Achill Island

Achill Island ( / æ k əl / ; Irish : Acaill, Oileán Acla ) in County Mayo is the Largest island off the coast of Ireland , and is Situated off the west coast. It has a population of 2,700. Its area is 148 km 2 (57 sq mi). Achill is attached to the mainland by Michael Davitt Bridge , between the villages of Gob an Choir ( Achill Sound ) and Poll Raithní ( Polranny ). A bridgewas also completed in 1947, and was later completed in 2008. Other centers of population include the villages of Keel, Dooagh , Dumha Eige ( Dooega ), Dun Ibhir ( Dooniver ) , The Valley and Dugort. The parish’s hand Gaelic football pitch and secondary school are on the mainland at Poll Raithní. Early human settlements are believed to be 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 includesCurraun peninsula . Some of the people of Curraun consider themselves to be Achill people, and most of them are Achill refer to this area. There are between 500-600 native Irish speakers in Achill parish. In the summer of 1996, the RNLI decided to station a lifeboat at Kildownet.


It is believed that at the end of the Neolithic Period (around 4000 BC), Achill had a population of 500-1,000 people. The island would have been mostly forest Neolithic people cultivation . Settlement increased during the Iron Age , and the dispersal of small promontory forts around the coast of the warlike nature of the times. Megalithic Tombs (see picture, right) and forts can be seen at Slievemore, along the Atlantic Drive and on Achillbeg .


Achill Island lies in the Barony of Burrishoole , in the territory of ancient Umhall (Umhall Uactarach and Umhall Ioctarach), which was originally an area extending from the Galway County / Mayo border to Achill Head.

The hereditary chieftains of Umhall were the O’Malleys, recorded in the area in 814 AD when they were successfully repelled by the Vikings in Clew Bay . The Anglo-Norman invasion of Connacht in 1235 AD the section of the city of Burgos. The Butler Lordship of Burrishoole continued into the late 14th century when Thomas the Botter was recorded as being in possession of Akkyll & Owyll.


In the 17th and 18th centuries, there was much migration to Ireland, particularly Ulster , due to the political and religious turmoil of the time. For a while there were two different dialectsof Irish being spoken on Achill. This led to many being white townlands Recorded HAVING have two names During the 1824 Ordnance Survey , and Some maps today give different names for the Sami instead. Achill Irish still has many traces of Ulster Irish .

Specific historical sites and events

Grace O’Malley’s Castle

Carrickkildavnet Castle is a 15th-century tower house associated with the O’Malley Clan, who was once ruling family of Achill. Grace O ‘Malley , or Granuaile, the most famous of the O’Malleys, was born on Clare Island around 1530. [2] 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 family tomb O’Malley on Clare Island.

Achill Mission

View of the “Colony”, prior to 1900.

One of Achill’s most famous sites is 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 produced a newspaper called Achill Herald and Western Witness . Nangle expanded his mission into Mweelin, where a school was built. The Achill Mission began to decline slowly after the end of 1880s. Nangle died in 1883.


In 1894, the Westport – Newport railway line was extended to Achill Sound. The train station is now a hostel. The train provided a great service to Achill, but it also fulfilled an ancient prophecy. Brian Rua O ‘Cearbhain had prophesied that’ carts on iron wheels’ would carry bodies into Achill on their first and last journey. In 1894, the first train on the Achill meteorises the victims of Clew Bay Drowning . This tragedy occurred when a boat overturned in Clew Bay, drowning thirty-two young people. They had been going to meet the steamer that would take them to Scotland for potato picking.

Kirkintilloch Fire

The Kirkintilloch Fire in 1937 fulfilled the second part of the prophecy when the bodies of Achill. These people HAD died in a fire in a bothy in Kirkintilloch . This term was introduced to those who have gone to Scotland to pick potatoes, which has been established in the early nineteenth century.

Memorial for the victims of the Clew Bay Drowning on June 15, 1894 at Kildavenet Graveyard


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 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 in Bunnacurry today.

The Valley House

The historic Valley House is located in the Valley, near Achill Island in the north-east of Achill. The present building 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 agent, but the two fell out and was sacked and told to quit her accommodation on her estate. A lengthy legal battle, 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 to the United States, where he successfully defeated legal proceedings 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. Lynch has been reported to have been successful in the past, and has died in Girvan, Scotland. 1937. The Valley House is now a Hostel and Bar.

View of the deserted village from the ruins of the one of the houses
Inside the ruins of one of the houses at the deserted village

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 the mortar is used to hold the stones together. Each room has been used as a kitchen, living room, bedroom and even a stable.

If one looks at the fields around the mountains, one of the fields of ‘lazy beds’, which is the way crops are grown. In Achill, 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 small pieces of land scattered about the village, which they used to grow crops.

For many years people lived in the village in 1845 Famine struck in Achill as it was 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 the teenage boys and girls would like to stay in the country and they would stay in 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 Curraun.

At Ailt, Kildown, 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 they could use it for cattle grazing, the tenants were forced to rent in Currane, Dooega and Slievemore. Others emigrated to America.


Keem Bay

Achill Archaeological Field School is based at the Achill Archeology Center in Dooagh, which has served as a catalyst for a wide array of archaeological investigations on the island. It was founded in 1991 and is a training school for students of archeology and anthropology . Since 1991, several thousand students from 21 countries have come to Achill to study and participate in ongoing excavations. The school is involved in a study of the prehistoric and historic landscape at Slievemore , incorporating a research excavation at a number of sites within the deserted village of Slievemore. Slievemore is rich in archaeological monuments that span a 5,000 year period from the Neolithic to the Medieval Post. [3]Recent archaeological research suggests the village was occupied year-round at least as early as the 19th century, although it is known to have a seasonally occupied booley village by the first half of the 20th century. A booley village is a village occupied only during part of the year, such as a resort community, a lake community, or (as the case on Achill) a place to live while tending flocks or herds of ruminants during winter or summer pasturing . [4] Specifically, some of the people of Dooagh and Pollaghwould migrate in the summer to Slievemore and then go back to Dooagh in the autumn. The summer 2009 field school excavated Round House 2 on Slievemore Mountain under the direction of archaeologist Stuart Rathbone. Only the outside of the Round House were completely excavated. [5]

From 2004 to 2006, the Achill Island Maritime Archeology Project directed by Chuck Meide was sponsored by the College of William and Mary , the Institute of Maritime History , the Achill Folklife Center (now the Achill Archeology Center), and the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program ( LAMP) . This project is focused on the documentation of Achill’s rich maritime heritage. Maritime archaeologists recorded 19th century fishing station, ice house and boat house ruins, a number of anchors which had been salvaged from the sea, 19th century and more recent currachA possible 100-year-old Achill yawl, and the remains of four historic shipwrecks. [6] [7]

Other places of interest

Croaghaun , the third highest sea cliff in Europe
Slievemore mountain dominates the center of the island
Caisleán Ghráinne , also known as Kildownet Castle

Despite some development, the island has 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 is drastically down to the ocean . An old British post observation, built during World War I to prevent theGermans 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 Defense Forces as a Look Out Post for the Coast Guard Service wing of the Defense Forces. It operated from 1939 to 1945. [8]

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. On the slopes of Slievemore, there is an abandoned town (the “Deserted Village”) The Deserted Village is traditionally thought to be a remnant from the village 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 ) Achill’s southern tip. Its inhabitants were resettled on Achill in the 1960s. [9] A plate to Johnny Kilbane is situated on Achillbeg and has been erected to celebrate 100 years since his first win championship. [10]

The villages of Dooniver and Askill have very picturesque scenery and the road cycle is popular with tourists.

Caisleán Ghráinne , also known as Kildownet Castle, is a small tower house built in the early 1400s. [11] 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.

Achill Island panoramic view of the south coast


While in the United States, the economy of the island is largely dependent on tourism . Grants from Achill people working abroad, in particular in the United Kingdom, the United States, and many other people living in Achill throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. citation needed ] Since the advent of Ireland ‘s ” Celtic Tiger ” economy . Agriculture plays a small role and the fact que le island is mostly bog means clustering That icts potential for agriculture is limited Largely to sheep farming . In the past,fishing is a significant activity but this aspect of the economy is small now. At one stage, the island is known for its shark fishing, basking shark in particular was fished for its valuable liver oil . There was a big spurt of growth in tourism in the 1960s and 1970s, which was tough and difficult on the island. Despite healthy visitor numbers each year, the common perception is that tourism in Achill has been slowly declining since its heyday. Currently, the largest employers on Achill are two hotels. [12] In late 2009 Ireland’s only Turbot farm opened in the Bunnacurry Business Park.


Most people on Achill are Roman Catholic or Anglican ( Church of Ireland ). There are three priests on Achill and eight churches clarification needed ] in total.

  • Catholic:
    • Bunnacurry Church ( Saint Josephs )
    • The Valley Church; Only open for certain events.
    • Dookinella Church
    • Currane Church
    • Pollagh Church
    • Derreens Church
    • Dooega Church
    • Belfarsed Church
    • Achill Sound Church
  • Church of Ireland:
    • Dugort Church (St.Thomas’s church)
    • Innisbiggle Island church


Hedge schools existed in the villages of Achill in various periods of history. A university was started by Achill in Mweelin. In the modern age, there used to be two secondary schools in Achill, McHale College and Scoil Damhnait . However, in August 2011, the two schools amalgamated to form Coláiste Pobail Acla . For primary education, there are nine National Schools including Bullsmouth NS, Valley NS, Bunnacurry NS, Dookinella NS, Dooagh NS, Saulia NS, Achill Sound NS, Tonagee NS and Curanne NS. National schools closed down Dooega NS, Crumpaun NS, Ashleam NS.


  • Achill railway station opened on 13 May 1895, but finally closed on 1 October 1937. [13]
  • The Great Western Greenway is a greenway railway that trains the Midland Great Western Railway line from Westport to Achill via Newport and Mulranny . [14] Achill and the surrounding areas.
  • Bus Éireann 440 daily commutes to Westport and beyond from the island’s scattered villages.
  • Bus Éireann provide transportation for secondary school children
  • There are many Taxicab and Hackney carriage services on the Island


As Achill has many popular restaurants, cafes and restaurants which serve a full range of food. However, with the island’s Atlantic seafood is an 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 great population of cows which produces excellent beef. quote needed ]


Achill has a Gaelic football club which competes in the intermediate championship and division 1C of the Mayo League. There are also Achill Rovers which play in the Mayo Association Football League . [15] and Achill Golf Club. quote needed ]

Outdoor activities can be done through Achill Outdoor Education Center. [16] Achill Island’s rugged landscape and surrounding ocean offers multiple locations for outdoor adventure activities, like surfing, kite-surfing and sea kayaking. Fishing and watersports are also popular. Sailing regattas featuring a local vessel type, the Achill Yawl, have been popular since the 19th century, although most present-day yawls, have been structurally modified to promote greater speed under sail. The island’s waters and underwater sites are partially visited by scuba divers, though Achill’s unpredictable weather has been a commercially successful recreational diving industry.


In 2011, the population was 2,569. The island’s population has declined from around 6,000 before the Great Hunger .


Achill Island’s population taken from the Islands of Ireland (Alex Ritsema, Collins Press, 1999) and the census of Ireland.

Historical population
year Pop. ±%
1841 4,901
1851 4,030 -17.8%
1861 4,424 + 9.8%
1871 4,757 + 7.5%
1881 5,060 + 6.4%
1891 4,677 -7.6%
1901 4,825 + 3.2%
1911 5,260 + 9.0%
year Pop. ±%
1926 4,790 -8.9%
1936 4,808 + 0.4%
1946 4,918 + 2.3%
1951 4,906 -0.2%
1956 4,493 -8.4%
1961 4,069 -9.4%
1966 3,598 -11.6%
1971 3,129 -13.0%
year Pop. ±%
1979 3,089 -1.3%
nineteen eighty one 3,101 + 0.4%
1986 3,161 + 1.9%
1991 2,802 -11.4%
1996 2,718 -3.0%
2002 2,620 -3.6%
2006 2,620 + 0.0%
2011 2,569 -1.9%
Source: Central Statistics Office. “CNA17: Population by Shore Island Off, Sex and Year” . . Retrieved October 12, 2016 .


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Because of the inhospitable climate, few inhabited houses date from before the 20th century, but there are many examples of abandoned structures dating back to the 19th century.

The “Deserted Village” at the foot of Slievemore was a booley village ; see Transhumance
The location of the village is relatively sheltered

The best known of these can be seen in the “Deserted Village” ruins near the graveyard at the foot of Slievemore. Even the houses in this village represent a relatively comfortable class of dwelling as a few years ago, some people still used “Beehive” style houses (small circular single-roomed dwellings with a hole in the ceiling to let out smoke ).

Many of the oldest and most picturesque cottages date from the activities of the Congested Districts Board for Ireland – a body set up around the turn of the 20th century in Ireland to improve the welfare of the towns and villages. Most of the homes in Achill at the time were very small and tightly packed together in villages. The CDB subsidized the building of new, more spacious (though still small by modern standards) homes outside the traditional villages.

Some of the recent building development (1980 and onwards) on the island is made in the past by the whitewashed raised gable cottages . Many holiday homes have been built in these prominent places and have been built in the past.

Notable people

  • Charles Boycott (1832-1897) – Unpopular landowner from which term boycott arose
  • Darren Fletcher , footballer
  • The artist Paul Henry stayed on the island for a number of years in the early 1900s
  • Singer James Kilbane lives on the island
  • Johnny Kilbane , boxer
  • Danny McNamara , musician
  • Richard McNamara , musician
  • Thomas Patten from Dooega died during the Siege of Madrid in December 1936
  • English writer Honor Tracy lived there until he died in 1989


Heinrich Böll : Irisches Tagebuch , Berlin 1957
Kingston, Bob: The Deserted Village at Slievemore , Castlebar 1990
McDonald, Theresa: Achill: 5000 BC to 1900 AD Archeology History Folklore , IAS Publications [1992]
Meehan, Rosa: The Story of Mayo , Castlebar 2003
Carney, James: The Playboy & the Yellow Lady , 1986 POOLBEG [17]
Hugo Hamilton : The Island of Talking, [18] 2007
Kevin Barry : Beatlebone , 2015

See also

  • Achillbeg
  • Achill-henge
  • Achill oysters
  • Achill Sound
  • Askill
  • Bunnacurry
  • Connacht Irish
  • Darren Fletcher
  • Dooagh
  • Dooniver
  • gallowglass
  • Innisbiggle
  • James Kilbane
  • Kevin Kilbane
  • List of RNLI stations
  • Mid West Radio
  • Nevin (surname)
  • Potato Labor Scandal 1971
  • Saula
  • Wild Atlantic Way


  1. Jump up^ “Island Change in Population, 1841 – 2011” . 28 January 2013.
  2. Jump up^ Lynch, Peter (2016-06-20). “Pirate Queen of County Mayo” . BBC . Retrieved 2017-02-02 .
  3. Jump up^ “Achill Archaeological Field School 2009” . Achill Archaeological Field School . Archived from the original on 28 February 2009 . Retrieved 7 March 2009 .
  4. Jump up^ Deserted village, Slievemore, Achill Island , achill247.comRetrieved on 17 February 2008.
  5. Jump up^ Amanda Burt, Member of Achill Field School, Summer 2009.
  6. Jump up^ “Achill Island Maritime Archeology Project | Institute of Maritime History” . February 20, 2012 . Retrieved 20 March2012 .
  7. Jump up^ Meide Chuck (18 June 2014). “Meide, Chuck and Kathryn Sikes (2014) Manipulating the Maritime Cultural Landscape: Vernacular Boats and Economic Relationships on Nineteenth-Century Achill Island, Ireland, Journal of Maritime History 9 (1): 115-141” . Journal of Maritime Archeology . 9 : 115-141. doi : 10.1007 / s11457-013-9123-3 . Retrieved 18 June 2014 .
  8. Jump up^ See Michael Kennedy, ‘Guarding Neutral Ireland (Dublin, 2008), p. 50
  9. Jump up^ Jonathan Beaumont (2005),Achillbeg: The Life of an Island,ISBN 0-85361-631-0
  10. Jump up^ “Log into Facebook – Facebook” . Facebook .
  11. Jump up^ “Irish Castles-Grace O’Malley” . . Retrieved 2016-06-13 .
  12. Jump up^ “Achill Island (Co. Mayo)” . . Retrieved 20 March2012 .
  13. Jump up^ “Achill station” (PDF) . Railscot – Irish Railways . Archived (PDF)from the original on 26 September 2007 . Retrieved 8 September 2007 .
  14. Jump up^ “Home” . Great Western Greenway . Retrieved 10 August 2011 .
  15. Jump up^ FAI Portal Club for Achill Rovers
  16. Jump up^ Dave Jordan. “Achill Outdoor” .
  17. Jump up^ James Carney. “The playboy & the yellow lady” . Open Library . Retrieved 20 March 2012 .
  18. Jump up^ The Island of Talking Hugo Hamilton in the footsteps of Heinrich Böll, 50 years after

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