There's a reason it's called the 'Wild' Atlantic Way, as Kathryn Thomas discovers in the recent series, There's No Place Like Home, as she tours the rugged, wild beauty of some of the most breathtaking and historic places on the North Mayo coast and neighbouring shores of Sligo.
If you've never heard of Claggan Island, it's time to get to know this pint-sized place. It may be small in size - 150 acres - but it's big on scenery, adventure and awe-inspiring, pared-back beauty. Situated on the north-eastern corner of Blacksod Bay, it's linked to the mainland by a narrow, sandy causeway. Take note: you need to cross this before high tide each day. The island's inhabitants are eight in total, the Howard family – fourth-generation owners of the island who live in the Belmullet coast guard station and farm in the surrounding fields.
For those who want to get a little slice of the Howard family island life, there are two luxury self-catering glamping pods to rent with breathtaking views over the ocean, Achill and the Mullet Peninsula. Here, there is little to do but pull on your woolly sweater, sit by the outdoor fire amongst the farm animals grazing, embrace the emptiness, solitude and sheer beauty of this extraordinary Wild Atlantic Way gem.
A boat trip to Inishkea Islands from Blacksod bay with Bellmullet boat charters should be high on your hit list when you're in this remote part of the world. The island has deep ties with Irish mythology, written about for centuries in Irish folklore, most noteworthy in the famous Irish legend of The Children of Lir. Take in a tour of the island given by the granddaughter of the last people who resided here in the 1930s or discover Achill, Inisglora for sea angling or diving. There are over 30 varieties of fish known to inhabit these waters, and the low lying coasts are home to an enormous population of grey seals. On a good day, spot whale and dolphins too.
Heading back down the road towards Ballina, north of Ballycastle village, the rocky cliffs of Downpatrick Head jut out into the ocean, rising 40 metres above sea level. Take in the unparalleled views over a unique collection of islands, known as the Staggs of Broadhaven and the mesmerising Dún Briste sea stack of multi-coloured rock strata formation. If sleeping under the twinkling stars in achingly pure natural beauty is for you, you can set up camp here, walk around the ancient headlands, and watch the sunset for an unforgettable night.
Further up the coast into the neighbouring country of Sligo, at the foothills of the towering oval-shaped Knocknarea mountain, is the seaside village of Strandhill. Known as one of Ireland's best surfing spots, it's a brilliant destination for a family break with tonnes of surf schools offering surfing fun for all the family, and any level of surfing know-how. Surf camps during school breaks are especially popular as the waves here are perfect for budding mini surfers.
If you're not ready to get into a wetsuit and ride the waves, sand surfing down the dunes at Shelley banks on Strandhill beach is just as much fun. Stroll down this beach when the tide is out as it merges with Culleenamore beach, arguably one of the most beautiful beaches in Ireland. A walk in the other direction of Strandhill village will take you right past the edge of the airport runway where you can watch small planes take off and land or wander on through the ancient ruins of Killaspugbrone, where legend has it, St Patrick tripped, hit his jaw on a rock and lost a tooth. When all your rambling is complete, take in a seaweed bath at Voya Seaweed Baths, some lunch at Shells, and finish off your adventure with an ice-cream at Mammy Johnston's parlour.
To experience any of these magical places, make sure to book in advance. Many sites, museums and attractions across the country are free or charge a nominal fee, but take into account capacity restrictions during this time.
Ireland, Make a Break for it. There has never been a better time to explore Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way. Learn more about where to go, what to see and do at www.discoverireland.ie
Watch No Place Like Home with Kathryn Thomas here