Achill Island History & Culture

Achill Island has a long history of human settlement, with evidence showing habitation from 5,000 years ago. Megalithic tombs on the slopes of Slievemore mountain indicate the presence of late Stone Age man (Neolithic man). The remains of promontory forts at various locations on Achill’s shoreline indicate settlement during the Iron Age. The Atlantic Drive, on Achill’s south-facing coast, contains a number of promontory fort sites.

Christianity came to Ireland in the 5th century, and there is evidence of early Christian settlement on the slopes of Slievemore, close to the present graveyard. This area, which also includes the Deserted Village of Slievemore, is within walking distance of Achill Cliff House.

In the east of Achill, the ancient church at Kildavnet is named after St. Dymphna, a 7th century saint. The graveyard at this church contains memorials to two of Achill’s greatest tragedies, the Clew Bay Drowning of 1894 and the Kirkintilloch Fire in 1937. In the first incident, 32 young people from Achill, en-route to Scotland to earn money as potato-pickers, were drowned while transferring to their boat at Westport. Kirkintilloch is a village in Scotland. In 1937 a fire in a barn killed ten Achill potato pickers, mainly young people.

In the 19th century a Church of Ireland minister, the Reverend Edward Nangle, set up a mission in Dugort with a view to converting the people of Achill to the Protestant faith. The project ran for almost 50 years, and Nangle built schools, cottages, an orphanage, small hospital and the island’s first hotel (now the Slievemore). During the famine years (1847-51) the Colony, as it was known, offered soup to the starving islanders in return for converting to the Protestant faith. It was during this time that the village at Slievemore, on the southern slopes of Slievemore mountain, is thought to have been deserted. Presently this ‘deserted village’ consists of some 80 stone buildings, all without roofs, and offers a haunting reminder of times past on Achill.