On an overcast day in July, we decided to visit Belleek Woods in Ballina. Where Belleek Woods stretches 6 miles along the river mouth of the Moy , it is also known as being one of the largest urban forests in Europe.
With great walks available through Belleek Woods, it is the ideal place to experience mature Irish woodlands and their native wildlife. The many squirrels jump gracefully from tree to tree, ducks enjoy the duck pond with its turquoise water and mature trees provide shade from the sun , or as we are in Ireland, protection from the rain.
Within the woods are many historical features from bygone days. An example of this is the old Ice house nearby the duck pond. Other structures are the hermitage and a wall which was built during the famine. Each person involved in the built of the wall received a bowl of food daily for their efforts.
But there are new features in Belleek Woods as well. One of these is the fairy trail where many fairy doors grace the trees. The kids loved this trail and were looking hard to spot any of the small residents. Unfortunately, they must have all been on their summer holidays as none were spotted.
The fairy trail was an initiative from the Ballina Men's shed who decorated the little doors beautifully.
Next is the Knox-Gore Monument also known as “The Horse’s Grave” . This monument was constructed as a memorial to Sir Francis Author Knox - Gore of Belleek Manor. This striking Neo-Gothic mausoleum which is located in the middle of the woods was designed by James Franklin Fuller and houses the remains of Sir Arthur Knox-Gore. It is said that his wife and beloved horse are buried beside him.
Nestled in the woods is Belleek castle (Belleek Castle | Hotel In Ballina, Mayo - Ireland ). Belleek Castle was commissioned by Sir Arthur Francis Knox-Gore and building commenced in 1825 for the cost of £10000.
The built, which took 6 years, resulted in a Neo-Gothic manor house where Sir Arthur Francis would live with his wife Sarah and his 9 children until his death in 1873.
Mayo County Council purchased the house in the 1950's and used the Manor House as a hospital & military barracks. Once the building became vacant, Mayo County Council considered taking the roof of the building to avoid paying rates. Fortunately Marshall Doran, a merchant navy officer acquired the run down property in 1961, restored it and opened it as a hotel in 1970. The beautiful restored 10-bedroom hotel which is furnished with period furniture and antiques, is since 2016 part of Ireland's prestigious Blue Book .
Next to the hotel is the old 19th Century courtyard which once housed horses and hounds, today it is home to the award winning Jack Fenn's Courtyard bistro. The courtyard has been lovingly restored where the interior of the building has been given a modern design combined with some antiques sourced from the castle.
Outside is a covered patio where you can enjoy high quality food from the extensive menu. We opted for a quiche and a seafood platter, both nicely presented while using fresh local ingredients.