Achill Island

From Academic Kids

Keem bay on Achill island is said to be one of the most beautiful beaches in Ireland.
Keem bay on Achill island is said to be one of the most beautiful beaches in Ireland.

Achill Island (Acaill; Oilen Acla) in County Mayo is the largest island off Ireland, and is situated off the west coast. It has a population of 2700. Its area is 57 square miles (146 square kilometres). Achill is attached to the mainland by Michael Davitt Bridge, between the villages of Achill Sound and Polranny, so it is possible to drive onto the island. This is a swing bridge which allows the passage of small boats. A bridge was first completed here in 1886, and replaced by the current structure after World War II. Other centres of population include the villages of Keel, Dooagh, Dooega and Dugort. The island's football pitch and two secondary schools are on the mainland at Polranny. Early monastic settlements are believed to have been established on Achill around 450 AD.

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The island is 87 per cent peat bog. The parish of Achill also includes the Corraun peninsula. The people of Corraun consider themselves Achill people, and most natives of Achill refer to this area as being "in Achill". In the summer of 1996, the RNLI decided to station a lifeboat at Kildownet. The majority of the crew are unpaid volunteers.



Despite some unsympathetic development, the island retains some striking natural beauty. The cliffs of Croaghaun on the northern coast of the island are the highest sea cliffs in Europe but are inaccessible by road. On the western tip near Achill Head, Keem bay is arguably one of the most beautiful beaches on the Irish west coast.
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Keel Strand.
Keel beach is quite popular with tourists and some locals as a surfing location. Another extreme point of the island 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 landing arms for the separatist movement, is still standing on Moytoge. Slievemore (671 metres), the largest mountain on the island, rises dramatically in the centre 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 village ("The Deserted Village") left intact after it was abandoned and left to be destroyed by the elements during the Great Famine (An Gorta Mr). Just west of the deserted village is an old Martello tower, again built by the British to warn of any possible French invasion. 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 1960's. There is a mural of a surfer on the gable of a pub in Cashel.


While a number of attempts at setting up small industrial units on the island have been made, the economy of the island is largely dependent on tourism. Subventions from Achill people working abroad, in particular in England, Scotland and the United States allowed many families to remain living in Achill throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Since the advent of Ireland's "Celtic Tiger" economy fewer Achill people are forced to look for work abroad. Agriculture plays a small role and is only profitable because of European subsidies. The fact that the island is mostly bog means that it is limited - largely to sheep farming. In the past, fishing was a significant activity but this aspect of the economy is small now. At one stage, the island was 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 before which life was tough and difficult on the island. Since that heyday, the common perception is that tourism has been slowly declining.


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The "Deserted Village" at the foot of Slievemore was abandoned during the Great Famine.

Some of the recent building development on the island (over the last 40 years or so) has been contentious and in many cases is not as sympathetic to the landscape as the earlier style of whitewashed barged roofed cottages. Because of the inhospitable climate, very few houses date from before the twentieth century. An example of the style of earlier housing 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, even as recently as a hundred years ago, some people still used "Beehive" style houses (small circular single roomed dwellings with a hole in ceiling to let out smoke). Many of the oldest and most picturesque inhabitated cottages date from the activities of the Congested Districts Board for Ireland - a body set up around the turn of the twentieth century in Ireland to improve the welfare for inhabitants of small villages and towns. Most of the homes in Achill at the time were very small and tightly packed together in villages. The CDB subsidised the building of new, more spacious (though still small by modern standards) homes outside of the traditional villages.

Famous people

The artist Paul Henry stayed on the island for a number of years in the early 1900s and some of his most famous paintings are of the dramatic landscape of the island. The Nobel Prize winning author, Heinrich Bll, visited the island and wrote of his experience in his "Irish Journal" (Irisches Tagebuch). The Blls later bought a cottage near Dugort and lived in it periodically until 2001 when they donated it to be used as an artists' residence. Graham Greene also spent time on Achill.

External links

de:Achill Island fr:Achill Island ga:Acaill gl:Achill - Acaill it:Achill_Island


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