Achill Island (Co. Mayo)

Sightseeing

It is very difficult to get to or around Achill Island other than by road. We suggest the following route from the village of Polranny / Poll Raithní on the mainland Corraun Peninsula.

Michael Davitt Bridge, named in honour of the C19th Mayo-born nationalist MP who founded the Irish Land League (d.1906), connects the mainland to the island across Achill Sound, allowing the passage of small boats. It  A wooden swing bridge was first completed here in 1887. This proved too small and was abandoned when a new bridge was built parallel to it in 1949. A completely new replacement bridge was installed and opened for traffic in summer 2008.

Gob an Choire, aka Achill Sound, is the village at the island end of the bridge. It has a restaurant, café, pub and hostel, a supermarket, a pharmacy and several craft shops.

Achill Sound Railway Terminus

 

The Midland Great Western Railway extended the Westport – Newport line to Achill Sound in 1894, and the terminus continued in use until 1937. The train provided a great service to the island, particularly for the annual trek of seasonal agricultural labourers to Britain.

 

Achill Sound Station

 

Apparently only older islanders remembered that a local visionary called Brian Rua O’ Cearbhain (floreat c.1648), who had prophesied that messages would be “sent on the tops of poles more quickly than a hawk would fly from Dublin to Blacksod Bay“, had also said that “carts on iron wheels emitting smoke and fire” would carry bodies to Achill on their first and last journey.

 

The very first train carried the bodies of the victims the 1894 Clew Bay Drowning tragedy, 32 young islanders who had lost their lives when their boat overturned on their way to Westport Quay to meet the steamer that was to take them to Scotland for potato picking jobs (“tatie hoking“).

 

The second part of the prophecy was fulfilled in 1937 when the last train brought home the ten locals who died in the Kirkintilloch Burning Disaster, a fire in a ‘bothy’ – the temporary accommodation provided for seasonal “tatie-hokers” in Scotland.

 

The old train station has been run since 1952 as the Railway Hostel.

Glendarry / Sraheens Lough, a small lake surrounded by rhododendrons, is supposedly the home of the Achill Monster, said to be a dinasour-like creature even bigger than its famous Scottish cousin in Loch Ness. Sightings were reported in the 1960s, and the stories are still in circulation.

Bleanaskill Lodge

 

Bleanaskill Lodge, situated on the shore of Achill Sound, was long  the retirement residence of Winston Churchill’s private secretary Sir Anthony Bevir, and is now home to Dutch artist / musician / designer  Willem Van Goor and his wife Doutsje Nauta, who provide B&B accomodation facilities and also rent out a self-catering holiday chalet.

 

Bleanaskill is the location of Achill Secret Garden, which claims to be the most westerly historic garden in Europe. Founded c.1870, the romantic garden features thick walls of mature trees and shrubs, sheltering exotic flowering plants and organically grown fruit and vegetables from the harsh salty winds of the Atlantic. There is also an idyllic lilypadded natural pond.

Kildavnet / Kildamhnait Castle (Photo by Jinx13Graphix)

Carrick Kildavnet / Kildavnet Castle is a fine C15th Tower House erected by the Ui Mhaoll clan, and was one of several residences of the famous C16th “Pirate Queen” of Connacht, Granuaile / Grainne Mhaol / Grace O’Malley, whose main base was on Clare Island.

Cíll Dhamhnait / Kildavnet / Kildownet is the site of a church and cemetery named for Saint Damhnait / Dympna, a C7th nun on the run from her abusive father, remembered as a nurse and patron of the mentally ill, traditionally associated with Gheel in Flanders, where she was tracked down and killed by her evil progenitor. The present C18th church stands on the site of an earlier structure, built by for the convenience of the castle household. The graveyard contains the remains of many islanders who perished during the Great Famine, together with the victims of the 1894 Clew Bay Drowning and the 1937 Kirkintilloch Burning.

An Cloich Mór / Cloghmore near the southern tip of the island is a fishing village. Cé Mór is a quay and pier where boats can be hired for trips to Achillbeg Island or the more distant Clare Island, sea angling expeditions, shark hunting safaris etc.

Ailt is a ruined village, abandoned in 1855 when the local landholder Lord Lcitrim, wishing to use the land for cattle grazing, evicted the tenants, who were forced to rent holdings elsewhere on the island or emigrate to America.

The Atlantic Drive hugs the Atlantic coast overlooking scenic Ashleam / Portnahally Bay. (Photo by granardblue)

Dooega / Dumha Eaga, a charming seaside community, has a small jetty where local fishermen moor their  boats – mainly traditional currachs. It is also the home of Colaiste Acla, an Irish language college renowned for its adventure sports. There are  some good bathing beaches nearby.

A Memorial to Thomas Patten, a local lad killed by the Fascists in the Spanish Civil War during the Republicans’ Defence of Madrid in 1936, stands at the entrance to the village.

Lavelle’s Seaside House is a rather eccentric 1950s-style guesthouse with a lounge bar called Mickey’s, much appreciated by the locals, which serves good pub grub.

The Austrian surrealist Fritz Aigner lived in Dooega during the early 1960s and returned regularly until his death in 2005. Locally resident Irish artists have included Henry Healy (d.1982), while Seosamh O’Dalaigh gives master classes to aspiring painters.

Off the West Coast of Ireland, by Henry Healy

Dooega Head, jutting out into the Atlantic, itself remarkably scenic, also commands magnificent views of the coastline in both directions.

Minaun (466m), Achill’s third highest mountain, dominating the southwestern part of the island like the vast hulk of a dead dinosaur, its gravel grey slopes more often than not disappearing into the clouds. Drivers heading northwards to turn inland; the mountain road is the most scenic option.

Dookinella, a townland noted for a crannog where a 5000-year-old paddle was found, is the location of the attractive modern Minaun Cliff Self-Catering Cottages, ideal for family holiday rental.

The Memorial to Father Manus Sweeney, a locally born. Paris-educated priest hanged for acting as interpreter to General Humbert during the French invasion of Mayo to aid the 1798 Rebellion, cannot be reached by car, but the road does come a most amazing dead end overlooking Keel Bay.

The Mweelin area has peat bogs measuring up to 20ft deep, where some tree stump relics of the pine forest that covered the island until the end of the Bronze Age are still visible.

Cashel is a village with a couple of good pubs; one, Ted Lavelle’s, is the venue for the Achill Country Market of Arts & Crafts on Friday mornings from June to September.

Cashel is also the address of Achill Tourism office and shop, where an excellent selection of books about the island is on display and for sale (also available online).

Next: Keel Bay

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