Written by Deirdre Davys
The thing about Achill Island is that it gets under your skin. You arrive in a howling gale, the rain sweeping across the bogs in great big sheets and you wonder what possessed you to book your this darned holiday cottage.
Despondently you settle in, get the kettle on, drink tea, open the paper and settle down for what looks like a very long weekend. You’re only half way through the morning’s news when the skies start to lift and shafts of light, like spotlights from heaven begin to pierce the gloom.
“My God is that the sea?” you ask as the clouds begin to part and down below you the mighty Atlantic Ocean roars its way onto Keel Beach. So it wasn’t a waste of time putting surf boards and kayaks on the roof and loading up the car with wet gear and bicycles.
By the time you have had your fill of the latest world crises the sun is shining and it’s time to get out, but there is so much to do while on holiday in Achill Island, where do you start?
Perched high up on the side of Sliabh Mór – Achill’s second highest mountain, you have the advantage. You are ‘monarch of all you survey’. Down below Keel Lake is already busy with thrill seeking Kite Surfers soaring up out of the water, filling the sky with colour and excitement.
Time to get going.
Maybe the Deserted Village on Achill Islandf would be a good start. It’s only a short walk from your our island holiday cottage ‘Baile Slievemore Holiday Cottages
’, but you could drive as far as the graveyard and walk from there. The rutted track climbs up past the ruined houses and eventually leaving them behind, keeps on going until it reaches the village of Dooagh on the other side of Achill Island.
Huddled against the mountain side, the ruined cottages now provide shelter for the black faced sheep, whose plaintive bleating breaks the all pervading silence. But who lived here? Why did they leave? Was it the famine which drove them out? Was it just a summer village, a Boley Village as the archaeologists claim?
Long abandoned and battered by wind and rain, the old stone walls have stories to tell, but we’ll never hear them now. The rounded humps of the old potato drills clearly visible all around, remind us yet again of the importance of the potato to the islanders and the destitution wrought, when the crop failed again and again.
There is a magic to this place which brings a serenity with it, a great place to let go of your worries and start your Achill Island adventure.
Image thanks to © Tourism Ireland
A cycle would be another option on your first day. The new cycle hubs offer easy enough pedalling on circular routes, while the hairpin bends and energy sapping hills of The Atlantic Drive would get an activity weekend off to a rip roaring start.
Anyone planning to stay for a week or more will no doubt want to have a shot at cycling the Great Western Greenway, that marvellous new bicycle track which starts in Westport and goes via Mulranny to Achill Island. Thanks to the local entrepreneurs you don’t even need your own bike. There are so many options on Achill Island, no one can make excuses while on holidays on Achill Island.
Some people do the whole thing (42km) in one fell swoop, some do bits of it and leave cars at either end, some hire a bike and get picked up by the hire company. The section from Mulranny to Achill Island (13km) is the most satisfying as the sea views keep appearing first on one side then on another as the track winds its way along.
There is even a possibility to go ‘off piste’ so to speak and head up into the forest at the foothills of the Currane Peninsula. While not exactly mountain biking this feels much more adventurous and would appeal to older children and teenagers.
But hang on a second, aren’t we here to relax? Didn’t someone say something about music, painting, art galleries and writing?
That’s the thing about a holiday on Achill Island, it’s all here waiting for you! If you want to play music, just rock up with your instrument to the Valley House Bar, The Strand Hotel or any number of pubs and join in.
If you’re a budding artist, get inspiration from the landscape like Paul Henry or Camille Souter or Robert Henri, three well known artists forever associated with Achill Island.
So you’ve been planning to write that novel, don’t keep putting it on the long finger, hole up in your holiday cottage and get down to business. Follow in the footsteps of Heinrich Boell, the famous German author, who wrote his Irisches Tagebuch/Irish Diary back in the seventies. He too fell under the spell of Achill Island, lived here on and off and donated his house to the island as a retreat for artists. With no distractions you could complete the first chapter before you have to go home.
There is so much to do and see on Achill Island which lies of County Mayo that one visit is never enough. On the rainy days a visit to The Western Light Gallery beside Keel Beach is a great place to find works of art by really good, local artists. The proprietors Sean and Margaret Cannon are probably the most welcoming gallery owners in the country, and Sean’s stunning photographs taken around the island in all weathers, are a great buy. If you are lucky you might be around for an exhibition opening, when you can meet the artist and get an insight into the inspiration for the works.
Over in Dugort, sitting high above the beach The Cottage Restaurant is another good rainy day holiday idea. While the brave might be out jumping off Dugort Pier at high tide, you could be ordering their hot chocolate with marshmallows, while diving into chowder and brown bread.
Donning serious wet gear, a foray could then be made to search for mussels for dinner. The rocks at Saulia would be a good hunting ground, but make sure that the tide is on its way out.
Apart from shell fish of course, there are no end to the possibilities for both sea and lake fishing. For the latter a permit can be bought from the local tourist office at Achill Sound.
Should the sun be shining, there is no end to the activities on this beautiful island of the west coast of Ireland. The views from the top of the two highest mountains Croaghan and Sliabh Mór are incredible – panoramas of sea, islands and mountains, while the beaches all around the coast offer fine golden or silver sand, rough water for surfing and calm harbours or cliffs for swimming and deep sea diving.
Eating out in Achill is no problem, though at peak periods it is wise to book early. The Chalet Restaurant and Calveys in Keel have been popular eateries for many years, but of late the ambience created at Pure Magic only a stone’s throw from the Trident Holiday Homes has been pulling in the crowds.
For a real ‘laid back’ experience you can’t beat it, sofas to lounge on, pool to play, a garden with trees for kids to race around and of course the television screens showing kite surfers doing their stuff, making you want get out there straight away.
If shopping is your thing, then don’t go to Achill Island, it’s not that kind of place but there are a few exceptions. The Blackfield Clothing Studio on the north side of the island has a very attractive shop selling well made crafts and arty clothes.
Oh yes, here’s another reason to go to Achill Island, if your teenagers are in dire need of brushing up on their languages, they could be learning French or German at the Valley House Language Camp or Irish at Coláiste Acla. Meanwhile you could be renting a holiday cottage
on the island and bumping into them every now and then, if by some chance you happened to be missing them.
All in all hail, rain or shine there is something for everyone while on holidays on Achill Island!