The beautiful Achill Island is the largest island off the coast of Ireland and shouldn’t be missed on your trip to Ireland.
A jewel in the crown of County Mayo, the island is home to dramatic cliffs, soaring mountains, remote lakes and secluded beaches, and connected to the mainland by the Michael Davitt bridge, some solace for those fearing a boat trip on the Atlantic.
With five blue flag beaches, there are plenty of sea activities to engage in around the coast carved out by the lashings of wind and rain from the Atlantic.
With the earliest signs of life on the island dating as far back as 3,000 BC, the remnants of deserted villages dotted around the island are a reminder of times passed, in particular, the remains of 100 traditional stone cottages located at Slievemore. Although it is believed that the village may have been occupied throughout several periods of history, research work on the field system surrounding the cottages suggests that it dates to at least the Anglo-Norman period (12th century).
Achill has existed under the control of various kingdoms and ruling families through the centuries, the most famous of which probably being the O’Malley family, whose daughter Grace O’Malley, or Gráinne Mhaol, was once known as the Pirate Queen of Ireland. Believed to have been born on Clare Island around 1530, her father was the chieftain of the barony of Murrisk. She became a fearless leader and controlled the waters of the western seaboard, imposing taxes and levies on all ships passing through this territory. It is even speculated she met with Queen Elizabeth I in 1593. Her family’s 15th-century tower house Kildamhnait Castle can still be visited on Achill.
As well as pirate Queens, off the shores of Achill is one of the speculated locations of the lost city of Atlantis. The Bills are desolated rocks nine miles from the island, standing one hundred and twenty-four feet above sea level. Some suggest that the writings of Greek writer Plato refer to an area of land just off Achill before it fell into the sea.
"At that time the Atlantic ocean was navigable and there was an island greater than Libya and Asia together,” he writes.
“On this island a very rich war-race lived; but prodigious earthquakes and deluges took place and brought with them desolation in the space of one night, so all this people were merged under the earth, and Atlantis Island itself being absorbed in the sea entirely disappeared."
Coming back to the present day, the villages currently occupied on Achill are full of charming cafes and restaurants as well as cosy pubs. Be ready to run into roaring fires, thatched roofs, great pints and lively music when the Atlantic rains unleash themselves.
With seafood, walking, music and sailing boat festivals taking place throughout the year, even in the depths of winter on New Year’s Eve you can find a crowd gathering in Achill to celebrate. As one of the most westerly points in Europe, the island provides a spectacular location to view the last sundown of the year.
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