Ballina: 101km (63 miles) N of Galway, 193km (120 miles) N of Shannon Airport, 246km (153 miles) NW of Dublin, 311km (193 miles) NW of Cork

Serenely beautiful, County Mayo sits in the shadow of its more famous neighbor, Galway, and doesn't seem to mind. For experienced Ireland travelers, Mayo is a kind of Galway Lite -- its rugged coastal scenery is similar to that of Galway, but it has less of the traffic or tourist overload from which Galway suffers in the summer. This is peaceful, pleasant Ireland, with striking seascapes and inland scenery that ranges from lush and green to stark, desertlike, and mountainous. It's an unpredictable place, where the terrain changes at the turn of a steering wheel. This region was hit so hard by the potato famine that, in some ways, it's only now recovering. Starvation and emigration emptied it then, and that emptiness is still noticeable. It feels, as you leave Galway, as if it all goes quiet.

For some, the county's most familiar history is cinematic; Mayo was the setting for the 1951 John Ford film The Quiet Man, starring John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara. The setting for the film was the town of Cong. There's little to see there except for the scant remains of the stone cottage used in the film, which has been gradually torn apart over the years by people who want to bring home one of its stones. (We strongly request that you do not take anything except photographs -- as do the locals.) Guided tours of the locations used in the film are available from the Quiet Man Movie Club. They have to be booked by a group of four; the all-in cost is €200 for a half-day or €300 for a full-day tour, and cover up to 193km (120 miles) round-trip. Contact Paddy Rock (tel. 087/243-9760; or for more information. Among Mayo's other attractions are the mysterious 5,000-year-old settlement at Céide Fields, the religious shrine at Knock, and some of Europe's best fishing waters at Lough Conn, Lough Mask, and the River Moy. Ballina (Béal an Átha), Mayo's largest town, calls itself the home of the Irish salmon. And Westport is a little resort town guaranteed to steal your heart.

Irish Only: Brush Up Your Gaeltacht -- Parts of Mayo are in the Gaeltacht, or Irish-language section of the country. In some sections, this means town names are in Irish only, so we'll include the Irish names as well as the English names for the places likely to be affected. Confusingly, most maps are still in English only.