During these blustery, showery first weeks of April, I took off for a day by Lough Carra, a marl lake in County Mayo.

On the lake’s eastern shore lies its most famous site, the ruined Moore Hall, a former ‘big house’ and home now to an important population of Lesser Horseshoe Bats.

While the land around Moore Hall is now owned by Coillte, and therefore unfortunately mostly planted with non-native conifers, nevertheless, the area is a pleasant one for walking and is particularly child-friendly, being pretty much flat all around. Indeed, there is an on-site car park, which is no harm either when you have the children along for a stroll.

Lough Carra, a Marl Lake in County Mayo

You’ll be tempted to walk northwards and away from the lake, along the path which completes a circle around the ruins of the big house. This is a nice walk and you can divert into the middle of the circle to view the house itself. Take in the old service tunnel behind the house – the kids will love it!

But don’t neglect to turn around at the car park and face the lake. Walk to the right, across a small bridge on the narrow road and then turn immediately left, over a stile and continue in through this mostly broadleaf wood, down to the lake shore.

It’s in many ways nicer.

My first port of call was the Moore family tomb at Kiltoom, across the road from the aforementioned Moore Hall carpark. I like to call in here now and then to see what state the eight Irish Yew trees are in. Though these scrawny specimens of Taxus baccata frastigiana always seem on death’s door to me, here they are with new shoots apparent yet again.

So-called “Irish Yew” are the ones typically found in cemeteries and, apparently, all examples originate from cuttings from one single tree in County Fermanagh. They are easily distinguished from the true Common Yew (Taxus baccata) by the fact that their needle leaves sprout from all around the stem, while those of Common Yew form two lines along the twig.

From Kiltoom, I continued on a ramble along the shore of the lake. You can’t get very far, unfortunately, but it’s a nice walk anyway.

Back in the car, I next made for Castle Burke, near Ballintubber Abbey, at the northern end of the lake.

Here, I treated myself to 90 minutes birdwatching, which yielded my first Cuckoo of 2024, along with about 100 Swallows, 2 Black-headed Gulls, 6 Greylag Geese and some Mallards and Mute Swans.

While a lot of people tell me they haven’t heard a Cuckoo “in decades”, I can say that, in Mayo, they are relatively common. It’s simply a matter of getting out there, walking and listening. During the season, I hear a Cuckoo around 50% of the time I’m outdoors, especially in mixed and broadleaf woodlands or on open bog with birch and willow. Even when not calling, they’re easily identified when perched on wires or poles, thanks to their characteristic drooping wings.

Castle Burke at Lough Carra

Lough Carra, a marl lake in County Mayo

Lough Carra is a 1,560 hectare marl lake, that is, a type of alkaline lake in which sediments include large deposits of marl, a mixture of clay and carbonate minerals. Marl lakes support distinctive ecological communities, but are vulnerable to damage from nutrient pollution, drainage and invasive species.

Located around 16km straight south of Castlebar, the lake’s shoreline is incredibly irregular, with indented bays and jutting peninsulas. Unfortunately, that shoreline is barely walkable, as private farm fields often go right down to the lakeside. What a magnificent hiking trail a loop of the lake would make.

Instead, the short stretch at Moore Hall, along with Church Island (near Partry) and some others here and there are all that is accessible to the general public. Indeed, wonderful Doon Peninsula with its promontory fort and dense hazel-dominated woodland, once open for rambling, was closed to the public a number of years ago.


(BTW, if you’re looking for a nearby place where the walking is better, try the wonderful Cong Clonbur Isthmus).

A Special Place

Lough Carra is a special place for Mayo, a largely species poor county. The lake shore abounds with wildflowers, among them such beauties as the Spring Gentian (more associated with Clare’s Burren region) and 19 types of Orchid, including Bird’s Nest, Bee, Pyramidal and Fly, along with Marsh and Broad-leaved Helleborines.

Mammals include 8 species of Bat, Red Squirrel, Pine Marten, Stoat and Otter.

For more information on Lough Carra in County Mayo, look at this website about the lake’s ecology and biodiversity developed by Chris and Linda Huxley, who live nearby. Indeed, they have also published this beautiful photographic book of the lake.

An earlier version of this post was originally published in 2009, hence the old comments, below.