Hearing the happy hum of locals enjoying a celebration in front of Denny’s Ferry Bar in Rossport was an aural delight to complement the visual wonders that awaited as we began our ramble around this lovely North Mayo headland that looks out on the breadth of Broadhaven Bay.
Facing the sea, and set in a wild landscape of bog and mountains, Rossport (Irish: Ros Dumhach) was beaming under the blue dome of a sky dotted with fluffy white clouds on what was perfect sunny, winter Sunday for walking. It was a enchanting meteorological interlude in what has been a mostly wet and dreary few months.
The 7.5km trail is a pleasant, easy walk over tarred-roads gifting scenic views over the wild Atlantic, and, in the distance, a crescent of bare mountains beneath which are vast tracts of North Mayo wilderness and lonely bogland.
Opting to walk the trail in an anti-clockwise direction, we turned right off the Pier Road behind Denny’s Ferry Bar, the happy murmurings of the hostelry’s merrymakers still in our ears as we strolled along the narrow bóithrín that takes you past two of Rossport’s most historic landmarks.
Walking up the winding hill, the expanse of Broadhaven Bay opened before our eyes – the golden sandbanks and sherries blocking the entrance to Sruwaddacon Bay are a visible warning of the hidden dangers of the infamous Rossport Bar where boats have foundered over the centuries trying to make their way to a safe berth.
A fast-flowing creek links the two sides of Sruwaddacon Bay; its rushing waters flooding and draining the southerly flank of Sruwaddacon in keeping with the ebb and flow of the tides.
Below us the ruins of Rossport House came into view. Here, overlooking Broadhaven, framed by the grandeur of Erris Head and Dún Chaocháin peninsula, the local landlords, the Bournes family, built their modest mansion, at least by aristocracy standards, in the early 19th century.
After the departure of the Bournes family in the late 19th century, the house served as the local police barracks. The 1910 Census shows that, at that time, there was an RIC Sergeant and four constables stationed there. After Irish independence, it housed the Garda Barracks and later the local secondary school occupied the building before Colaiste Chomain moved into a new school in the village.
The house is reputed to have walls dry-lined with bog oak and it looks from a distance in reasonable condition considering it hasn’t been occupied in decades. Even in a state of disrepair, the two-storey manor still retains its old world charm.
It’s a tragedy that more old buildings of character and heritage like Rosport House cannot be restored and maintained, by either the local authority or An Taisce, as a heritage focal point, not to mention its obvious tourism benefits for an isolated rural community such as Rossport.
As we reached the top of the hill, our eyes scanned for Rosdoagh Court Tomb, built by Neolithic man 5,000 years ago to inter the bones of their dead. All that remains now is a scattering of rocks; a disappointing and desolate reminder of a once magnificent chambered burial mausoleum overlooking Broadhaven Bay. I wondered if this how future generations will treat our cemeteries.
Thankfully, the local community has erected a tourist information board nearby that includes an illuminating artist’s impression of the court tomb as it would have looked during the late Stone Age. The magnificent scenery catches the eye again as the road wanders along the course of the estuary separating Rossport from Pullathomas.
The land falls gently down to the shoreline on the Rossport side of the tree-lined shore unlike Pullathomas on the opposite bank – a narrow road wedged between the hulk of a mountain, Dooncarton (Dún Cheartáin), and the estuary – the calmed water a mirror for the landscape on this day.
The last vestiges of Autumn brightened up the hedgerows before winter’s gales would burn away the greenness of the whins and strip bare the last of their golden yellow flowers.
The wasted blackberries, over-ripened on the briers, and the crimson red of the dog rose hips framed the view as we gazed in the distance to where the Glenamoy and Muingnabo rivers flow from the surrounding mountains into the estuary.
As we turned left, the bogland under a soft sun looked beautiful on this early winter day – an artist’s paint board of many hues – browns, golden grasses and specs of purple heather and lanky Devils-bit Scabious, all woven together creating a vivid tapestry of calming colours.
Thoughts of a refreshing drink in Denny’s Ferry Bar were not far from our thoughts as we took the home stretch along the quiet main road back into the village.
Entering the door of the traditional public house with its adjoining grocery, we were greeted by a good old sing-sing in the bar and a warm and friendly greeting from the lady of the house.
We made our way into the quiet of the lounge to relax and watch another memorable sunset over Broadhaven Bay as the diminishing slants of winter sunbeams lit up the room spotlighting the musical instruments decorating the window sills.