Top 5 ways to Explore the History and Heritage of North Mayo

GN Ballina Hotel

The North Mayo region, in which Ballina and the Great National Hotel Ballina are located, has a unique history and heritage and one that spans over 5000 years. There are numerous museums, visitor centres and exhibitions in North Mayo which are well worth a visit. Here are our top 5 ideas for exploring the best of the region’s history and heritage:

1. Pre-historic sites

Pre-historic times in North Mayo are represented by the oldest known field systems in the world, the Céide Fields, bringing you up close to the lives of our stone age ancestors. Perched on the edge of a dramatic, cliff-faced coastline, the fields and the excellent visitor centre provide a memorable day out for all the family. 

2. Religious sites

Moving along a few millennia, anyone interested in religious sites can tour the area's extensive ruins including 15th-century Rosserk Abbey near Ballina - one of the best preserved Franciscan friaries in the world. The small village of Killala in North Mayo boasts another ancient religious site in its near-perfect 12th century round tower in the centre of the village.

3. Museums

North Mayo has three of the best museums you could visit, each showcasing a different area of Irish history and heritage. All are within easy driving distance of the Great National Hotel Ballina.

  •  The National Museum of Country Life, like all National Museums, has no admission fee and is a wonderful, interactive way to experience and understand Irish country life from 1850-1950.
  • The Michael Davitt Museum is a collection of documents, photos, letters and other artefacts of the life of the Irish patriot and founder of the Land League, Michael Davitt. Housed in a carefully restored pre-penal church in the village of Straide, it is a special place to visit. 
  • The third museum is located in Belleek Castle. Now a hotel, it offers a guided tour of the castle which was built in 1831 and the chance to visit the Marshall Doran collection of arms. armour, fossils and antiques located in the castle.

4. Exhibitions

Back in Ballina and spanning 400 years of Irish history is the Jackie Clarke Collection. Housed in the beautiful old Hibernian Bank building in the town centre, it is the most important private collection of Irish historical material ever bequeathed to the public. With over 100,000 items including books, letters and photos it charts important Irish historical figures and events in a unique way. 

5. Living History

Finally, if you have always wondered what the story is behind that lovely warm Foxford rug you have on your sofa at home, a visit to the Foxford Woolen Mills, where it was created, is essential when staying at the Great National Hotel Ballina.

The mill is located just a short drive away in the town of Foxford and has been operating since 1892 when it was started by an Irish nun. She wanted to provide much-needed employment for the impoverished local people and she did this to great and long-lasting effect. You can take the mill tour, enjoy the visitor centre and maybe even pick up a new rug!