Achill Island in Ireland

Friday, 23 September 2022 - 11:00 am (CET/MEZ) Berlin | Author/Destination:
Category/Kategorie: General
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Slievemore mountain and Doogort beach © MickReynolds/cc-by-sa-4.0

Slievemore mountain and Doogort beach © MickReynolds/cc-by-sa-4.0

Achill Island in County Mayo is the largest of the Irish isles, and is situated off the west coast of Ireland. It has a population of 2,594. Its area is 148 km² (57 sq mi). 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. Other centres of population include the villages of Keel, Dooagh, Dumha Éige (Dooega), Dún Ibhir (Dooniver), and Dugort. The parish’s main Gaelic football pitch and secondary school are on the mainland at Poll Raithní. Early human settlements are believed to have been established on Achill around 3000 BC. The island is 87% peat bog. The parish of Achill consists of Achill Island, Achillbeg, Inishbiggle and the Corraun Peninsula. Roughly half of the island, including the villages of Achill Sound and Bunacurry are in the Gaeltacht (traditional Irish-speaking region) of Ireland, although the vast majority of the island’s population speaks English as their daily language. Achill Island has many bars, cafes and restaurants which serve a full range of food. However, the island’s Atlantic location seafood such as lobster, mussels, salmon, trout and winkles, are common meals. With a large sheep and cow populations, lamb and beef are popular on the island too.

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 gave rise to mixed assessments, particularly during the Great Famine when charges of ‘souperism’ were leveled against Edward Nangle. The provision of food across the Achill Mission schools – which also provided ‘scriptural’ religious instruction – was particularly controversial. For almost forty years Edward Nangle edited a newspaper called the Achill Missionary Herald and Western Witness which was printed in Achill. Nangle expanded his mission into Mweelin in west Achill where a school, church, rectory, cottages and a training school were built. Edward’s wife Eliza suffered poor health in Achill and died in 1852; she is buried with six of the Nangle children on the slopes of Slievemore in North Achill. In 1848, at the height of the Great Famine, the Achill Mission published a prospectus seeking to raise funds for the acquisition of significant additional lands from Sir Richard O’Donnell. The document gives an overview, from the Mission’s perspective, of its activities in Achill over the previous decade and a half including considerable sectarian unrest. In 1851, Edward Nangle confirmed the purchase of the land which made the Achill Mission the largest landowner on the island. The Achill Mission began to decline slowly after Nangle was moved from Achill and was finally closed in the 1880s. When Edward Nangle died in 1883 there were opposing views on his legacy.

Kildamhnait on the south-east coast of Achill is named after St. Damhnait, or Dymphna, who founded a church there in the 7th 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).

Lough Doo and Slievemore mountain © MickReynolds/cc-by-sa-4.0 Slievemore mountain and Doogort beach © MickReynolds/cc-by-sa-4.0 The Deserted Village © Jamip29/cc-by-sa-4.0 Carrickkildavnet Castle © MickReynolds/cc-by-sa-4.0 Croaghaun, the third highest sea cliff in Europe © Boholaman Keem Bay © Eoghan888
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Slievemore mountain and Doogort beach © MickReynolds/cc-by-sa-4.0
In 1852, Dr. John MacHale, Archbishop of Tuam purchased land in Bunnacurry which became the location of a Franciscan Monastery which, for many years provided an education for local children. The building of the monastery was marked by a conflict between the followers of the Achill Mission colony and those building the monastery. The dispute is known in the island folklore as the Battle of the Stones. A notable monk who lived at the monastery for almost thirty years was Brother Paul Carney. He wrote a biography of James Lynchehaun who rose to fame following his conviction for the 1894 attack on the Valley House in North Achill. Brother Paul also wrote accounts of his lengthy church fundraising trips across the US at the start of the twentieth century. 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 1895 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.

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 a kitchen, living room, bedroom and even a 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, the remains of a similar deserted village can be found. 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.

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 of Slievemore, (672 m) rises dramatically in the north of the island and the Atlantic Drive (along the south/west of the island) has some dramatic views. On the slopes of Slievemore, there is an abandoned village (the “Deserted Village”) The Deserted Village is traditionally thought to be a remnant village from An Gorta Mór (The Great Hunger of 1845–1849). 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 (Acaill Beag, Little Achill) 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 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.

Read more on AchillTourism.com, Wikivoyage Achill Island and Wikipedia Achill Island (Smart Traveler App by U.S. Department of State - Weather report by weather.com - Global Passport Power Rank - Travel Risk Map - Democracy Index - GDP according to IMF, UN, and World Bank - Global Competitiveness Report - Corruption Perceptions Index - Press Freedom Index - World Justice Project - Rule of Law Index - UN Human Development Index - Global Peace Index - Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index). Photos by Wikimedia Commons. If you have a suggestion, critique, review or comment to this blog entry, we are looking forward to receive your e-mail at comment@wingsch.net. Please name the headline of the blog post to which your e-mail refers to in the subject line.




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