Ireland

Achill Island – Ireland’s Wild West

“If you could make a living on scenerey, Mayo would be the richest county in Ireland.”

A local saying so splendidly expressing what my sister and I came to be lucky enough to explore on a weekend’s trip. We had roamed Dublin for a few days already, and decided to take the scenic train ride to Ireland’s west coast. Well, and then a bus ride. With a lot of hair pin turns. And then a long, long walk. We might have packed a little lighter if we had expected the odyssey we went through until finally reaching our airbnb on Achill Island.

Chilling on the roads of Achill Island.

The Beauty And The Sea

I might not have seen a lot of Ireland during my short stay, but I would easily agree that this wealth in natural scenery is barely anywhere better observable than on Achill Island. Cliffy mountains, long stretches of plain peninsulas and secluded harbors along the way to Blacksod Bay in the north and Clew Bay in the southeast. Sure, Achill might be somewhat tucked away, but imagine how you would preserve your most valuable treasures – you wouldn’t just leave them on your doormat, but devote them a nice safe place. Since the 18th century, tourists were showing their interest in this hidden gem. The island’s harmonic composition of topographical features makes every click on that camera worthwhile (which will likely be the only sound you hear), and the long way forgotten immediately. Although it actually isn’t even a proper island since the 19th century, when a bridge was built to connect this island to the bigger “green island”.

The Wild West

Sure, it’s still Ireland. You drive on the left side, you pay with Euros, people enjoy pubs and bars, and talk about the weather. But while most tourists stumble over each other’s feet in the East und Southwest of Ireland, here, in the barely inhabited rural west, you’ll get a feeling of being far away from all of that. There is no bank, but one (!) ATM at the “entry” of the island. The next biggest town with mundane things like a bank, cinema, and a proper supermarket is Westport, almost one hour away. The small grocery shops and pubs on the island simultaneously act as news and gossip exchange. And sheep are everywhere. I mean everywhere. On hills, streets, and golf courses. Maybe my passion derives from its resemblance to New Zealand?

Achill Island has to offer…

About 3.000 inhabitants. With a history of human settlement of at least 5.000 years.

In the summery months, the island wakes of its deep slumber, and the few places to stay are quickly fully booked. Same with all the pubs, of which some then have live music in the evenings.

Truly stunning nature. Marsh and heathland. Atlantic beaches. Cliffs. Bays and Mountains.

Plenty of history and mystery. Abandoned villages of 19th century (which Böll writes about in his “Irish diary”). A protestant mission, a defense tower of “pirate queen” Granuaile from 16th century, roots of the Giants including a grave, a history of shark hunting and ship disasters. And traces of the landlord Charles Boycott, whose activities brought the word “to boycott” into the English and German language.

A fulfilled prophecy. In 17th century it was predicted that bodies would be brought to the island on their first and last journey in “fire carts on iron wheels“. That was long before trains had been invented. But as it happened, in 1894, the railway between Westport and Newport was extended to Achill Island, providing a great service and fulfilling the prophecy. The first train on the railway carried the victims of a tragic accident.

You can stay in hotels, B&Bs, apartments, or camping grounds. And activities vary from hiking to horse-riding, golfing, fishing, boat trips, diving, surfing and windsurfing (with or without teachers, gear rental possible) and biking. No need for boredom here. But plenty of space to fool around.

A trip around Achill Island

So, this offer sounds irresistible, right? Well. Rather less so, when it is nonstop raining. But you gotta make the best out of what you get.

For getting around, you might actually wanna take a car to avoid all the complicated facts we were faced with. Like, weekend, a public holiday, no transport on the island. Or hitchhike, which might take some time due to lack of traffic, but getting picked up after all is fairly easy. Luckily, our airbnb host was amazingly friendly and gave us a whole tour around the island, past gigantic cliffs and abandoned villages, long stretches of bold land and rich peninsulas. The rain actually gave the vast green landscapes a fresh look, and beneath our pink umbrella it smelled like summer.

Eventually, he dropped us of at a hike we wanted to do despite the weather (“There’s no bad weather, just bad clothing“), at the opposite end of the island. Our mismatched raincoats and -pants, the orange socks visible at the tops of yellow gumboots, we courageously marched forward into the deserted muddy hills.

Hiking on Achill Island.

The Mystery of Achillhenge

You might be expecting a European Stonehenge version now. Impressive gigantic boulders, creatively put together, forming a mysterious shape, maybe referring to some kind of ancient holy site. Well.

Standing there on a rugged field, we stared disbelievingly on a circle of thirty 4,5 m high concrete blocks. Put up by Joe McNamara in a fly by night fashion.

The message? Our guide shrugged his shoulders. That, the local builder never really confided. Probably some kind of allegory, a symbol for the current state of Ireland, the economical crisis.

Achill Island’s Deserted Village

Along our hike near Keel, we came across around 100 old stone cottages separated by tracks and fields for growing crops. It is said to have been inhabited several times throughout history, repeatedly built on top of the last ruins. Lastly occupied in the early 20th century, people used to live in the houses during summer months to be close to their cattle, and return to their villages in winter. In fact, Achill was one of the last European places where this lifestyle has been practiced, with the deserted village being the biggest and best preserved one on the island…

A trip to the Wild

View over the fields of Achill Island.

So! Book your flight to Dublin, quickly cross the country and whoosh – you can fully indulge into an Atlantic Ocean sunset. By day throwing your heads in the cool wind, by night letting your fireplace heat you up again, maybe helped by a good glass of hot whiskey in a pub. How does that sound?

 

 


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Visit Achill Island, Ireland's wild west!

 

28 Comments

  • Reply
    Agness of aTukTuk
    June 11, 2017 at 4:23 pm

    I’ve heard about this island but I haven’t realized how beautiful it is! Great idea, Christina!

    • Reply
      Christina
      June 13, 2017 at 2:46 pm

      Yay, thanks a lot Agness! Hope you’ll get a chance to visit 🙂

  • Reply
    shayan Naveed
    March 23, 2017 at 6:08 am

    This sounds like such a cool place to visit. Definitely the off-the-beaten track. 1 ATM? Wow, definitely bring a lot of cash in advance. I’d love to drive there for 1 night at least before going to the next town/city.

    • Reply
      Christina
      April 5, 2017 at 11:16 am

      That’s definitely worth it – if not longer! And I mean, since most of the activities are outdoors anyway, it depends whether you actually need a lot of cash. Achill for me was just the perfect get-away to have a quiet time-out.

  • Reply
    neha
    March 22, 2017 at 5:51 am

    I had not heard of Achill before, But you are right when you say it would be richest in terms of natural beauty. I can clearly see why. I could spend days here doing nothing just enjoying the natural surroundings

    • Reply
      Christina
      April 5, 2017 at 11:17 am

      Haha absolutely! It was a pity we had only 2 nights there, I could definitely have spent more time. I didn’t even notice how much noise I had around me all the time, until there was complete quietness.

  • Reply
    Jean
    March 18, 2017 at 11:52 am

    I’d never heard of Achill Island. It sounds like my kinda place! Bit of history, not many people, some lovely scenery. Not sure how I’d have handled that windy bus ride and then a long walk. I’ll take your advice and hire a car when we get that way.

    • Reply
      Christina
      April 5, 2017 at 11:20 am

      Happy to be of help. We kinda just stumbled into the adventure because my sister had heard of Achill as being a great place to relax, and then we jumped straight in without much preparation haha. But yeah, we had a splendid time anyway!

  • Reply
    Sandy N Vyjay
    March 17, 2017 at 2:57 am

    Achill island deserves a trip, I bet. I hope money into visiting this
    place is a real great investment for being at peace; with nature; in a
    place that just brings any traveler nothing but happiness; along with
    the soul of Ireland.

    • Reply
      Christina
      April 5, 2017 at 11:25 am

      Beautifully said, really! That’s what traveling should be about anyway, I believe. Uniting people in peace and happiness 🙂

  • Reply
    kathy (from walkaboutwanderer.com)
    March 16, 2017 at 2:55 pm

    Wow I didn’t know about this place. Looks wonderful and very untouristy which is what I love. I found many stone circles up in the Orkney Islands, Scotland so I love that there are some here too.
    Your photos are really beautiful. I really need to head back over to Island when I am back in the UK. Thanks for sharing.

    • Reply
      Christina
      April 5, 2017 at 12:02 pm

      Thanks for your feedback! In fact this stone formation has been the first one I ever came across, I have no clue how many there might be in different off the track places around the world… Glad to hear I could inspire you, too!

  • Reply
    Sheila Flores
    March 16, 2017 at 1:24 pm

    Such an amazing place! I’ve never been to Ireland but of course I’d like to! A road trip around this island looks like an interesting plan. Your pictures are stunning and I would love to visit one day.

    Thanks for sharing 😉

    • Reply
      Christina
      April 5, 2017 at 12:12 pm

      Thanks so much 🙂 Roadtrips are totally my thing haha. Just which destination to pick is always the hard decision…

  • Reply
    Riely
    March 16, 2017 at 6:09 am

    Of course, Ireland is one of my favourite destinations, but I am surprised that I never heard of this little gem, Achill Island. I truly enjoy small, quaint towns like these with less crowded scenes. The scenery looks beautiful from your photos as well. And the people in Ireland are so thoughtful and kind. Glad you enjoyed this charming island.

    • Reply
      Christina
      April 5, 2017 at 12:10 pm

      Unfortunately I haven’t been able yet to explore much more of this country, except from a few but lovely days in Dublin. I’ll be happy to encounter more people and stories and hospitality and scenery!

  • Reply
    Grace
    March 16, 2017 at 4:01 am

    I love visiting Ireland but I would never cope with the weather there. I used to live in the UK and finally got totally fed up with the weather there! My Irish friends always joked that if I want to really have a reason to complain about the weather I should move to Ireland! I love the scenery tho! The remoteness and open space. Achill Island looks beautiful and you have included some lovely photos- I really like them! Thankd for sharing

    • Reply
      Christina
      April 5, 2017 at 12:08 pm

      Thanks so much for your feedback Grace, really appreciated! Haha yeah, I wish we would have been able to enjoy some more sun, I’m as well no child of rain. But living on Vitamin D. Meaning, I’ll very likely never move there, but exploring and taking in the beauty of the UK – absolutely!

  • Reply
    Kristine
    March 15, 2017 at 8:46 pm

    Achill island looks nice! Calm and green and idyllic. I’d probably go there in the summer and enjoy a nice little picnic somewhere by the water. Ireland is a wonderful country. Went there last year and had an amazing time 🙂

    • Reply
      Christina
      April 5, 2017 at 12:07 pm

      Summertime seems to be the trick, haha. I mean, we didn’t let the rain bring us down, but a bit extra Vitamin D wouldn’t have hurt 😉

  • Reply
    Anita
    March 15, 2017 at 6:16 pm

    I love your photos, its beautiful and creative (as I suspect are you) 🙂 I’ve always wanted to visit Ireland but never really did enough research to make it happen’; I like to do that right before I decide to go anywhere. Achill Island looks very beautiful and peaceful. I love journeys that are unexpected and a little exhaustive, its stories to tell your friends, family and strangers.

    • Reply
      Christina
      April 5, 2017 at 12:06 pm

      Thanks Anita, your feedback means a lot! Happy to hear I’m able to inspire you and draw some pictures. Ireland was a brief but beautiful experience, and I’m looking forward to exploring more of it and the UK…

  • Reply
    Bhushavali
    March 15, 2017 at 12:10 pm

    Unfortunately I missed Ireland when I was in UK! Visiting an uninhabited village that has houses and been abandoned feels like visiting a ghost town!!! Achill Island sounds like so much fun!!!

    • Reply
      Christina
      April 5, 2017 at 12:05 pm

      Haha it was a bit eerie indeed! It was a great time-out 🙂

  • Reply
    Nicole Anderson
    March 15, 2017 at 10:25 am

    What a fascinating travel destination. Until I read this post, I didn’t know anything about this place or the interesting sites you cover here. What I love about it is the remoteness, unspoiled nature and of course the beauty which your photos clearly show. I had best work on getting there before everyone else finds out about it and it becomes crowded with tourists!

    • Reply
      Christina
      April 5, 2017 at 12:15 pm

      Haha absolutely true! I really love discovering remote places and going a little off the track, being able to talk to locals that don’t have a distorted picture of tourists yet, and taking untouched beauty fully in. Despite all the blogs and posts and famous destinations, there are still so many undiscovered gems out there, sigh…

  • Reply
    the Fashion Matters
    March 14, 2017 at 11:44 am

    I’ve only been to Dublin in Ireland, I should def go back!

    • Reply
      Christina
      April 5, 2017 at 12:13 pm

      It’ll be worth it, I promise 🙂

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