I took advantage of the lovely early June weather to travel the Monasteries of the Moy Greenway, the walking and cycling route that will link Ballina and Killala when it’s completed in 2016.
It was a most enjoyable journey starting in historic Killala town that took me along a route that was once walked by the French army in 1798.
I enjoyed panoramic views of the Moy estuary as it enters Killala Bay and stopped off along the way to visit some of the best-preserved monasteries from Ireland’s ancient past.
The trail is a journey through the history of this part of North Mayo.
It passes under one of the two remaining railway bridges over which the Ballina to Killala railway once travelled. There is a second railway bridge still standing in Killala, but it is not part of the trail.
The close proximity of six well preserved monastic settlements gives the trail its name, The Monasteries of the Moy Greenway.
The Killala trailhead starts in the heritage town and then continues under the old railway bridge at Newtownwhite before winding its way through farmland, skirting close to the route of the former Ballina to Killala railway line.
Among the trail’s most interesting features between Killala and Rusheens is a single-arch Overbridge, at Meelick, a relic of the Midland Great Western Railway (MGWR) line that once connected Ballina to the pretty harbour in Killala.
Old Railway Bridges
The bridges are a lovely reminder of the eight-mile Ballina branch railway extension to Killala.
The Ballina to Killala branch line was built for £29,000 and opened in January 1893. Plans to extend the line to Blacksod via Ballycastle where it was hoped a transatlantic shipping route could be developed never came to pass. A hotel was built in Belderrig in anticipation of the arrival of the railway and the elegant old building still stands to this day.
The line was closed to passenger traffic on October 1st, 1931, but goods trains continued to run from Ballina, at 13.45pm and returning at 15.15pm daily, until the line was finally closed on July 1st, 1934. It was the first of the Midland train branches to be closed completely.
After passing under the old railway bridge, the walk continues through a rural landscape of farmland and wetlands, close to the River Moy estuary where there is lots of bird life to see.
Lough Calog, surrounded by reeds and other large grasses, along the edge of the trail is an attractive feature and home to bird life such as Grey Herons and various species of waterfowl.
Old friaries along the trail
At nearby Bullockpark, you can pick cockles and mussels at low tide and walk over the sandbanks to pretty Bartra Island – but be sure you bring your wellies.
There is also a view of Moyne Abbey tower, a reminder of why the trail is called The Monasteries of the Moy Greenway
The Monasteries of the Moy refers to the old friaries that are dotted along the trail at Moyne, Rosserk, Ballina, and Rathfran, north of Killala.
As you make your way towards Ballina, you pass close to another well-preserved friary at Rosserk on the banks of the Moy which is worth visiting. Tobair Mhuire Holy Well with its tiny chapel is close to the old abbey at Rosserk.
The Ballina section of the Greenway through Belleek Wood to Knockatinole was opened in July 2016 by Michael Ring TD, Minister of State for Regional Economic Development.
The route through Belleek Wood must surely be one of the most scenic and pleasing walking and cycling trails anywhere in the world as it passes through the mature woodland of native Irish trees and along the banks the River Moy.
It is wonderful to see that work on the Ballina and Killala sections of the 10km off-road trail is now finished and all that remains is the section along the road from Rusheens through Carrowkelly to Belleek.
Walkers and cyclists are in for a real treat when the Greenway is finally finished.