Achill Island – Ireland’s largest island
No trip to Westport and to Mayo would be complete without a visit to Achill Island.
First inhabited 5,000 years ago, Achill Island is the largest of all islands off the coast of Ireland and is accessible by bridge.
It makes a fantastic day trip from Westport, as it’s only one hour away.
Not only does the island offer spectacularly beautiful views, but it also rewards visitors with equally spectacularly beaches, two in particular – Keem Bay and Keel Beach are must visits.
Keem Bay on Achill Island is a beach so stunning you would only find something similar in the Caribbean. A small cove surrounded by lush mountains and lots of sheep, it is a paradise on Earth to those who visit.
With perfect waves for surfing, Keel Beach is the all-rounder that has something for everyone. The Atlantic water is refreshing and clean and guaranteed to invigorate.
Majestic mountains, breath-taking landscapes and miles of unspoilt Blue Flag beaches, Achill Island is a paradise for lovers of outdoor pursuits and water sports of all types. Popular water sports on Achill Island include swimming, windsurfing, surfing, kite surfing, kayaking and canoeing.
The imprint of past generations is everywhere on Achill Island, from megalithic tombs to ancient forts, and historic churches to deserted villages.
Inland on Achill Island visitors will find the famous sight of the Deserted Village. These crumbling stones are all that remains of more than 80 houses that were abandoned in 1845. Visitors can explore the homes, as they are open to the public.
The Great Western Greenway Mayo travels from Westport to Achill Island finishing just short of the bridge to the island at Achill Sound. The adventurous can walk or cycle the 42km mostly off-road track in either direction and it is a great way to take in spectacular views of Clew Bay and the mountains around it.
There’s a certain kind of landscape only seen on islands like Achill Island. At times it’s sparse yet full of life, the island can be battered by the force of the Atlantic Ocean or shimmering like a tropical paradise – the perfect showcase for the magnificent Wild Atlantic Way.
A visit to Achill Island can be as active, or as relaxed, as visitors choose. Achill Island offers lots of restaurants with fresh Atlantic seafood as a speciality, and its pubs and bars provide a traditional Irish welcome.
Lush green hills, jagged mountain edges, golden sandy beaches and crystal clear waters are the definition of what Mayo’s Wild Atlantic Way have to offer.
Achill boasts a number of well established summer schools and festivals each year, one of the best known being the Scoil Acla Summer School, with workshops in traditional music, set and ceili dancing and of course, Gaeilge Acla – the Irish language. Other annual events include the Achill Archaeological summer school and festivals such as the Achill Yawl racing festival, Achill Seafood festival, Walks festival and many others.
The history of Achill island
Achill island has a long and troubled history. The first people came to the island about 5,000 years ago and since then Achill has witnessed the arrival of Christianity, the power of Granuaile, plantations from Ulster, great rows between Protestants and Catholics and the decline of the ancient disappearance way of life.
Achill has a history of human settlement that is at least 5,000 years old. The remains of megalithic tombs and monuments suggest settlement by Neolithic man in the 3rd or 4th centuries BC.
The arrival of Christianity into Ireland is reflected in two remnants on Achill: at Kildavnet the ancient church is named after St. Damhnait (St. Dympna), a 7th century saint, and at Slievemore there is an ancient church site and Holy Well, both dedicated to St. Colman, also a 7th century saint.
The O’Malley’s and Granuaile had a strong influence on the island. The name O’Malley is still common in Achill today. The best known member of this family was Granuaille (Grace O’Malley), the legendary Pirate Queen whose son own Kildavnet Castle.
Between 1831 and 1834 a Protestant missionary settlement known as The Colony was built at Dugort by Reverend Edward Nangle and can still be seen today. The ‘Colony’ was very successful for a time, even buying two-thirds of the island in 1850. Its success provoked a great long-running row between Nangle and the Catholic Archbishop John McHale, who built a monastery in nearby Bunnacurry in the 1850s to counteract the strength of the Colony
The Deserted Village at Slievemore near Keel consists of the remains of almost 100 traditional stone cottages. ITheir most recent period of use ended in the early 20th century, when the cottages were used for ‘booleying’ by the local population. As ‘booley’ houses they were occupied during the summer months, when cattle would be grazed on the mountainside, but the residents would return to their homes in the villages of Pollagh and Dooagh for the winter months.
Read more about the history of Achill
The Achill landscape, plants and animals
Achill island occupies an area of about 57 square miles. Achill’s location as one of the most westerly islands in Europe, and the climatic effects of the Gulf Stream, create a distinctive combination of flora and fauna.
The last reported sighting of an eagle on Achill was in 1912. A number of rare bird species are still found on Achill, including the chough, golden plover and peregine falcon. Keel lake is often used as a resting point for barnacle geese during migration.
Achill’s two highest peaks are on Slievemore (671m) and Croaghaun (668m). The northern side of Croaghaun features dramatic cliffs, some two miles in length and up to 600m in height, which are said to be the highest sea cliffs in Europe. One interesting feature of both peaks is the presence of rare Artic alpine flora such as juniper. Other significant peaks on Achill include Minaun (466m) and Curraun Hill (524m).
Read more about the landscape, plants and animals of Achill
The idyllic Inishbiggle (or Inis Bigil in Irish, which means “island of the fasting”) is just 90 meters from Achill island. It is an unspoilt and unique island, which to this day contains a traditional community where small farming and fishing are time-honoured traditions.
Wonderful for walking and exploration, life here runs at a relaxed pace, and the tranquil atmosphere and glorious scenery are loved by visitors. The Inishbiggle loop walks begin at the pier at Bullsmouth, where the ferry from Achill Island lands, and at Gubnadoogha, where the ferry from Ballycroy lands.
More about Achill
- Achill Blue Flag beaches
- Achill history and archaeology
- Kildavnet castle
- The Deserted Village
- Achill’s landscape plants and animals
Achill island on the map