Ballycastle. There is evidence for unbroken inhabitance in the region right up to the present time. An Office of Public Works survey lists hundreds of archaeological site in this area and many of these lay intact in modern day fields. These include a standing stone, ring forts, stone circles and court tombs.
The undulating local landscape does not lend itself to intensive agriculture. Much of the environment here lies undisturbed, resulting in a variety of natural habitats such as blanket bog, mountain, lowland meadow, marsh, rocky shore, cliff, beach etc.
A rich lichen flora indicates particularly clean air and our sea waters are renowned for their clarity, rewarding divers with spectacular views.
Some of the local plants have their origin in places like North America (pipewort), the Arctic (purple saxifrage, mountain sorrel) and the Mediterranean (bell heather). A recent survey lists over 200 plants which are common in the region, but their are many more. Common species include yellow flag, primrose, buttercup, marigold. Bog growing plants include heathers, sphagnum moss, bog cotton and orchids.
Downpatrick Head is in an area of great scenic beauty, but extremely dangerous and should only be viewed from a distance. These cliffs are a natural haven for wildlife, especially birds. Birds that nest and breed here include Black Headed Gull, Common Gull, Lesser Black Backed Gull, Herring Gull, Kittiwake, Small Black Gullimot, Fulmer Puffins and the Cormorant. Members of the Crow family include the Raven, Hooded Crow and Magpie. Birds that visit the headland to rest during the traumatic storms on this western coast include the Gannet, Razorbill, Storm Petrel, Great Northern Diver and many other species. The cliffs at Céide are the nesting place of Gulls, Fulmar, Raven and Peregrine Falcon.
Ballycastle also has habitats suitable to many inland species. Some of these include the Robin, Pheasant, Kestrel and Blackbird. Mammals seen in Ballycastle include the Badger, Fox, Hare, Hedgehog, Otter, Rabbit and Seal.
At low water one can search for periwinkles, limpets, crabs and edible seaweed along the rocky shore.
The local beach is situated about one mile north of Ballycastle on the southern end of Bunatrahir Bay where it is bordered by sand dunes which makes it ideal for sunbathing. The waters are clean and safe for swimming.
Ballycastle coastal waters are becoming ever more popular with scuba divers. Sheltered launching area and excellent diving conditions ensure that diving can take place for nine months of the year. The entire coastline provides a range of truly spectacular dives. These, coupled with wholly unpolluted waters, excellent visibility and abundant sea life all contribute to make this area of North Mayo an attractive location for diving enthusiasts.
For the fisherman, the local waters are home to Pollack, Coalfish, Bream, Whiting, Cod, Herring, Mackerel, Salmon, Dogfish, Plaice, Sole, Ray, Flounder and Halibut.
Ballycastle is an ideal location for walking enthusiasts. There is a huge variety of landscapes to explore. Whichever direction you decide to go, you are guaranteed spectacular scenery. This is especially true of the hills, where the views are magnificent, especially in the evening at sunset. Some walks are mapped out and direction signposts are placed along the route (call to our Tourist Office for more information). In general however, you are free to ramble in the bogs, hills and all along the coastline.
Ballycastle has been confirmed with the ECO Label which signifies that an area has a top class environment.
North Mayo has one of the greatest concentrations of Stone Age tombs (megaliths) in Europe. It is now known to possess the intact farms of the tomb builders, preserved beneath the bog which covers the region. Tír Sáile has created a trail of permanent sculpture from the Moy Estuary to the Mullet Peninsula marking in a contemporary way this ancient landscape.