Achill Island is an island just off the coast of County Mayo in the west of Ireland, linked by a bridge to the mainland. It's Ireland's largest island, with some farming but mostly uncultivated heath and hills. The two main settlements are Achill Sound by the bridge and Keel straggling into Dooagh near the west tip; in 2011 its population was 2569. Everyone speaks English but many residents are Irish speakers, especially on the east side of the island.
The TICs are in Achill Sound (M-F 10:15-16:30, Sa 10:00-16:00) and Keel (daily 11:00-19:00).
Get in edit
Achill Island is reached by road. From Dublin follow N5 to Castlebar, R311 to Newport then N59 to Mulranny. Branch off onto R319 which crosses the bridge to the island and continues west to Dooagh. Or from Mulranny take the lonely scenic lane, clearly signposted off N59 before the R319 turnoff, which loops around the south coast of Corraun Peninsula to rejoin R319 near the bridge.
Bus 450 follows the coast from Louisburgh via Westport (which has trains from Dublin Heuston), Newport and Mulranny, then across Achill Island via Bunacurry, Dooninver (for Inishbiggle), Doogort, Slievemore (for deserted village), Keel and 1 Dooagh outside Lourdie's Pub. It runs M-Sa every 2-3 hours, with only three on Sunday.
A ferry crosses the sound to Inishbiggle, from both Achill Island and the mainland. It's a route to Inishbiggle not a practical way of reaching Achill.
Get around edit
It's a sparse bus service so you need your own wheels. The terrain is low-lying and the distances not great so a bike will do nicely. Bike hire is available at the bridge from Clew Bay Bike Hire and Westport Bike Hire, and in Dooagh from Achill Bikes.
Don't ride the ghostly railway! - ooo you'll never be seen alive again. The 17th century Mayo prophet Brian Rua U'Cearbhain foresaw that "carriages on wheels with smoke and fire will come to Achill and the first and last carriages will carry dead bodies" - and twas so. In 1894 the Westport-Newport railway was extended to Achill Sound, the track now forming the Greenway. Its first run brought home the 32 victims of the Clew Bay drowning disaster. At Westport, young men of the island were transferring first by currachs to low-sided sailing Hookers, then to the steamer that would take them to Scotland for seasonal work picking potatoes; the first Hooker was overcrowded and capsized. And in 1937, it was almost the last run before the railway closed that returned the bodies of ten Achill men from Kirkintilloch in Scotland: they were picking potatoes but died in a fire at their bothy accommodation. And on dark windy nights on the island, you often hear a shrilling noise . . . nah, just a burglar alarm going off.
- 1 Michael Davitt Bridge is how you cross onto the island. It's a swing bridge to let boats pass, first opened in 1887 and named for the founder of the National Land League. Modern road traffic and salt corrosion have worn out two bridges so the present structure from 2009 is the third. Achill Sound village is mostly on the island side, with the mainland side called Polranny. Nice views up and down the Sound, use the car parks either side.
- Saula (Sáile) is the peninsula and settlement north of Achill Sound village. It's low-lying heathland.
- 2 Kildavnet (Cill Damhnait) is a straggling village near the island's south tip. Kildavnet Tower is a sturdy 15th century turret; you can't go in. It's billed as "Grace O'Malley's Castle" which is accurate enough, since in Elizabethan times she owned the county. 500 m north past the coastguard station, Old St Dympna's Church is a medieval ruin. From the top end of the graveyard (where many famine victims lie), you may spot the abandoned village of Ailt. Kildavnet means "small church of St Dympna", herself 7th century and presumably teensy-weensy even before her father beheaded her for refusing to be his incestuous bride, tis said.
- 3 Achillbeg - "Little Achill" - is the island off the south tip, uninhabited since 1965. There's a lighthouse, walking trails and sea cliffs. Boats may visit from Cloughmore near Kildavnet but there's no ferry.
- 4 Bunacurry (Bun an Churraigh) is a small village with a heritage centre, a distillery (see Drink) and the tumbledown remains of a Franciscan friary established in 1852. This engaged in many aspects of social welfare but of all the rousing campaigns of the Church Militant and Triumphant on the island in that era, none were as spirited as the battle between the friary and the rival Protestant Mission at nearby Doogort.
- 5 Slievemore Deserted Village is a settlement of 80 derelict single-room cottages, with their vegetable patches, fields and potato plots. Its residents left when famine struck in 1845, mostly moving to Dooagh to take up fishing. However until the 1940s it was still used as a "booley village": summer huts for herdsmen, when the cattle were moved up from the lowlands. In Irish bó means "cow", and "booley" features in many place names, showing that this was a common form of transhumance. The site is free to enter, park by the modern graveyard and walk up the track.
- A megalithic tomb lies on the hillside 1 km east of the deserted village.
- 6 Annagh on the north coast can only be reached by hiking over the hills or by boat. There's a wild attractive valley, a freshwater lough backed up behind a glacial moraine, and an excellent beach. Just west are the remains of another "booley village".
- 7 Keem Bay is the attractive cove and beach at the end of R319, with Croaghaun rearing up behind. In the 1950s / 60s it was a base for catching basking sharks: in a strange juxtaposition, they launched frail open currachs that Saint Patrick would have recognised to hunt the sharks for liver oil, a lubricant for the aerospace industry - think Vickers VC10s, Telstar and Concorde. A walking trail heads up the valley and west for 1.5 km to the tip of the island at Achill Head. The sea cliffs on the north side are spectacular, with a tumult of sea birds.
- 8 Doogort is the only settlement on the north coast, with good beaches and accommodation. East is an area of woodland and little lakes embellished into a twee "Faerie Trail". Valley House (now a pub) has a shocking history, echoed in fiction such as Playboy of the Western World: in 1894 the landowner fell out with her bailiff and evicted him. He attacked her, set fire to the house and left her for dead. She survived with terrible burns, he fled to the US and never faced trial, while the house was re-built in 1902. The writers Heinrich Böll and Graham Greene often holidayed in Doogort.
- 9 Dooninver (Dún Ibhir, Ivor's Fort) has a good beach and views north. The Inishbiggle ferry sails from here: the channel is only 90 m but has fierce currents. There was a grand scheme to build a cable-car to the island, which never happened so you'll have to visit Dursey Island in County Cork for that experience.
- 10 Inishbiggle is a small farmland island in the sound east of Achill Island. No sights or amenities, you just day-trip for the relaxed remote atmosphere. In summer a foot-passenger ferry sails from Achill Island and from Gubnadoogha near Ballycroy on the mainland, 2021 timetable is TBA.
- Beaches: lots, those facing west are exposed and good for water activities.
- Surf: Achill Surf School are in Keel. They organise other activities such as kayaking.
- Hill-walking: Slievemore (671 m) can be climbed from above the deserted village, but is usually approached from the east along the ridge from Doogort.
- - Croaghaun is accessed from Keem Bay. The summit is at 688 m but most visitors veer west onto the southwest top of 664 m. To the northeast, the land falls away in dramatic sea cliffs.
- - Minaun is the ridge east of Keel Bay rising to 466 m. Ascend from Keel Bay, or in wet weather you might prefer the longer but firmer lane from the southeast.
- Golf: Achill Island Golf Club on R319 east of Keel is nine holes. Twice around is 5446 m, par 70, visitor fee €20.
- Great Western Greenway is a cycling and walking route, 42 km from Westport to Newport, Mulranny and the bridge to Achill Island. It's off-road, along the trackbed of the old Great Western Railway.
- Do your main shopping in advance at Westport or Castlebar, and fill the tank before heading down these lonely roads.
- Sweeney's SuperValu in Achill Sound is open M-Sa 08:00-20:00, Su 09:00-18:00.
- Barretts in Keel is open M-Sa 09:00-19:00, Su 09:00-14:00.
- Achill Sound has Hot Spot Takeaway for pizza and similar, daily 16:00-23:30.
- Bunacurry has The Diner for fast food, F-Su 16:00-21:00.
- Chalet Seafood, Keel, ☏ . Good seafood restaurant.
- Keel also has Islander Takeaway (daily 17:30-22:00), and Dooagh has Gieltys (daily 10:00-22:00).
- Doogort has Masterson's (daily to 23:30) and Valley House which also has a hostel dorm.
- Achill Sound has McLoughlin's Bar, open daily 11:00-00:30. Saula 4 km up the road has Ted's Bar, daily 11:00-23:30.
- Lynott's is a pub along the road between Saula and Bunacurry, almost hidden behind a building supplies yard.
- Irish American Whiskeys are based in Bunacurry. Distillery tours are €15.
- Dooagh pubs include The Cross Bar, Amethyst Bar (daily 10:00-00:30), Annexe Inn (daily 12:00-00:00) and Lourdie's (daily 14:00-23:30).
- Achill Island Hotel, Achill Sound F28 EA31, ☏ . Not quite on the island, it's at the mainland end of the bridge. Comfy hotel, does good food, no dogs.
- Achill Sound just beyond the bridge has Achill Sound Hotel, Hy Breasal and Murrayville B&B.
- Dooega on the southwest coast has Lavelle's.
- Bunacurry mid-island has Achill Lodge.
- Keel and Dooagh near the end of the cross-island road is the main strip of accommodation. This includes Achill Cliff House, Ferndale, Roskeel House, Achill Isle House, Atlantic Breeze, Achill West Coast House, Teach Cruach and Achill Head Hotel.
- Keel Sandybanks[dead link] is a clean well-run campsite and caravan park near the beach and golf course, dog-friendly, open April-Sept.
- Doogort has Seal Caves camping and caravan park (open Jun-Sept, tent €5, tourer pitch €30) and Strand Hotel.
As of Feb 2021, the island has a mobile signal from Three, but next-to-no signal from Eir or Vodafone. 4G has reached the adjacent mainland but not the island.
Go next edit
- The road east rejoins N59 at Mulranny. Continue east for Newport and Westport.
- Turn north at Mulranny to follow the coast, eventually to Killala and Ballina.