The Windy Gap, a narrow twisting stretch of unevenly surfaced road that cuts through the Ox Mountains between Bonniconlon in County Mayo and Lough Talt in County Sligo, is noted for its desolate treeless landscape, populated only by mountainy sheep that wander and sleep beside or on the road by day or night in any weather.
The Ox Mountains
The Ox Mountains straddle the County Mayo / County Sligo border; the southwestern / County Mayo part of the range takes its name from its highest summit (1,363 ft), Sliabh Ghamh (from gamh, meaning “piercing cold / wintry / rough / stormy”, which should by etymological right apply to the whole range, but was misunderstood during translation into English for damh, meaning “ox.”).
Legends tells of Gamh, a Gallen of Eremon, one of Ireland’s first mythical invaders, being beheaded on the Mountain; his head was thrown down a well, causing it to be enchanted and altering its taste.
Another legend accounts for the derivation of the Ox name. “On these mountains was an ox of monstrous size and of great age. This ox was killed by Cuaich, a hero of Tireragh, in a battle which took place on the mountains. Rahan the owner of the ox finding him killed, became outraged and Cuaich, in order to escape the vengeful hands of the enraged proprietor, concealed himself in one of the animal’s horns”
The wild uplands of the Ox Mountains are largely covered with blanket bog. Some parts are extensively forested, whilst others have numerous outcroppings of rock. There are numerous streams, rivers and small lakes. Lead and copper were formerly mined in these hills, but the works have been discontinued for well over a century.
The Sligo Way walking route links Largan across the length of the Ox Mountains and beyond with Dromahair (Co. Leitrim).
Frank Ludwig‘s attractive photos of the region can be viewed here.
Largan (Co. Sligo / West)
Largan, a rural community scattered around the head of Lough Talt, has long had a reputation for friendliness.
The church of the Sacred Heart (RC), commonly called “the Lake church”, was built for his tenants by landlord Jack Taaffe, presumably a relative of the Earls of Carlingford / Grafs von Taaffe who were stripped of their titles in 1919.
Parts of the old Mount Taaffe estate wall beside the road were constructed as a relief scheme during the Great Famine.
Lough Talt, the largest lake of the Lough Hoe Bog area, measuring some 194 acres (approximately 1.5 miles long and 0.5 miles wide) and 67ft at it’s deepest, is a glacier lake about 500 ft above sea level, and contains two crannógs. The Lough is a good source of brown trout and has a notable population of fresh water crayfish; arctic char are also reported to be still present in the deeper waters. The source of domestic water for most of South Sligo, Lough Talt has a 6.5 km circuit walk around its shore and is famous for picture perfect sunsets on calm evenings, as the sun sinks into “The Gap”.
Largan and Lough Talt are on the exceptionally scenic Windy Gap road linking Bonniconlon (Co. Mayo) via Mullaney’s Cross with Tubbercurry on ByRoute 17.
Masshill / Mass Hill is the site of a Mass Rock where Roman Catholics gathered to hear mass during the C18th Penal Law era. A statue of Saint Patrick was placed on top of the rock in 1929 to commemorate the centenary of the Catholic Emancipation Act.
Lough Easkey / Easky (from Iascaigh – “abounding in fish”), situated 607 ft above sea level, is a 1 mile long scenic lake surrounded by Coillte forestry plantations, colonised every winter by Greenland white fronted geese. The location is normally peaceful, but its very isolation attracts tourists, and the lake has even hosted surfing championships. The 6km Lough Easkey Loop Walk crosses bogland over back roads, lanes and tracks, offering stunning lake views from part of the Sligo Way. The blanket bog on this route is an EU-designated SAC (Special Area of Conservation) for its rare types of moss; Ireland’s only native reptile, the common lizard, has also been spotted here. The River Easkey which rises here and flows down to meet the Atlantic at Dromore West attracts serious salmon and trout anglers.
Lough Easkey is within easy reach of Dromore West between Easkey and Templeboy on ByRoute 1.