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The Story Of The Doolough‌ ‌Valley‌‌: The Tragedy, The Drive + Map

The Story Of The Doolough‌ ‌Valley‌‌: The Tragedy, The Drive + Map

The Doolough Valley in Mayo is one of those places that rocks you a bit.

The Doolough (‘Black Lake’ in English) Valley is a scenic corner of Mayo where unspoiled scenery collides with raw, isolated beauty.

Arguably best-know for the terrible event known as ‘The Doolough Tragedy’, this place delivers an experience that lingers with you long after you leave.

Some quick need-to-knows about the Doolough Valley in Mayo

Leenane to Louisburgh drive

Photos via Shutterstock


Although a visit to the Doolough Valley in Mayo is fairly straightforward, there are a few need-to-knows that’ll make your visit that bit more enjoyable.

1. Location

The Doolough Valley winds between the Mweelrea Mountain and Sheeffry Hills along the Wild Atlantic Way between Leenane (Galway) and Louisburgh (Mayo).

2. The Doolough Tragedy

The Doolough Tragedy took place on March 30th, 1849, during the time of the Famine. Starving residents from nearby Louisburgh were forced to walk 19km to receive aid that should have been brought to them. Many people died on the journey. Read the full story below.

3. How to see it

This place is, in our opinion, best seen on a cycle or drive from Louisburgh to Leenane (or the other way around). The scenery from start to finish is out of this world.


The Doologh Valley Tragedy

the doolough discover point

Photo courtesy Joseph Carr Photography via Failte Ireland’s Content Pool

During the Great Famine, those living in Louisburgh, like many in Ireland at the time, were in receipt of what was known as ‘outdoor relief’ – for want of a better description, this was a form of social welfare (i.e. a payment to keep them alive!).

On March 30th, 1849, two officials came to Louisburgh to see if the villages were still to be entitled to the relied but, for some reason, they didn’t bother going through with the inspection.

Instead, they travelled to the Delphi Lodge, located 19km from Louisburgh.

Hundreds of people from Louisburgh that had been awaiting the inspection were told to go to the Lodge the following morning, or they would no longer receive the relief.


The Doolough Famine Walk

Although it was winter and most of them had no warm clothing or footwear, they set out at night to walk the journey to Delphi Lodge.

19km might not seem so much today for a healthy individual, but for people suffering from malnutrition, on a road that was barely a track and in freezing conditions, they had no chance.

Many died on the way to Delphi, only for the rest to be turned back empty-handed when they got there. Most died on their way home.


The memorial

This famine tragedy is remembered at the stone memorial along the Doolough Valley.

The first inscription reads: ‘The Hungry Poor Who Walked Here in 1849 and Walk The Third World Today’.

The second is a quote from Mahatma Gandhi, ‘How Can Men Feel Themselves Honoured By The Humiliation Of Their Fellow Human Beings’.


The Doolough Valley drive

There are many beautiful drives in Ireland, but not many have the haunting aspect of the Doolough Valley.

Shaped by time and ice, it seems right when you come across an inky black lake, fitting that the Valley’s history is reflected in its water.

There’s a parking spot at the north end, giving you a chance to appreciate the view as it’s on a slight incline.

See our gull guide to the Leenane to Louisburgh drive (you can do it from Louisburgh, too!) for more.


Things to do near the Doolough Valley

One of the beauties of the Doolough Valley is that it’s a short spin away from some of the best things to do in Mayo.

Below, you’ll find a handful of things to see and do a stone’s throw from the Doolough Valley (plus places to eat and where to grab a post-adventure pint!).

1. The Lost Valley (25 minutes away)

the lost valley

Photos via the Lost Valley

Directions to The Lost Valley state, ‘Beyond the end of the road’. One way in and one way out have contributed to the timeless quality of the Valley where potato ridges dating back to the famine lie untouched and famine cottages are hidden in the undergrowth. 


2. Silver Strand (23 minutes away)

Silver Strand Louisburgh

Photo left and top right: Kelvin Gillmor. Other: Google Maps

,Silver Strand Beach is one of the finest beaches in the county and, while it gets busyish during the summer months, it’s virtually deserted throughout the year.


3. Islands galore (19 minutes away)

different locations on inishturk island

Photos via Shutterstock

The West of Ireland is blessed with many inhabited islands, two of which can be reached by ferry from Roonagh Point. Clare Island, home to Grainneuaile Castle, and Inishturk Island, are a short trip from the Valley.


4. Connemara (40-minute drive)

Dog's Bay

Photos via Shutterstock

Whether you start or end your trip in Leenane, this is where you’ll find yourself in Connemara, a small corner of it that’s home to the Killary Fjord and Aasleagh Falls.


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