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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.