Right in the heart of County Mayo
Knock is beautiful – if surprisingly compact - and has enjoyed worldwide fame since 1879 as one of Europe’s premier religious shrines. With a population of just 700, it plays host to an estimated 1.5 million pilgrims every year who flock to see its magnificent shrine to the Virgin Mary. Beyond the small town there’s a stunning hinterland to explore, full of quaint villages, atmospheric pubs and an unspoilt rural way of life.
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A seemingly inexhaustible supply of religious books and trinkets are sold in Knock, though not much else. The Westport area has some great shops, from small handicraft workshops like Derryaun Crafts (Drummin) to big department stores such as Carraig Donn (Bridge Street) – the latter stocks all the big Irish gift brands, from crystal and ceramics to designer fashion and knitwear. Further north, you can see the master craftsmen at work in Foxford Woollen Mills (Providence Road) in Foxford, and buy their woollen blankets, scarves, throws and rugs on site, as well as handcrafted jewellery and art.
Food & Drink
The best restaurants around Knock include those in Castlebar, Roscommon, Foxford and Ballina. One fine choice in Knock itself is Café le Chéile (Knock Museum), which lies under the shadow of the great Marian Shrine and churns out excellent Irish favourites such as seafood chowder. The café and food hall at 19th-century Foxford Woollen Mills (Providence Road) in Foxford is also well worth a trip for seasonal Irish fare, from Guinness stew to fresh-from-the-Moy salmon. In Castlebar, Café Rua (New Antrim Street) serves the pick of regional food, including the ‘Mayo Tasting Plate’ with local and homemade pâté and pickles, cheese and more.
Westport Folk and Bluegrass Festival
Don’t you just love it when music festivals are in cosy pubs rather than muddy fields? The town of Westport reverberates to the sound of banjos and fiddles in this three-day festival of toe-tapping folk and bluegrass music.
South Sligo Summer School
Lovers of Irish music and dance (and let’s face it, who isn’t?) overrun the town of Tubbercurry in summer, ready to try their hand at everything from the tin whistle to the bodhrán (Irish drum). As well as concerts and sessions in local pubs, there are also many workshops.
Ballina Salmon Festival
This fishy festival sees eight days of outdoor fun, street parties and celebrations of the arts. Highlights include Heritage Day – when locals dress up in 19th-century garb – with its fireworks, fishing competitions and raft races on the Moy River.
Croagh Patrick Pilgrimage
Ireland’s holy Croagh Patrick (also known as The Reek) mountain sees an extraordinary pilgrimage each year on the last Sunday in July. Tens of thousands of the faithful trek to the top of the mountain, many barefoot and shirtless.
Castlebar International Four Days Walking Festival
Ramblers come from far and wide to explore the bogs, rivers, loughs and mountains of this lovely part of western Ireland during this walking festival.
A 15-minute drive from the airport, Knock has several hotels catering to the hordes of pilgrims who visit its Catholic shrine. Simple, unfussy Knock House Hotel (Ballyhaunis Road) is one option. Travel further afield though, and County Mayo is peppered with historic country manors set in sprawling estates, such as mid-range Breaffy House Resort (Claremorris Road) in Castlebar and privately owned Coopershill House (Coopershill) near Riverstown. To really swank up your stay though, Belleek Castle (Garrankeel) near Ballina is stunning from its crenulated top to its medieval hall and bar decorated by the shipwrecked remains of a Spanish galleon.