CLEW BAY ARCHAEOLOGICAL TRAIL
Telling a story 6,000 years in the making and 35km long, Clew Bay in County Mayo is one of Ireland’s most spectacular sea inlets. From rock art dating back to the megalithic age, to the home of Ireland’s Pirate Queen, this trail takes in 21 archaeological and heritage sites.
Your route takes you in the footsteps of people who have lived, loved, farmed, fought, prayed, mourned and danced here for millennia with highlights including the climb of Ireland’s most holy mountain, Croagh Patrick, and a visit to Clare Island, famous for the exploits of its very own Pirate Queen, Grace O’Malley.
Key places on the trail to visit in this area are;
Clapper Bridge at Bunlahinch
Clapper bridges were designed to cross wide shallow rivers as seen at Bunlahinch and were used as footbridges. It is possible that this bridge was built in the 1840s or 50s as part of the work carried out by the Irish Church Mission, a Protestant organisation which was given land rent-free by the Marquis of Sligo. It stands beside a ford, by which beasts and vehicles could cross the stream. The term ‘clapper’ meant a plank and comes possibly from Sussex where such bridges are common. Clapper bridges are a prehistoric form of stone bridge consisting of a series of small stone piers or pillars, which are connected by flat stone lintels.
Clare Island Abbey
Located on the south side of the island, St Bridget’s Abbey is said originally to have been a Carmelite Cell dedicated to the Blessed Virgin dating to around 1224. A footnote in “The illustrated Guide to the Northern, Western and Southern Islands and Coast of Ireland” produced by the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland in 1905,states: “In 1235 the two sons of Murray O’Malley were slain by Donnal O’Connor and Nial Roe O’Connor in Cliara and were interred there”. However the 13th century date seems far too early for the present structure, which is dated as being 15th century and may have been built upon the earlier ecclesiastical site. The abbey became part of the possessions of the Cistercian house of Abbey Knockmoy, as daughter house. It is here that the legendary “Pirate Queen”, Grace O’Malley, is said to be interred.
Built by the O’Malleys in the 16th century, this castle is a fine example of a tower house. Tower houses were often designed to a standard plan, three or four storeys high with a vault over the ground floor. The roof was pitched slate or thatched roof and was protected by a parapet over the entrance so that stones or other objects could be dropped directly onto attackers. Within the thick walls were staircase passages and other features, such as garderobes, or toilets. The main living room was at that first floor level with access to the bartizans (roofed, floorless turrets) and the garderobe. In the mid 1820s, the castle was converted into a police barracks, when the purple slate flashing was added to the two bartizans.