Perched on the West Coast of Ireland at the edge of Europe, Achill Island must surely be one of the most ruggedly beautiful and scenic areas in the country. It is easy to see why the Island with its dramatic mix of sea, shore and mountain has captured the imagination of so many over the years.
It is said that on arrival on the island, the artist Paul Henry threw his return train ticket into the sea near Purteen Harbour. Over the years he spent on the island, Henry went on to produce some of his most famous paintings which featured Achill’s wild and dramatic landscape. Another frequent visitor to the island was English novelist Graham Greene who spent his time on Achill in a dilapidated and rundown house whilst using the island as an inspiration to write what is considered by many to be his best poetry.
Achill itself is a haven for walkers and outdoor enthusiasts alike. The island has the added advantage that most of its land is in common ownership meaning that it is freely and openly accessible. Achill has walks to suit all levels, from the haunting Deserted Village and Coffin Trail walks to the spectacular walk up Croaghaun Mountain to take in reputedly the highest sea cliffs in Europe as well as the highest corrie lake in Ireland which lies perched precariously at over one thousand feet above sea level. Each year, the island plays host to a popular walking festival.
The highest mountain on Achill Island is the aforementioned Croaghaun which sits neatly tucked away on the Western edge of the island. Seemingly with a constant covering of cloud, it really is a case of ‘Next Stop America’ from its summit! The most prominent mountain on the island however is the wonderfully shapely mass of Slievemore and it is this mountain that we visit next on our tour of Ireland’s Iconic Mountains.
Literally translating as ‘Big Mountain’, the impressive bulk of Slievemore dominates the very heart of Achill Island. Rising dramatically in the North of the Island, the mountain appears to stand guard over much of the surrounding landscape and it is an inescapable presence as you traverse Achill. Viewed from the lake at Keel, where the sheer bulk of the mountain can be observed, Slievemore is a massively towering presence. Viewed from the east, it takes on an altogether different facade, appearing as a magnificently shapely and elegant mountain rolling down to the breakers of the Atlantic Ocean. The classic view of the mountain is from the village of Dugort where it loyally stands guard over the ridiculously beautiful Silver Strand beach, one of two Blue Flag beaches within a few minutes’ walk of Slievemore. This mix of shapely mountain dropping down to sandy beach makes for one of the most striking and enduring images of Achill Island.
Achill Island is attached to the mainland by the Michael Davitt Bridge. The first bridge on this site was completed in 1887 but was replaced by another structure in 1949 to adequately provide for vehicles. A completely new replacement bridge was installed and opened for traffic in 2008. The island is a 4 hour drive from Dublin, 6 hours from Belfast and about 2.5 hours from Galway. The drive will take you through Mulranny, the gateway to the Corraun peninsula and Achill Island. The drive from Mulranny to Achill is a wonderfully scenic affair. Along the way, you will likely catch a glimpse of cyclists on the wonderful Great Western Greenway, a 42km off-road trail running from Westport to the island that follows the route of the former Achill extension of the Westport railway line which was closed in 1937.
The island itself is very easy to navigate. On crossing the bridge, simply follow the main road towards Keel and watch for a turn-off to the right for Dugort. There is ample car-parking available in the vicinity of the beautiful Silver Strand beach. See the Achill Tourism website for a map of the Island.