Road Less Traveled: Achill Island

by Janean Flowe

The residents of Ireland’s Achill Island know all too well the power of weather. Prior to 1984, the island off the northwest coast of Ireland boasted a beach in Dooagh, where according to The Irish Times, English novelist Graham Greene stayed at a cottage and actress Angela Lansbury visited as a child. In the winter of 1984, however, a storm robbed the Atlantic Ocean-facing beach of its sand, leaving only rocks in its wake. Remarkably in April 2017 over the course of about a week, a strong, persistent wind helped restore golden sand to the beach in its horseshoe-shaped bay.

“[Our island] is a very special place,” admits Sean Molloy, manager of Achill Tourism. “This landscape and its people have provided the inspiration for many writers and artists.” He cites Nobel Prize-winning German author Heinrich Boll and painters Paul Henry, Robert Henri and Camille Souter specifically.

Such creative types — and those who appreciate dramatic landscapes — largely have the storms, which regularly batter and reshape the topography, to thank. Not only have the winds and waves developed beaches, they also have formed corrie lakes. One of the most notable pools is a few feet above Annagh Beach, which Molloy calls Achill’s “greatest secret.” No road leads to this beach, located on the island’s northern edge. Instead, a 1.5- to two-hour hike rewards trekkers with solitude and magnificent views. Visitors with less time often head to the island’s most famous beach, at Keem Bay, accessed via a cliff-top road. A spin along the Atlantic Drive presents more spectacular views of the ocean crashing onto the rocky coast.

The deserted village at the foot of Slievemore mountain reflects another aspect of this unique island. Here, the ruins of nearly 90 stone homes remain, vestiges of life in 19th-century Ireland before the Great Famine.

Today, the island hosts two traditional cottage industries: salt harvesting and whiskey distilling. Achill Island Sea Salt has a visitor center and offers tours of its Bunnacurry factory. Whiskey producer IrishAmerican Trading Company also plans to open a visitor center on Achill in 2019.
         — Amity Moore Joyce

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