SPECTACULAR Ashleam Bay with Clare Island in the background. Pic: Edwin McGreal
A break in the weather made a maiden trip to Achill all the more enjoyable
They say the weather makes all the difference in this country, and they’re not wrong.
This reporter certainly found that out on the August Bank Holiday Monday!
After many years of bluffing, scheming and talking about visiting Achill Island, yours truly finally took the plunge on a rare day off.
Setting off with the mother in our car at 9am, the weather could be described as ‘middlin’’.
Having returned from an early morning run in dry clothes, I surmise that the grey clouds above would be merciful.
Shortly before setting off, the rain began to trickle, prompting us to consider the wisdom of the voyage.
To the soundtrack of clips from The Pat Kenny Show, we head west with the wipers on.
With yours truly at the wheel, conversations about what we had gotten ourselves in for were interspersed with spontaneous discussions arising from the dulcet tones of the bauld Pat Kenny.
Having frequented the town for swimming lessons and work purposes on many occasions over the years, we elect to skip Westport.
Onwards to Newport we went, a town lesser known but equally as picturesque … on a fine day.
Had indoor dining still been off the menu, we may have turned the Skoda around and headed for home at that point.
We parked up and briskly retreated from the elements into a Walsh’s Bridge Inn for a warm and hearty breakfast at 10am. It’s a quiet Monday morning, so we are well socially distanced as we enjoy the simple pleasure of dining indoors in an Irish pub.
Stomachs full, we head further west, and by the time we reached Mulranny, Clew Bay was almost obscured by a squally blanket of rain.
With the co-pilot now in the driving seat, I use my time in the passenger seat to observe the surroundings.
Half the time, I’m wondering what this corner of Clew Bay actually looks like when not being buffeted by wind and rain. Indeed, the scenery is very far removed from the promotional material for the Wild Atlantic Way.
For certain though, the further west you travel, the wilder, more rugged and barren the landscape becomes.
We are familiar enough with the place to know that we had reached our destination at the bridge at Achill Sound, the most populous and well-serviced settlement on the island.
With no particular plan, and the co-pilot not too fussed, we decide to head for the Deserted Village, where my feet touch Achill soil for the first time.
Parking the car at a nearby graveyard, the co-pilot doesn’t fancy going out in the wet, so I headed off on a jaunt up the side of Slievemore.Approaching the ghostly mountainside hamlet, I turn around and take my first opportunity to properly survey the landscape.
Even coming from rural Ireland, this part of the country is as wild as I ever laid eyes upon.
A steady rain cascading from the grey heavens down upon the lonely bóithrín creates a scene bearing more resemblance to Black ’47 than The Quiet Man!
Indeed, I half-fantasise that I might encounter Feeney – the vengeful, psychotic protagonist from ‘Black 47’ – venturing down the roadside on horseback thirsting for English blood. Instead, I have only a few mountain sheep for company – there’s plenty of them on Achill… believe me.
Surveying the remains over 80 pitiful hovels and homesteads, this reporter can’t but reflect on the hardship endured by the people who lived here long before Covid.
What they had to suffer just to keep the wolf from the door stands as a testament to the generations that went before us, not just in Achill, but all over County Mayo.
Keem Bay and the Atlantic Drive
With the day still dull, grey and wet we decide to check out Keem Bay.
Upon the way, we surmise that Achill sheep are a truly a law unto themselves. If you ever decide to visit, bear in mind that they seem to freely roam the countryside without rarely as much as a fence to stop them venturing out onto the road.
Approaching Keem Bay, the rain abates to allow us to stop for photos of the Atlantic’s great blue waters.
A bit further on up the hill, Keem Bay unveils itself to us in all its glory.
Fortunate enough to be in the passenger seat, I am bordering on awestruck at this miracle of nature carved from the hand of God.
Once a popular spot for shark-fishing, and lately for tourists and campers, parking is easily enough got. The place is busy but far from chock-o-block.
With another few snaps taken, we head back to the car, by which time the day has cleared and the sun has emerged.
For feeding time, we stop over at Gielty’s Bar, only a few minutes down the road.
We elect for outdoor dining this time and spend a cosy hour treating ourselves to two handsome, delicious plates of pub grub.
Stuffed to the gills, we set off on the next leg of our journey, taking in a brief stop at Keel beach.
On the recommendation of Achill resident Edwin McGreal of this parish, we venture back to Achill Sound along the southern coast via the magnificent Atlantic Drive.
Then, almost by sheer providence, the clouds part, and Achill unveils herself in all her glory.
Sitting on top of the hill Cuan Ashleam, we gaze in wonder at the majestic view below us. The sparkling, iridescent waters of the Atlantic, contrasted against the pale beach and the rocky, barren, hilly wilderness all around, we feel that we have landed in paradise.
Further down the road, I can’t resist stopping into Gráine Uaile’s castle in Kildownet. With the soundtrack of ‘The Pirate Queen’ musical reverberating in my head, I can’t help but wonder what daring escapades the bold Grace O’Malley plotted as she rested upon the soil beneath my feet.
Our day trip almost at an end, my co-pilot can’t help stopping in for a gawk at the controversial House of Prayer before we depart.
Crossing the bridge at Achill Sound as we head homeward, the great, beautiful Atlantic rock behind is now bathed in radiant evening sunshine.
Earlier that morning, we thought it a great pity that a cloudy day would deny us the opportunity to properly gaze upon Achill’s majestic, unspoilt scenery with our own eyes
But around midday, the heavens shone their golden rays down upon Achill, revealing the true beauty of Éire’s sacred soil.
The weather really does make all the difference.