Achill Island, Ireland: Destination Guide
By Berne Broudy
Off the coast of Ireland’s County Mayo, Achill Island is Ireland’s largest island. Just 20 feet from the mainland, it is 15 miles long by 12 miles wide.
If you are a lover of the sea and yearn to explore far from tour buses and crowds, Achill is the place for you.
Painters and writers find inspiration in the historic ruins, fields of wild heather, and sea cliffs of Achill, but there aren’t enough “attractions” for the mainstream tourist to spend more than a few hours on the island. The tourists on the island are mostly Irish nationals, who come for the beaches.
WHEN TO GO
Like the rest of Ireland, July and August are the busiest, and warmest months. But anytime between April and October, the weather is warm enough to enjoy Achill’s beauty. Winter brings peat fires by the hearth along with good Irish stew and comfort. A great winter hideaway.
GETTING THERE AND AROUND
Achill Island is joined to Ireland by a bridge at Achill Sound. To get to Achill from the Irish mainland walk, ride your bike, drive or take a public bus (schedule available from the tourist office) across the bridge.
A popular way to explore the island is by bike. Bikes can be rented from O’Malley’s Island Sports in Keel (Tel: 098-43125) or the Achill Sound Hotel on the mainland just before the bridge (Tel: 098-45245).
BEST MAJOR ATTRACTION
The major attraction of Achill Island is its natural beauty. Mountains tumble 2000 feet down to rugged cliffs plunging into the sea. Sandy beaches wind along pristine heathered moors, brilliant in late summer. There are walking paths throughout the mountains and cliffs.
On the northwest tip of the island, amazing views can be had from over the tall cliffs at Saddlehead. The seaside hamlet of Keel has a 3km beach with cathedral-like rock formations at the east end. Carrickdaunet Castle in Kildownet, which belonged to the pirate queen Grace O’Malley, is a worthwhile stop and can be seen on Atlantic Drive, the road that circumnavigates the island and is a popular driving tour.
BEST UNUSUAL ATTRACTION
Megalith tombs, holy wells, early Christian settlements and deserted villages can all be found on Achill Island. Climb Mt. Slievemore near Dugort to see ancient remains left by 19th century Catholic missionaries. On the way down, stop in Dugort to visit the cabin where Nobel Prize Winner Heinrich Böll wrote “Irish Diary” in the 1950s.
BEST ACTIVITY AND TOUR
Anglers travel to Achill annually between April and July for shark fishing (email Tony and Mary Burke at email@example.com for more information). Boats can be contracted on the Dugort beach for visits to the seal caves.
Cultural activities include traditional music classes offered by Scoil Acla in August. Scoil Acla also organizes drawing classes, a writer’s workshop and a set-dancing workshop. The Dooega Painting School (contact through firstname.lastname@example.org) offers weekend and weeklong classes.
- Sciol Acla
- The West Coast House is a charming B&B in Dooagh (Tel: 09843317)
- For views of the sea, try The Strand in Dugort, which is right on the beach (Tel: 098-43241).
- Another popular place to hang your hat is the Wild Haven Hostel, just over the bridge from the mainland on the Achill side (Tel: 098-45392).
Every Friday during the summer, you can buy homemade foods, homegrown produce and crafts and gifts to bring home at the Achill farmer’s market.
- In Keel, Boley Restaurant is a local favorite, and probably the best restaurant on the island (Tel: 098-43147).
- Just over the bridge in Achill Sound is An Bolg Lán, a café with good sandwiches and baked goods.McDowell’s Hotel (Tel: 098-43148) on the slopes of Slievemore and away from the sea has an excellent restaurant, and is the island’s best choice for visiting vegetarians
BEST LOCAL HAUNT
The Beehive in Dooagh, a coffee and crafts shop.
Local music can be found at summer festivals, traditional music sessions at McDowell’s Hotel (Tel: 098-43148), or the nightclub at the Achill Head Hotel in Dooagh. There is also local music at The Village Inn and The Mihuan in Dooagh.
Mid-July’s Annual Seafood Festival offers the opportunity to sample delectable seafood cuisine to the tune of traditional local music. (Tel: 098-433-17 for more information). During the first two weeks in August, the Achill School presents lectures, talks and music to promote Irish language and culture. Sailors will want to visit Achill Island in July for the Achill Yawl Sailing festival. For more information, email email@example.com
Knitted goods can be purchased at shops around the island, and at the farmer’s market. Craft shops include the Shell Craft Shop at Keel, the Chalet Craft Shop, The Beehive and Achill Island Pottery, also in Keel.
VISAS AND DOCUMENTS
To enter Ireland, US citizens need a passport. Only if you plan to stay more than three months do you need a special visa.
HEALTH AND SAFETY
No vaccinations are needed for travel to Achill. Just make sure to bring layers of clothing for the sometimes chilly, wet weather and sturdy shoes for hiking or walking.
Achill is also very safe. The usual precautions apply, however.
MONEY AND COMMUNICATIONS
Domestic and international calls can be made from pay phones though many people on the island use cell phones.
The currency in the Republic is the Irish pound, or punt. There is an ATM on the island and many places of business cash travelers’ checks.
There are several Achill Island websites, but the best information is available directly from the tourist office on Achill Island
The best website with information on Achill Island
Other websites include:
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