Achill Island information
Achill Island in County Mayo is the largest island off the coast of Ireland, and is situated off the west coast. Achill is attached to the mainland by Michael Davitt Bridge, between the villages of Gob an Choire (Achill Sound) and Poll Raithní (Polranny). A bridge was first completed here in 1887, replaced by another structure in 1949, and subsequently replaced with the current bridge which was completed in 2008.
Other centres of population include the villages of Keel, Dooagh, Dumha Éige (Dooega), Dún Ibhir (Dooniver), The Valley and Dugort. Early human settlements are believed to have been established on Achill around 3000 BC. A paddle dating from this period was found at the crannóg near Dookinella. The island is 87% peat bog. The parish of Achill also includes the Curraun peninsula. Some of the people of Curraun consider themselves Achill people, and most natives of Achill refer to this area as being "in Achill". There are between 500-600 native Irish speakers in Achill parish.
Image: Achill Island, South Coast
In the 17th and 18th centuries, there was much migration to Achill from other parts of Ireland, particularly Ulster, due to the political and religious turmoil of the time. For a while there were two different dialects of Irish being spoken on Achill. This led to many townlands being recorded as having two names during the 1824 Ordnance Survey, and some maps today give different names for the same place. Achill Irish still has many traces of Ulster Irish.
As a popular tourist destination Achill has many bars, cafes and restaurants which serve a full range of food. However, with the island's Atlantic location seafood is a speciality on Achill with common foods including lobster, mussels, salmon, trout and winkles. With a large sheep population, Achill lamb is a very popular meal on the island too. Furthermore, Achill has a big population of cows which produces excellent beef.
Places of interest
Carrickkildavnet Castle - is a 15th-century tower house associated with the O'Malley Clan, who were once a ruling family of Achill. Grace O' Malley, or Granuaile, the most famous of the O'Malleys, was born on Clare Island around 1530. Her father was the chieftain of the barony of Murrisk. The O'Malleys were a powerful seafaring family, who traded widely. Grace became a fearless leader and gained fame as a sea captain and pirate. She is reputed to have met with Queen Elizabeth I in 1593. She died around 1603 and is buried in the O'Malley family tomb on Clare Island.
One of Achill's most famous historical sites is that of the Achill Mission or 'the Colony' at Dugort. In 1831 the Church of Ireland Reverend Edward Nangle founded a proselytising mission at Dugort. The Mission included schools, cottages, an orphanage, an infirmary and a guesthouse. The Colony was very successful for a time and regularly produced a newspaper called the Achill Herald and Western Witness. Nangle expanded his mission into Mweelin, where a school was built. The Achill Mission began to decline slowly after Nangle was moved from Achill and was finally closed in the 1880s. Nangle died in 1883.
Kildamhnait - on the south east coast of Achill is named after St. Damhnait, or Dymphna, who founded a church there in the 16th century. There is also a holy well just outside the graveyard. The present church was built in the 1700s and the graveyard contains memorials to the victims of two of Achill's greatest tragedies, the Kirchintilloch Fire (1937) and the Clew Bay Drowning (1894).
The Monastery - In 1852, Dr. John McHale, Archbishop of Tuam set aside land in Bunnacurry for the building of a monastery. A Franciscan Monastery was built which, for many years provided an education for local children. The ruins of this monastery are still to be seen in Bunnacurry today.
The historic Valley House is located in The Valley, near Dugort in the north-east of Achill Island. The present building sits on the site of a hunting lodge built by the Earl of Cavan in the 19th century. Its notoriety arises from an incident in 1894 in which the then owner, an English landlady named Agnes McDonnell, was savagely beaten and the house set alight, allegedly by a local man, James Lynchehaun. Lynchehaun had been employed by McDonnell as her land agent, but the two fell out and he was sacked and told to quit his accommodation on her estate. A lengthy legal battle ensued, with Lynchehaun refusing to leave. At the time, in the 1890s, the issue of land ownership in Ireland was politically charged, and after the events at the Valley House in 1894 Lynchehaun was to claim that his actions were motivated by politics. He escaped custody and fled to the United States, where he successfully defeated legal attempts by the British authorities to have him extradited to face charges arising from the attack and the burning of the Valley House. Agnes McDonnell suffered terrible injuries from the attack but survived and lived for another 23 years, dying in 1923. Lynchehaun is said to have returned to Achill on two occasions, once in disguise as an American tourist, and eventually died in Girvan, Scotland, in 1937. The Valley House is now a hostel and Bar.
The Deserted Village - close by Dugort, at the base of Slievemore mountain lies the Deserted Village. There are approximately 80 ruined houses in the village.
The houses were built of unmortared stone, which means that no cement or mortar was used to hold the stones together. Each house consisted of just one room and this room was used as kitchen, living room, bedroom and even stable.
If one looks at the fields around the Deserted Village and right up the mountain, one can see the tracks in the fields of 'lazy beds', which is the way crops like potatoes were grown. In Achill, as in many areas of Ireland, a system called 'Rundale' was used for farming. This meant that the land around a village was rented from a landlord. This land was then shared by all the villagers to graze their cattle and sheep. Each family would then have two or three small pieces of land scattered about the village, which they used to grow crops.
For many years people lived in the village and then in 1845 Famine struck in Achill as it did in the rest of Ireland. Most of the families moved to the nearby village of Dooagh, which is beside the sea, while some others emigrated. Living beside the sea meant that fish and shellfish could be used for food. The village was completely abandoned which is where the name 'Deserted Village' came from.
No one has lived in these houses since the time of the Famine, however the families that moved to Dooagh and their descendants, continued to use the village as a 'booley village'. This means that during the summer season, the younger members of the family, teenage boys and girls, would take the cattle to graze on the hillside and they would stay in the houses of the Deserted Village. This custom continued until the 1940s. Boolying was also carried out in other areas of Achill, including Annagh on Croaghaun mountain and in Curraun.
At Ailt, Kildownet, you can see the remains of a similar deserted village. This village was deserted in 1855 when the tenants were evicted by the local landlord so the land could be used for cattle grazing, the tenants were forced to rent holdings in Currane, Dooega and Slievemore. Others emigrated to America.
Despite some development, the island retains a striking natural beauty. The cliffs of Croaghaun on the western end of the island are the third highest sea cliffs in Europe but are inaccessible by road. Near the westernmost point of Achill, Achill Head, is Keem Bay. Keel Beach is quite popular with tourists and some locals as a surfing location. South of Keem beach is Moytoge Head, which with its rounded appearance drops dramatically down to the ocean. An old British observation post, built during World War I to prevent the Germans from landing arms for the Irish Republican Army, is still standing on Moytoge. During the Second World War this post was rebuilt by the Irish Defence Forces as a Look Out Post for the Coast Watching Service wing of the Defence Forces. It operated from 1939 to 1945.
The mountain Slievemore (672 m) rises dramatically in the north of the island and the Atlantic Drive (along the south / west of the island) has some dramatically beautiful views.
Just west of the deserted village is an old Martello Tower, again built by the British to warn of any possible French invasion during the Napoleonic Wars. The area also boasts an approximately 5000-year-old Neolithic tomb.
Achillbeg - is a small island just off Achill's southern tip. Its inhabitants were resettled on Achill in the 1960s. A plaque to Johnny Kilbane is situated on Achillbeg and was erected to celebrate 100 years since his first championship win.
The villages of Dooniver and Askill have very picturesque scenery and the cycle route is popular with tourists.
Caisleán Ghráinne - also known as Kildownet Castle, is a small tower house built in the early 1400s. It is located in Cloughmore, on the south of Achill Island. It is noted for its associations with Grace O'Malley, along with the larger Rockfleet Castle in Newport.
Achill Island also has a coast road along the south of the Island with some beautiful cliff views.