SUMMER HOLIDAYS Two young girls on holidays in Achill in the 1960s wait their turn to fill their bucket with water.
Villagers on Achill Island ditch tap water for local spring
From her kitchen window in the tourist village of Keel on Achill Island, Patricia Joyce has noticed the reemergence of an old way of life not seen in the village for over 50 years.
“I look out from my own kitchen at any time of the day, and the amount of people coming and going is constant. It really does your heart good,” she told The Mayo News.
The Covid-19 crisis might have accelerated of the use of technology in our everyday lives, but in Keel, the ongoing water crisis of last summer has prompted locals to embrace an old way of life.
‘The spout’ in the middle of village was the main source of locals’ drinking water for generations. A half centenary or so after it was abandoned in favour of the public water supply, locals are back queueing to fill their bottles and containers with its water.
Patricia, who lives across the road from the spout, says that more and more people are now using it as their main source of drinking water. As well as providing flowing, clear and safe drinking water, Patricia says it has became a focal point for many in the community who were cut off by the social restraints of the coronavirus crisis.
“It is not so much about the quality of the water – which is excellent – it is the social side which is important. People can interact again, which they haven’t been able to do for the last year. When you go to the shop you can’t stop and chat like you used to, but here you can stand safely two metres apart and have a good chat about what is happening.
“I look out and I see people chatting and having the craic. There are people who come at the same time every day and know they will meet someone. It has brought the village together and it has certainly helped with the atmosphere in the village. This to me is the start of our village coming back,” she said enthusiastically.
Patricia’s neighbour, Sarah Lavelle concurs, saying that while water has always flowed from the spout, very few people in the village used it until last summer’s crisis.
“The water was always coming out but it was only a trickle; you would be waiting a long time to fill up a bucket. There would have been a few who would get water from it beforehand and you’d look at them like they had ten heads!
“Now it is the focal point of the day for some people. They go down to the shop for the paper and a loaf of bread and they stop here by the spout to fill up their bottle of water. It has become a meeting hub... you hear people saying ‘I heard it at the spout’ and ‘I met this one at the spout’….
“Water is a source of life and it has brought life back to Keel,” she said.
The water source for the spout is a spring located on the hill above the village, and was referenced in the 1832 Ordinance Survey Map. The water was piped to its current location by the main road and generations of Keel people would draw their water from it.
As it has become today, it was a meeting place for people to chat and gossip, and there are many stories of romance blossoming by the spout. Young children playing football in the village would quench their thirst by blocking the pipe with their hand until the build up of water would shoot out in a small hole in the pipe and up into their mouths.
As the village grew into the premier tourism village on the island, the spout was the main source of water for the hotels and guesthouses, with gallons drawn from it every day. Despite the huge demand for water in those times, water always flowed from the spout, and the business people never had to worry about having no water for their guests.
The development of the Achill Public Water Supply in the late ’60s and early ’70s meant that water was piped to the homes. Drawing water from the spout was sidelined in favour of progress. Over time, the pipe from the spring become neglected and the flow of water to the spout slowed to a trickle.
In 2017, a few locals led by the late Mattie Stafford carried out some repairs close to the spring, but it was not until a ‘do not consume’ notice was placed on the Achill water in August that people realised they had a precious resource on their doorstep.
“Many people do not realise it was there even though they have have passed it hundreds of times in the car,” Sarah explained. “There were tankers of water left in the village, but anyone who discovered the spout soon stopped using them. With this water you can drink it straight and not have to boil it beforehand.”
So how does it taste? “It is lovely and refreshing,” Sarah said. “There is no chemical aftertaste on it. It comes from deep underground, and it keeps cool for a long time afterwards. It is the same as buying a bottle of Evian or similar products … it’s mineral water. It is really refreshing, and it also makes a lovely cup of tea.”
With more and more people using the spout, Cllr Paul McNamara was able to get the water independently tested to confirm what the locals had known all along – it is perfectly safe to drink.
A new pipe has been installed to increase the flow of water, and the stone work around the spout has also been tidied up and painted. Patricia believes the work on the spout shows that the meitheal spirit is still alive in the village, and that the spout may be the catalyst the village needed to revive itself.
“The men pulled all together to get it going. Straight away there was a pipe got and a pump got and rods and a plumber. It has been painted and stones have been brought up from the beach to keep it nice and neat. Everyone came together to do their bit. It has certainly brought the village together and I certainly think this has given renewed hope that we can do other things in the future. It shows that the meitheal spirit is still alive and well in Keel.” The Achill treatment plant is currently undergoing an upgrade, and a boil notice has been in place since the start of February. Regardless of when the notice is lifted, both Patricia and Sarah are in agreement that the ritual of drawing water from spout is here to stay.
“You notice a huge difference in the taste. Even if the tap water is back to normal I won’t go back to it again. I don’t think many of the diehard spouters will either,” Sarah said, while Patricia added: “I think this lockdown has made us realised we don’t need a lot of things we thought we needed. I know you have to move on and can’t be living in the past, but this is something from the past which we are happy to live with.”
BACK IN VOGUE Damien Gallagher from Keel filling up bottles of water from the Keel spout last week.