So beautiful and remote is the Mullet Peninsula that it won the Irish Times “Best Place to Go
Wild” competition in 2014, citing its balance of remoteness, wilderness, unspoilt natural
beauty and array of activities in its selection. Situated on the very edge of the country, along the aptly named WIld Atlantic Way, Belmullet (“Mouth of the Mullet”) is an isthmus, positioned between the bays of Blacksod and Broadhaven and somewhat sheltered from the wild Atlantic Ocean, which stretches for thousands of miles westwards. This small town of approximately 1,000 residents serves as an indispensable centre, serving the needs of ten times that many people in the wider Barony of Erris, offering everything from bakery to drapery and seafood to crispy dried seaweed.
The townland has an ancient pedigree: the discovery of Ceide Fields confirmed that the first known occupants of the area lived some 5,000 years ago. The strong religious history in this region places monks here in the seventh century, not very long after Saint Patrick’s sojourn in the region.
A number of festivals continue to draw crowds in the summer months, as the long bright evenings feel like they will never end. What began as a Farmer’s Market each August 15th--and which double-jobbed as the traditional setting for marriage proposals--now has a wider remit, drawing people from all over, with market stalls to whet modern appetites and entertainment late into the night. July brings a 10-day International Arts Festival which celebrates the vibrancy of all the arts, from dancing to crafts to visual art to folk and traditional crafts.
Without trying, this town is a throwback to life before the ubiquity of multiples. Its very remoteness is paradoxically the very thing which keeps this community thriving. While the small businesses in so many Irish towns have been out-manouvered by giant multinationals, in Belmullet the butcher, baker and haberdasher have kept going, supplying provisions to the community through good times and bad. With everyday needs met, the town benefits from the longevity of family businesses with generational knowledge and community history.
The nearby Inishkea Islands, off the Erris coast, are rich in flora and fauna, being home to several dozen species of birds as well as up to 200 plant species. And the bays on either side of the peninsula provide sheltered waters for fun water activity as well as boating and fishing. A bilingual centre for language learning and watersports, called Uisce, is a reminder that the Irish language is not only alive but really thrives in this Gaeltacht region and draws large swathes of students in need of immersion in the language.
The sheer beauty of the landscape and the friendliness of the people in this region make Belmullet and its environs one of Mayo’s best kept secrets.