Ed Leahy is back in Mayo - and loving it.

Tourists have been flocking to these parts for over a century since the railway arrived at Mulranny, built and opened in 1894 by the famous Great Western Railways.

The line no longer exists so by car I journeyed, following the setting sun into the West, arriving at Mulranny Park Hotel shortly after passing Castlebar and the pretty town of Newport.

The wind was blowing close to gale force when I arrived but it was an invigorating sort of breeze, thanks to the subtle taste of sea salt and sand in the coastal Mayo air.

The hotel has received a major facelift over the past decade and now boasts a beautiful listed building situated on a 42-acre woodland site, combining the best from the past with contemporary comfort and style.

The seaside theme appears to follow you inside and the colourful corridors brought me to a superb four-poster bedroom with majestic ocean views.

An hour to kill before dinner so off with me for a swim; not braving the adjacent Atlantic but rather downstairs to the hotel leisure club's 20-metre indoor heated pool, while the outdoor hot-tub offered more excellent views of the natural surrounds that are available on the hotel's doorstep.

Nature was put on hold as darkness approached and I took my seat at the Nephin Restaurant with a window table overlooking the spectacular, if-now silhouetted, ocean inlet.

I had been assured that dining was a major part of the Mulranny Park experience and with a menu boasting many awards, including two AA Rosettes, it was never going to be an ordinary evening.

The Nephin Restaurant has been named in the Top 100 Restaurants in Ireland for 2012 and head chef Ollie O'Regan has been recognised for his signature dish of Clew Bay scallops, artichoke purée, glazed pork belly and veal jus.

The meal was exceptional, from the range of homemade breads through to the post-dessert coffee and petit fours.

I enjoyed the golden fried Ardsallagh goat's cheese to start; followed by a perfectly cooked seared fillet of Atlantic monkfish with black olive tapenade and red pepper coulis. The organic Yalumba wine was procured from the impressive wine list and proved most palatable.

Up early and the only thing better than the hearty breakfast on offer was the view outside, which was waiting to be explored.

The hotel looks out across a small sea cove, and beyond, courtesy of a causeway path, a blue-flag beach awaits, bordered by the most beautiful coloured stones that would tempt you to fill a bag for the garden back home.

And from here, the outdoor options are endless. The entire area is a walker's paradise, with many excellent trails on offer, including the Mulranny Loop, the Letterkeen Loop and the Clew Bay Coastal Walk, which will take about five hours to cover the 19 kilometres.

As spring had yet to arrive, despite the calendar's best objections, I took the path more travelled and jumped into the car to explore the nearby Achill Island.

On a summer's day it would make for the ideal bicycle excursion from the hotel, but I wasn't complaining as I reached the 'end of the world' and meandered up and around Croaghaun mountain arriving at, without doubt, one of Ireland's best beaches, the strand at Keem Bay.

The sun was attempting to shine and the views overlooking Keem already had me longing for a return on one of the handful of sunny days that are promised throughout an Irish summer.

The island is blessed with a plethora of beautiful beaches so the Keem outing was followed by a brisk march along Keel strand before driving the coastal path around to the other side to stop for a while at Dugort, another Achill gem.

The wind eased for my second day at Mulranny so I made the obligatory mount to sample the much-hyped Great Western Greenway.

Setting out from the back of the hotel, the Greenway steers clear of the main road and ventures along the former Great Western railway line, which has been regenerated and is now the longest off-road cycling experience in Ireland.

The 18-kilometre stretch from Mulranny to Newport offers some amazing panoramas of Clew Bay, dotted with its many islands, and Croagh Patrick beyond.

The Greenway actually runs from Achill all the way to Westport and while only a sometime-cyclist, I would have to put it up there amongst the best tourist facilities in the country.

The path flows through many types of terrain and works so successfully thanks to the support of local farmers who have granted access.

If you are planning to cycle the route from Westport to Achill or vice versa, it might be an idea to check which way the wind happens to be blowing on the occasion of your visit.

But either way, the Greenway Gourmet trail will make the trek a lot easier, especially as the superb soup and sandwich lunch at the Mulranny Park Hotel sits almost halfway along the route.

John Lennon at Mulranny
As former guests go, they don't get much more famous than John Lennon and Yoko Ono, who visited the hotel in June 1968. Apparently, Lennon performed a pre-release airing of Revolution to locals and guests at the hotel. As a result, the room where the famous duo stayed has been named the John Lennon Suite and has received a retro refurbishment, with a wonderful bay view of course.

For more information, visit: www.mulrannyparkhotel.ie.

Ed Leahy
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