The beach at Strandhill Sixty-seven members of the Cedars Walking Group, a cross-community group from Craigavon in County Armagh, enjoyed five days walking in Counties Sligo and Mayo from Monday 14th to Friday 18th May. On the Monday, our first stop was at Strandhill where we had a bracing walk along the beech. Some of us ventured into the sandhills on the return journey before enjoying our packed lunches on the promenade.

Leslie and Jim After arriving at the Ballina Manor Hotel on the banks of the Moy River, famous for its salmon fishing, we attended a reception given by the Mayor of Ballina, Peter Clarke who told us that our planned walk at Carrowteige would "blow us away", not in the sense of high winds but rather for the sheer drama of the coastline with its fabulous and varied views, magnificent beaches, dramatic geology and high cliffs. His prediction was spot on. Matt Farrell, Chairman of Ballina trades council, was Master of Ceremonies for the evening; it was largely due to his efforts that we had visited Ballina and he dropped in from time to time to ensure that everything was going to plan. In response to the Mayor's welcome, Leslie Harkness, wife of Craigavon Councillor Ronnie Harkness and a member of the walking group, read out a letter of greeting from Alan Carson, Mayor of Craigavon, who has close family ties to Mayo. Jim McKitrick reponded to the Mayor's welcome on behalf of the group and thanked Matt Farrell for all his assistance in preparing for the residential.

Heading south on the Foxford Way
Leading from the rear
on the Foxford Way.
Millie meets her match.
Millie and a Massey
On top of Slieve Gamph
On top of the world
at Slieve Gamph
The common milkwort on Slieve Gamph
Common milkwort
on Slieve Gamph

On Tuesday, 15th May we walked in and around the Ox Mountain Range starting near Bonniconlon (spelled variously). The braver among us undertook a long trek either north or south (depending on starting point) up on to Slieve Gamph, part of the very challenging Foxford Way. This was one of the biggest and most challenging walks of our visit. The walk was approximately 9 miles long and it ascended 200m at the northern end and then followed the ridge along to the car park at the southern end. The two groups coming from opposite ends met near the middle and exchanged car keys. The mystery of the small blue flower was solved when we got back to base - it is a common milkwort (see above right). Some of the walkers who did one of the Bonniconlon loop walks also, to their great credit, managed a walk round Lough Talt.

On Wednesday, 16th May, we visited Ceathrú Thaidhg (anglicized as Carrowteige) a Gaeltacht village on the tip of the Dún Chaocháin peninsula in the north-west of County Mayo. A small group drove off in three cars to Port an Clóidh (Portacloy) and walked back, following the coastline as much as was practical and safe until they reached An Fiodán Dubh, where they turned back to Ceathrú Thaidhg. Starting at the village, the remainder of us split into two groups and set off downhill, past Cill a' Ghallagáin graveyard, following the published loop walks - The Children of Lir Loop and The Black Ditch Walk.

Some of our walkers, perhaps exhausted by the previous days' walks, felt unable to complete the smaller loop but instead took a shortcut back from Bun an Ghleanna to the start point. However, the majority completed one or other of the loops with four of us (Gordon, Gaby, Pat and John) continuing eastwards from The Children of Lir Sculpture, up to the top of the cliff and then on to Portacloy where a car had been left for us. At the very end of our walk we had a little rain and rather than the three musketeers we thought we might call ourselves the four must-get-outa-heres but nothing that the weather could throw at us would have dampened our high spirits as we enjoyed one of the most delightful walks of this or any outing by the Group.

Some of us had enjoyed the walks at Ceathrú Thaidhg earlier in the year, when we were blessed with glorious weather, and I am confident that many of the group members will return or at least recommend these walks to their friends. On our journey back to Ballina, most of our party called into the Céide Fields Visitor Centre, to enjoy another unique insight into to the history of North Mayo and, I have to admit, a much needed cup of tea.

By Thursday, 17th May, a few of our walkers were suffering withdrawal symptoms and undertook a little retail therapy in nearby Foxford coupled with a short walk - by all accounts, in some cases it may only have been from the shop to the boot of the car to deposit purchases. Those more intent on keeping to the plan had a loop walk at Lackan, starting with a walk along the beech before a short climb up to the site of some neolithic graves.