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Achill Island Neolithic Grave

Achill Ghost Island - Ireland

Achill Island has a relatively thriving population of 2,700 and is the largest island off the coast of Ireland, covering 57 square miles. Once though it was home to over 6,000 inhabitants but the Great Hunger that sprang from the Potato Famine reduced the population by over half.

Achill Island Old Ruins
It was populated as early as 3000BC with evidence being found on the island of a paddle made over 5,000 years ago.

After growing steadily in population since those times, the population exploded in the 17th and 18th centuries when many political and religious refugees migrated there from other parts of Ireland, notably Ulster where they were persecuted. The immigrant population spoke a different dialect of Irish leading to many places having two names as two individual languages were spoken on the island.

Achill Island Church
Although Achill’s population has slumped in later years, the true ghost town of the island is Slievemore which, although originally a fully occupied village up to the 19th century, became a booley village, one that was inhabited in summer only for those that worked the flocks and herds in the hills.  Many of the seasonal residents were from nearby Dooagh.

Excavations in the area and a search by marine archaeologists have discovered the remains of a 19th century fishing station, ice house, boat house ruins, a number of anchors which had been salvaged from the sea, 19th century currach pens, a number of traditional boats including a 100-year old Achill yawl and the remains of four historic shipwrecks. The remains of the village show that the residents lived in the traditional round houses that were popular in this part of Ireland. The village was finally deserted completely during the four years of the Great Hunger starting in 1845.

Achill Island Keel Beach
The landscape of the village has changed greatly since those days. The terrible climate that spares nothing in its path has ensured that almost everything that remains standing today is little more that 100 years old and then only stones remain where walls once stood. A government board set up to improve living conditions for Ireland’s poor also made its mark on the desertion of Slievemore as many householders were encouraged to move from their cramped ‘beehive’ style homes to more spacious housing outside the village. Now today, it looks more like a medieval settlement and is ringed by the ugly 20th century housing that replaced it.

Achill Island Slievemore Mountain

Elsewhere on the island, the visitor is likely to see some spectacular sights. The sea cliffs on the western end of the island are the third highest in Europe and Keel beach is a very popular location for international surfers. Slievemore Mountain rises over 2,000 feet in the north of the island sitting there, brooding over the landscape. Tourism is now the main earner for the island and the main source of employment. Achill has some beautiful parts but also some depressing and bland areas where no thought was given to the settings. If you visit Achill and Slievemore, look beyond the whitewashed blocks and deeper into the spirited past of these plucky islanders.