Achill Island ( Acaill, Oilean Acla )
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view of Keel Strand and Dookinella from Minaun Heights, Achill Island Co Mayo Ireland

Achill is Ireland’s largest offshore island and is situated on Ireland’s Atlantic seaboard off the west coast of County Mayo. It is separated from the mainland by a Sound which varies in distance 274 meters at it’s shortest to over 6.5 kilometers at its widest. The Island measures 24 kms by 20 kms and has a population of around 2500. Achill is attached to the mainland by the R316 which crosses Achill Sound at the Michael Davitt Bridge.

The Island’s geology is made up of Daldradian Quartzites and Schists which are folded into the dominating peaks of the island. Slievemore which rises to 671 meters, Croaghaun rising 680 meters, and Minaun 460 meters . The northern face of Croaghaun boasts the tallest sea cliffs in Europe 600 meters high which can only be seen from the sea on the Atlantic side of Achill Head.

The island’s interior is made up of farmland and heath land although Peat bog makes up nearly 90% of the island. The glacialisation of Ireland during the last ice age left behind a series of “Corrie lakes” the most spectacular of these being Lough Nakeeroga on the sea ward side of Croaghaun. Another Corrie lake, Lough Accorrymore is accessible by road on the way to Keem.


Evidence shows that Achill has been populated since Neolithic times. Megalithic Tombs on the South slopes of Slievemore date to around 4000BC and there are remains of promontory forts on the south west coast of the island at Doonaglass and Bunafahy. Achillbeg also has a promontory fort at Dun Kilmore.

The name Achill is commonly meant to derive from the Irish word “eccuill” meaning “Eagle”. The annals of Loch Ce record the sacking of “eccuill ” by the Anglo Norman invaders of Ireland in the thirteenth century.

The stone castle at Kildavnet on Achill Sound was reputed to belong to the Chieftain Pirate queen Gráinne Ní Mháille ( Grainne Uaile or Grace O’Malley ). From there she launched raids together with her 200 strong parties of sea raiders on ships passing the Western shores. Most notable of her unfortunate victims was the remnants of the Spanish Armada in 1588.

The Deserted village on the slopes of Slievemore is an example of a Booley which was a temporary settlement during the summer months of cattle grazing. The settlement was used for more than three centuries before finally being abandoned probably during the great famine of 1845.

image of Deserted Village Slievemore, Achill Island Co Mayo Ireland image of Kildavnet, Achill Island Co Mayo Ireland image of Keem, Achill Island Co Mayo Ireland

Fishing has been central to Achill life for centuries. When the Booleys were left at the end of summer, the settlements close to the shore brought sea harvests during the long winter months. Up until modern times there has been a thriving fishing industry on the island centered on Purteen and Cloghmore however these have been in decline since Ireland’s entry to the EC. A Basking Shark fishery survived from the 1940s up until the 1970s, however a dramatic decline in stock forced closure of this industry. Basking sharks are making a welcome return to Achill waters and can be seen surface feeding close to shore during warm summer days.

Migration has played a major part in Achill history. Since the famine of the 1840s Achill people have migrated to other parts of Ireland, as well as Scotland England and across the Atlantic to America. Achill has strong links with these parts of the world and is twinned with Cleveland Ohio in the United States.

panorama image of Keel Strand, Achill Island Co Mayo Ireland


Minaun Cliff Self Catering Cottages
Co Mayo
Tel: +353 852029771

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