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Visiting Newport in County Mayo by boat

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Newport is a charming village in the northeast corner of Clew Bay.  It sits near the mouth of the Newport  River which is completely tidal at this point.   At low tide, the river becomes un-navigable, and on a spring low tide it virtually dries out.  So a visit to Newport by boat requires careful timing.  Unfortunately, it’s a long way out from the anchorage into town so unless you have a bilge keel boat or wish to careen against the wall, this is a town best visited by RIB or fast power boat. 

It was a Sunday morning in February, and a high pressure system had plonked itself down right over Ireland.  The chill left the air, the waters were calm, and the wind still. Moreover, the elusive ‘sunny spells’ were forecast so there was only one thing to do: Head out for a spin on Clew Bay in our launch Moytura.

We planned to arrive at half tide and leave at least an hour before low tide.  It is fascinating to watch the river run out of town then reverse direction and run back in when it’s ready.  But we really wanted to get back out on the Bay, so we judged our timing carefully.  

It was sunny when we left Kilmeena, but out on the Bay, a ‘mist or fog’ had settled in giving the Bay a surreal quality.  The islands close by were dark and sharply outlined, reflecting perfect mirror images in the still waters. The islands farther back receded into the fog in a sense of timelessness.  Cattle grazed along the hilltop fields and sheep wandered aimlessly down steep rocky paths. It was beautiful; a perfect day to contemplate the origins of life while picking our way  slowly between drumlins towards our destination. 

The way in to Newport is marked by aids to navigation starting from the moust of Newport River (Black Oak River).   It is wise to follow the navigation marks carefully and to observe where the current flows. The deep channel meanders from one bank to the other, and so following the nav aids directly from one point to another may mean crossing over shallows.  At high tide that doesn’t make much difference. At low tide be prepared to paddle and walk.  The bottom is mostly sandy with seaweed in small clumps.

As we passed the outer perimeter of the grounds at Newport House and turned right, the harbour came into view.  The tower and old stone town pier with its round pillars were guarding the entrance as they have for centuries.  Just beyond, stood the new apartments converted from the old seaweed factory. Below them is the new floating wooden pontoon for visitors. 

As we turned and tied up to the dinghy dock, the river was flowing out past us so quickly that it felt like we were moving in reverse at full throttle.  It was disorienting.  

We walked the short distance into town from the dock, greeting the early morning runners and dog walkers along the way.  We decided to walk across the old railway bridge to the centre of town and walk back along the new roadway bridge.  Access to the railway bridge is via a stairway in a wooded area on the left just past the Post Office.  The bridge is now a pedestrian walkway and nicely maintained.  It is hoped that one day the Great Western Greenway cycling and walking path will come across there.  For now, it simply connects the two parts of town.  The views over the town and harbour are spectacular from up there.  And just as we arrived the sun started to break through the mist, lighting up the town and the bridges in warm golden glow.

We walked past the old railway station which housed Newport County Council offices but is now closed. We stopped into the Franciscan chapel, then  joined an Irish setter on a stroll through town.  Most businesses were closed on this February Sunday morning. Chambers and the supermarket were open as was the convenience store on the other side of the river.  As we were leaving, the Granuaile opened for lunch but time was running short and the water was receding quickly.  It was time to go.

Luckily, we had parked our little launch at the downriver section of the pontoon and it was still afloat. The other end of the pontoon was already high and dry.  As it turned out, we left just in the nick of time. Half way out to the Bay, we grounded.  But with both of us out of the boat walking alongside her, we were able to float her into deeper water.  The skies cleared, the sun came out and all was well in Clew Bay.

As it was a very low tide, we stopped to pick cloisins off rocks along the island shores.  For those of you who are not familiar with this delicacy, cloisins are small bivalve shellfish.  They attached to rocks like mussels, have shells that look like miniature scallops, and have a strong flavour unlike any other shellfish.  They only grow here in Ireland and in Brittany. We are fortunate indeed.  They have to be steamed and shelled right away as the shells carry mud and sand as well as numerous sea creatures like sponges and sea squirts on their backs.

As we worked our way back home, once again we marvelled at the cloud cover on Croagh Patrick and over the Nephin Beg.  Down the middle it was clear and balmy. All in all, it was another magical day on Clew Bay. 

Things to do in Newport

·         Stroll along the waterfront and watch the river run

·         Rent a bike and cycle or walk the Great Western Greenway to Mulranny and Achill

·         Do a historical tour of the town starting with the old railway bridge

·         Enjoy a meal at one of the fine restaurants

o   Granuaile for pub fare plus

o   Newport House for the very special occasion

o   Hotel Newport for contemporary cuisine

o   Blue Bicycle for light lunch fare

o   Bayview at the Bridge Inn and Kelly’s Kitchen for more traditional meals


·         Buy some world renown black pudding,  breakfast sausages, and Irish bacon at Kelly’s Butcher

·         Provisioning is available at the Centra supermarket  (cash machine also) as well as Chambers and the convenience store on the Post Office side of the river

·         Fuel (petrol and diesel) are available in town on the south side of the river as well as just outside of town in either direction

·         Newport has a chemist, a hardware store, two bicycle rental shops, two butchers, a euro type shoppe, several small clothing shops, and a Post Office

·         Multiple B&Bs and two hotels (Newport House and Hotel Newport)


Clew Bay Home - Clare Island - The Inner Bay - Water Activities - Westport - Newport

Clew Bay area Activity Map (1.2MB pdf)

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