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Old Head Beach

Old Head

Welcome to Old Head Beach, located along the County Mayo coastline. This popular beach is located 16 kilometres (10 miles) west of Westport town.

 Bird Life

Areas of Scientific Interest

Further Information

Bird Life

Some of the more common birds that can be seen at the beach include:

  • Cormorants (Broigheall)
  • Shags (Seaga)


  • Snipe (Naoscach)
  • Lapwing (Pilibin)
  • Oystercatcher (Roilleach)


  • Common Tern (Geabhrog)
  • Artic Tern (Geabhrog artach)
  • Sandwich Tern (Geabhrog dhuscothach)


  • Common Gull (Faoilean Ban)
  • Kittiwake ( Saidhbhear)
  • Blackheaded Gull (Faoilean ceanndubh)
  • Great Black-backed Gull ( Droimneach mor)
  • Lesser Black backed Gull (Droimneach beag)
  • Herring Gull ( Faoilean scadam)

Areas of Scientific Interest

Old Head

Old Head represents the extreme development of Atlantic oakwood and is one of the only sites that is actually on the coast. Because of this uniqueness, it is of international botanical, zoological and ornithological importance.  The low hills at Old Head are covered in woodland and heath.  The low hills at Old Head are formed by an outlier of the Old Red Sandstone found in Glen Nephin.  They are covered in woodland and heath with corresponding clayey and peaty soils.

The woodland mostly occurs on the sheltered eastern side of the hill and is of oak with its common associates of rowan, birch and willow.  Conifers, notably sitka spruce and beech are also present.  Because of the exceptionally high humidity, lichen growth on the trees is spectacular and large species such as Lobaria, Sticta, Usnea and Parmelia are most noticeable.  They occur as huge hanging patches, sometimes embedded in moss and measure anything up to 60cm in diameter.  The woodland also contains a large community of herbs, two or more interesting species being a clubmoss (Selaginella kraussiana) and smooth-stalked sedge (Carex laevicata).  It is also an oasis for birdlife in a region with few trees of any sort.  The area is quite vulnerable and could be easily damaged by grazing animals, the over collection of plants (lichens especially) or renewed planting of introduced species.  The spread of beech and sycamore would also be damaging to the scientific interest of the area.

Cliff Formation

The Cliffs at Old Head are composed of Glacial Till or Boulder Clay.  This is material that has been collected and carried by the ice sheet and deposited beneath it.  When the ice deposits its load, there is usually little possibility of sorting, and rocks, pebbles, sand and clay are deposited in an indiscriminate mixture.  While the structure of the glacial till is unstratified and therefore weak, the weight of the overlying ice ensures that the till is compacted to a considerable extent.  The composition of the glacial till reflects to a large extent the rocks over which the ice has travelled.

Where the cliff is composed of unconsolidated rocks, in this case, Glacial till, the typical processes at work are:

  • the undercutting or over-steepening of the cliff face by the action of the sea followed by,
  • collapse of the cliff face and,
  • the removal of the collapsed material by the sea ( this removal of material occurs at different rates)

The cliff profile shows how active erosion is on the cliff.   An actively eroding soft cliff shows evidence of scouring its base, the cliff above typical of this beach has slumping of the unconsolidated material.  A “dead” cliff in incoherent material will quickly become degraded and covered in vegetation.  In soft cliffs, erosion is very active at first and becomes progressively slower until it halts, unless the debris from the cliff is moved away so that it does not interfere with wave action at the foot of the cliff.  For erosion to continue at a constant rate it is necessary that the material supplied by the cliff is transported away by the sea, otherwise extensive beaches, spits and bars form, which dissipate the energy of the waves and prevent the base of the cliff from being eroded.

Rock Pool Life

Rock pools are small bodies of water left behind onshore when the tide goes out.  The number of animal species in a pool depends on the number of hiding places it offers.  Some animals are permanent inhabitants while others are stranded by the ebbing tide and then can only survive in such pools.  The creatures that live in small rock pools are subjected to a series of massive changes in living conditions during the day such as temperature, salinity fluctuations and oxygen supply.

Further Information:

If you would like to research further information, for example, on tourist attractions or activities within this area, find some useful links below: (For up to date weather forecast)

Old Head Beach Legend Map (Document)

Old Head Beach Legend Map
Formats Available:

Mayo Beaches

Environment Section
Second Floor
Mayo County Council
The Mall
Co Mayo
Phone: (094) 9024444
Open: 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Cycle Routes - Louisburgh

Cyle Routes in Louisburgh including Old Head and Carrowmore

Cycle Routes - Louisburgh-read the full story.

Posted: 07/03/2013

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