ByRoute 1.6 Co. Mayo & Co. Sligo

Killala Bay, between Kilcummin Head in County Mayo and Lenadoon Point  in County Sligo, is at the mouth of the River Moy estuary; together they form an EU-designated SAC (Special Area of Conservation). Famous for its specimen fish, the Bay supplied the Irish record John Dory, together with blue shark, grey, red and tub gurnard, ling, pollack, coalfish, cod, conger, ray, skate, tope and turbot. The Bay has been the scene of numerous shipwrecks.

Kilcummin Harbour / Pier (Photo by )

Kilcummin & Foghill (Co. Mayo / North)

Kilcummin / Kilcommin (Cill Chuimín / Cill Chummín / Cilcummin – “church of Saint Cuimín”), a sparsely populated district south of Lacken Bay,is ironically probably best known for its picturesque Pier, built c.1893 as part of the development of  congested areas of the west brought in by Arthur Balfour.

Kilcummin derives its name from a ruined stone church, locally believed to date from before the C8th AD. The adjacent Holy Well is still visited by pilgrims. Saint Cuimín of Lacken is said to have already begun Christianising the local pagans before Saint Patrick started doing so. Magic mud from his grave was long believed to protect the bearer from drowning, but only if dug up by a member of the Maughan family (descendants of an early churchwarden with a nose for scams!).

Castlemagee / Castlenageeha (Caisleán na Gaoithe – “Castle of the Wind”), stands in ruins on a rocky crag overlooking Killala Bay, suggesting that this was a fortress designed for protection from the danger of invasion from the sea. The caste is believed to have been erected by the Burkes and little remains of the original building apart from some of the walls. The nearby cliffs contain some interesting caves.

The 1798 French Invasion


The French expeditionary army commanded by General Humbert landed at Kilcummin on 22nd August 1798, in a hopelessly belated attempt to assist Irish insurgents during the 1798 Rebellion, which had been crushed two months previously. Three frigates, La Concorde, La Franchise, and La Médée together carried 1070 French troops, three cannons and approximately 3000 muskets.  The first contingent of 200 men came ashore at a spot called Leac A’Chaonaigh (“The Flagstone of the Green Moss”), at Kilcummin Strand. The remainder disembarked close to the present pier, at a spot known as Leac A’Bhaid (“The Flagstone of the Boats”).


The French requisitioned all local horses to pull their cannons and equipment and for use in the cavalry. They were also short of bullets and ordered the recruits to strip the lead from the roofs and gutters of the houses of the gentry. Some of them attacked and burned Palmerstown House and Castle Lackan, while Summerhill and Castlereagh houses were also raided and damaged. Most of the French soldiers went to Killala the day after they arrived.


On 29th August five British ships sailed into Killala Bay. They anchored off the Kilcummin coast. They captured two trading vessels the French had commandeered.


On the 27th October, a month after the invaders had been defeated, four French ships rounded Kilcummin Head and anchored in the bay as before. The British garrison at Killala became alarmed. Captain Fraser and some soldiers of the Killala garrison positioned themselves behind Kilcummin Head to engage the French if they attempted to land. The French ships sailed away as soon as they heard of the debacle at Ballinamuck.

The Campa small hut on the  road to Kilcummin Head, with six windows facing north, was built by the army in 1941 for “coast watchers” to observe and report on ships, aircraft, wreckage or floating debris during “the Emergency” (WWII). (Quare triangular hut?)

Foghill is often identified with “the wood of Foclut near the Western Sea mentioned in the autobiographical portion of Saint Patrick‘s Confessionwhere he slaved as a swine herd through snow and frost and rain, and “the maidens of … Fochlut” who later appeared to him in a dream, beseeching him to return to Ireland. 

St Patrick’s Well , aka Tobar na Craoibhe, has been a place of pilgrimage for generations, with people travelling long distances to “do the stations” here, especially on Garland Sunday (the last Sunday in July). A statue of the saint was erected in 1936.

The Foghill Standing Stone supposedly commemorates the baptising by Saint Patrick of king Awley, his sons and 900 followers, though this was more likely to have taken place at Mullaghfarry in Ballysakeery parish. It stands in line with the Breastagh Ogham Stone and the Banagher Standing Stone (which my have been erected to mark the victory of the Irish over the Danes in a battle fought there, but according to  legend marked the first burial of people that died from the plague – a whole village just to the south was wiped out by cholera); some think they may have been territorial boundary stones.

The Breastagh Ogham Stone, probably one of the best known in Ireland, is believed to have originally been a Bronze Age Standing Stone, appropriated for an ogham epitaph 300 – 600 AD. It was re-erected by the RIA in 1853 after having been almost buried for many generations. The badly damaged inscription covers two angles of the  southern face and reads “Leiggo – o Sadiulenges Q – adsa Maq Corrbri – Maq Ammlloratta”  (“The Son of Corbbri, Son Of Amloitt” – probably commemorating the grandson of the C5th AD king Amolgaid / Awley) A nearby wedge tomb is in poor condition but commands gorgeous views of the local sceneryBreastagh also features two Stone Circles.

The Rathfranpark Wedge Tomb  is very impressive despite missing its roof, as the walls are made of huge boulders and the entrance stones are still visible. Rathfranpark is also the location of several Stone Circles.

Rathfran Abbey


Rathfran Abbey, aka Rath Brandaibh, was founded in 1274 for the Dominican Order as the Priory of the Holy Cross by either William de Burgo or a member of the de ExeterMacJordan clan.


Though formally closed during King Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries and granted to Thomas Dexter in 1577, the Dominicans remained in residence until 1590, when the Priory was burnt down by troops under Sir Richard Bingham, President of Connaught, and some monks continued to live and work locally even into the mid-C18th. 


Rathfran Abbey by Rita Langan


The C13th chancel walls still stand as a long rectangular structure with a small crucifixion panel over the west door and the remains of a fine triple lancet east window. There were originally two cloisters to the north of the church, but only their foundations survive. The living quarters north of the church probably date from the C16th and incorporate part of the original sacristy.


The atmospheric rural riverside site has been described by some as tranquil and by others as spooky.

The Rathfranpark and Summerhill estates were owned / occupied at different times by branches of two powerful intermarried regional landlord families, the Palmers of Carrowmore, Castle Lacken and Palmerstown House, and the Knoxes of Castlereagh, one of whom, Laurence E Knox, founded The Irish Times in 1859. Summerhill House still stands as an  atmospheric set of  ruins (Photo).

The Palmerstown / Owenmore/ Cloonaghmore Riverfished for salmon, brown trout, perch, roach and eel, is here spanned by an impressive 14-arch stone bridge. (Photo)

Palmerstown River Beach, aka Ross back beach, is a pretty strand. From here it is possible to explore a series of  sandy coves all the way around the tip of the Ross Peninsula as far as the spectacular Blue Flag Ross Strand

The Old Coastguard House at Ross, built c.1836, has been converted to holiday accommodation. (Photo)

Enagh Beg is a townland containing numerous ancient forts.

Killala (Co. Mayo / North)

Killala (Cill Ala / Alaidh), an old village of some ecclesiastical and historical importance, was until quite recently a major fishing port and is nowadays a quiet seaside resort.

Saint Patrick, whether revisiting the haunts of his youth or just passing through, is said to have baptized i 12,000 converts in a single day  at a Holy Well that still flows close to the town, including a dead woman he raised to life in presence of the crowds as early as 442 or 443 AD. Among the converts were members of his “foster-family” whose slave he had been, of whom he appointed the old man Saint Muredach ss abbot / bishop over Cell Alaid,  which some claim was thus the first cathedral in Ireland. It is probable that Muredach resigned his see after a few years, and retired to end his life on the lonely island in Donegal Bay which has ever since borne his name, Inishmurray.

Killala Round Tower is about 1,000 years old and 84 ft high, standing on a 3 ft high plinth with a doorway 11 ft above the ground. It was severely damaged by lightning in the C18th and repaired by Bishop Verschayle around 1840. Although the roof is not originl, this is an excellent example of its kind.

St Patrick’s Cathedral (CoI) supposedly stands  on the site of a church originally built by Saint Patrick around 440 AD. The present Cathedral, one of the smallest in Ireland, was completed by Bishop Thomas Otway in 1680 using the rubble from the remains of its medieval predecessor, in ruins since the previous century and demolished in 1670. The tower and spire were added to the building in 1817 by the architect James Paine. Extensive restoration of nave and chancel walls and windows was carried out in the early 1990s. While the exterior is dour and uninspiring, the attractive well lit interior is furnished with boxed pews and a rare 1838 Telford organ. The graveyard contains a C9th souterrain with numerous chambers, which some say connects with the Round Tower across the road.

Diocese of Killala


The Diocese of Killala ws recognised by the Synod of Rathbreasail in 1111 and in 1152 had its boundaries revised and confirmed within the Province of Tuam at the Synod of Kells


The Church of Ireland bishoprics of Killala and Achonry were united in 1622, and joined to the Archbishopric of Tuam in 1834. Following the death of Archbishop Trench in 1839, Tuam lost its metropolitan status and became part of the united bishopric of Tuam, Killala & Achonry in the Province of Armagh.


Tadhg O’Rourke, a Franciscan friar, was the Roman Catholic bishop from 1707 to 1739. In a letter to Rome he reported that the diocese had 22 parishes but only 16 parish priests. The Catholic flock was numerous but they lived in direst poverty because the fertile lands had been confiscated and Catholics were forced to live in the mountains and the bogs.


In the time of Bishop Bellew (1779–1812) Ballina became the ecclesiastical centre of the Roman Catholic diocese. When the French landed at Killala he kept a low profile even though his brother joined the French forces and was killed.


The modern Roman Catholic Diocese of Killala (Alladenis in Latin) is one of the five suffragan sees of the ecclesiastical Province of Tuam, comprising the north-western part of County Mayo with the Barony of Tireragh in County Sligo. It contains 22 parishes, some of which, bordering on the Atlantic Ocean, consist mostly of wild moorland, sparsely inhabited. The Cathedral church is St Muredach’s in Ballina.

St Patrick’s church (RC) is an enlarged C19th edifice with a pretty belfry.

1798 French Invasion


Killala was the site of the first battle fought by the French force under General Humbert who, after landing at nearby Kilcummin on 22nd August, quickly seized the village without difficulty.


Killala was also the scene of the last land battle of the 1798 Rebellion as British troops defeated a rebel Irish force here on 23rd September, killing many on the dayCourts martial held over the following days at the house of Owen Morrisson trie 75 prisoners, sentencing two rebel leaders, Richard Bourke and Captain Bellew, to be executed; another prominent rebel, Roger MacGuire, was transported to Botany Bay, while his father was hanged. The Anglican Bishop Joseph Stock left the most detailed eye-witness account of the battle, published in 1800.



Killala was used as the main location for the 1981 multi-million-pound RTE television series adaptation of Thomas Flanagan‘s excellent 1979 historical novel The Year of the French.


The Bicentenial Humbert School Commemoration Monumentrather oddly dated 1989, features a large bronze bust of General Humbert sculpted by Carmel Gallagher.

Killala Harbour is still the home of  a fishing fleet, but many skippers make more from tourism (deep sea angling, shark safaris, day trips etc.) than from commercial catches.

The Ballina / Killala railway,  built by the Midland Great Western Railway Co under the Light Railways (Ireland) Act of 1889, operated  between 1893 and 1937. The line was subsequently dismantled and built over

Asahi ran an acrylic fibre factory south of the village from c. 1973 to 1997. A proposal to handle asbestos waste at the Asahi site was withdrawn in 2005 due to strong local opposition. A 50 MW combined heat and power plant using biomass fuel is now planned for the site.

Killala is


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