Posts Tagged With: Achill Island

Will you meet me on Clare Island?

The Saw Doctors exploded into my life in 1991, when I first heard the album If This is Rock and Roll I Want my Old Job Back.  I eagerly awaited each new album through the 90s.  As someone mad about Ireland their songs helped to define my view of the country and in particular its western seaboard.  Their ability to paint simple word pictures and tell stories of daily life in Mayo and Galway resonated with me.  I saw them once in concert in Adelaide and they were as good as I had hoped.  Anyway, ever since I heard their song about Clare Island, I’ve wanted to go there.

Will you meet me on Clare island,
Summer stars are in the sky.
Get the ferry out from Roonagh,
And wave all our cares goodbye.

Let’s put aside for the moment that in my ignorance, at that time, I thought Clare Island was in Co Clare and had no idea for that matter where their home of Tuam was or what N17 meant.   Don’t know why I mentioned that.  Anyway, finally at the end of July 2019, I got my chance to visit the island which I had, by this time, worked out was off the coast of Mayo.  Turns out that I didn’t have to go to Roonagh, as the song said, as once a week there is a ferry service from Achill Island.

I discovered this when I was on Achill for the wonderful Scoil Achill which I try to get to every year.  “Booking essential” the brochure said. But when I rang the number y’r man said “just turn up”.  So turn up I did in the misty rain with a crowd of other day trippers that soon filled the boat.  I was lucky to get on.  Many were first timers like me but there were also Achill islanders such as Orla, travelling accross for a break with friends and family.  I like that; islanders taking a break on a nearby island.

The boat leaves from the Cloughmore Small Pier (I guess there’s a Cloughmore Big Pier) near to the Kildavnet graveyard and church and Grace O Malleys Castle.  I found the graveyard at Kildavnet a moving place with its many reminders of famine times and I will post on it separately as I had spent time there the previous day.  The Castle was one of a number of Grace O Malley’s haunts. Grace also known as Grainne Ni Mhaille, was a giant figure in these parts, a pirate queen, who ruled the seas of Clew Bay.  We would see another one of her castles on Clare Island.    This day the castle looked inimidating on its point jutting into the sea and as we sailed off, we watched it  become rapidly engulfed in the mist and the driving rain.

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Kildownet Castle, Achill Island.  Built by Grainne Ni Mhail (Grace O’Malley)

Things did not improve on the island.  This was looking to be a rather disastrous day for sight seeing.  I stood with others huddled under a shelter wondering whether to wait or brave it.  But I snuck in a quick visit to the other Grace’s castle, which dominates the view of the Quay.  It has battlement parapets over the entrance so that objects could be dropped on attackers and two well preserved  bartizans,  These protruding structures allowed the defenders to fire down and around the corners at intruders.  These are roofed now as was the whole structure when it was converted to police barracks in 1826.

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Another Grace O’Malley castle greets you at the Pier at Clare Island.
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Everyone is welcome to Clare Island.
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Undaunted by the weather, these two ladies enjoyed a swim at this secluded cove.
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The main beach at Clare Island

I should talk a bit more about Grainne NI Mhaille.  She came to prominence about 1540 and in the latter half of the sixteenth century made Clare Island her stronghold.  Sea traffic to Ulster and Scotland or to Munster and  Spain had to pay a toll or have their cargo seized.  She terrorised the British but in 1593 went to London to petition Queen Elizabeth I  among other things, for a pardon.  Successful, she returned to Clare Island but apparently realised the futility of being nice to the British and continued her wicked ways until her death around 1603.

I took a punt and I set out walking to the west, trying to sneak in a few pictures between the raindrops.  Why do I always talk about the weather on these posts?  You have to love the scenery.  White cottages, as in Achill, dot the hills at a distance indistiguishable from the sheep.  Fields with furrows from potato farming are everywhere.     Letting a tour group of older people from Switzerland stride past me,  I chatted to a couple from Wexford who had been on the island for three days so they were a font of knowledge.

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Fields once used for potato growing
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Lord of the manor
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Visitors from Switzerland off to climb a mountain in the rain
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A Clare Island vista

They were headed to the Abbey so I walked with them.  They had visited the previous day and were told to collect the key from the local ‘store’ (which happened to be owned by an O’Malley).  It was closed.  No backstop there, so no visit.

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Heading to O’Malley’s store to pick up the key to the Abbey.  Better luck this time

They had better luck this day.  Key in hand we walked to the Abbey. It’s not really an abbey.  A tiny Cistercian monastery it was established around 1220AD.

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Clare Island Abbey with its Early Christian carved cross

The remarkable thing about this place, and something I wasn’t prepared for, is the vaulted ceiling of the chancery with its coloured mural paintings dating from before 1500AD.  They were in serious decay and being destroyed by damp in the 1990s when the building was roofed and the art was cleaned and conserved.  Interestingly while it is no Sistine Chapel, these paintings are as atmospheric and astonishing as those of Michelangelo, being painted interestingly about the same time.  While Michelangelo was depicting elaborate religious scenes here we have a mix of simple secular and sacred themes with everyday images of horses and riders, wrestlers, harpist, archers and hunters, along with fantastical animals such as dragons and serpents.  The whole is housed in a simple whitewashed building which ceased as a monastery in the 1600s.  I took the photos included here before I read the sign that said No Photography.  Apologies to whoever for that but I hope they stimulate my readers to go and have a look for yourselves.  Outside the church is a much older inscribed cross which seems to indicate this was an Early Christian site before it became a monastery

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The chancery at Clare Abbey.  The ceiling is covered in 15th century frescos.  On the left is the O’Malley tomb
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Clare Island Abbey.  Chancery  ceiling
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Grainne Ni Mhaille is said to be buried in Clare Abbey.  This plaque is next to her tomb.

It was brighter now and I decided to return by a different route.  Heading north with the island’s highest hill on my left Knockmore at 460m the views are marvellous out over Clew Bay.  On the other side of this hill are inaccessible cliffs that provide some of the best nesting sites for sea birds in the country.  I’ll climb it another time.

I continued walking and on my right I saw a walking trail which I surmised would take me back to the more settled part of the island.  The scenery was magical – agreen treeless bog covered island, following a green highway as if a green carpet had been laid out for me especially.  Not another soul to be seen and this the middle of summer.  Unfortunately I had to amble with purpose as my return ferry would leave at 4 pm but I could have stayed out there all day.

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Looking west over Knockmore
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Following the green carpet back to the boat
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View of the north coast of the Island showing salmon farms, which I was told produces among the best in Ireland.

By now there were sunny breaks and the island was now showing off as I arrived at the Community Centre (or should I say the C M Unity Centre – took me a while to work that one out), one of the two places on the island you can eat and settled into a late lunch of traditional home baked Irish lasagne.  For the 140 or so residents of the island this would be the CBD and the main meeting place.  I am reminded that this is still Ireland and that you make your own life in these remote outposts as I watch the lads (and that includes girls) ferociously go at each other on the football ground.  No doubt vying for a spot in the All Island Championship (not a spelling error! seriously there is a GAA sponsored competition that is held every year and includes nine islands:  Inisheer, Inishmore, Inishman, Bere, Whiddy,  Inishbofin, Aranmore, Inishturk and of course Clare Island. )

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The C M Unity Centre.  Stop for a Lasagne.
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A game of gaelic football in progress.  

Another quick walk along the coast back to the wharf completed my introduction to Clare Island, on the way discovering a secluded beach and some sea arches and getting a real sense of the beauty of the place now drenched in sun.

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The eastern coastline.  Walking back to the ferry
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A friendlier view of the Castle than when I first arrived.
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A hidden cove with sea arches. 

Back at the wharf I had another look at Grace’s casttle.  Now bathed in sunshine and really looking the part from its vantage point on the hill

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Grace’s castle and the beach and wharf at Clare Island
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Grace’s Castle in the sunshine

Somehow the one boat we had arrived on morphed into two and with limited space at the wharf the boats pulled in side by side three abreast and people and animals were shepherded across two boats to get aboard the third.

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All aboard!

It was a very different trip home.  Dry and under a dramatic cloudscape.  But still we managed to get wet.  The boat we were on was known as the ‘fast boat’ and those of us  in the back were drenched by waves created by the wake of the speeding craft.  This was no problem for Orla and her sister who had the time of their lives with what was surely the highlight of their island adventure.

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The trip home
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Orla and her sister enjoying the trip back to Achill. 
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Why do my visits to Ireland’s islands never fail to deliver an unforgettable experience?

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Here today, gone tomorrow? The reappearing beach at Dooagh, Achill.

Achill, Acaill, Ecaill, Eccuill, Akill, Akle, The Aukilles.

These are some of the names recorded historically for Achill Island in West Mayo. The original meaning of the name however is unknown.  This is perhaps fitting as the Island itself is somewhat enigmatic.  I am constantly surprised, as I was on my most recent visit in July 2017.

Dooagh is one of a number of pretty villages on the island.  It has variously prospered and faded over recent centuries.  It became a hub when it received villagers who abandoned their homes in Slievemore during the mid 19th century.   The village is nestled on the Atlantic shore and its wellbeing has always been connected with the sea.  Fishing, seaweed and the hotels and guest houses that lined its sandy beach.  Then in 1984 the sand disappeared.  A wild storm stripped it away to the bare rock.  The decades passed and Dooagh had resigned itself to its beach’s fate until in April 2017 the sand returned.

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The world went just a little mad, but this is a  perfectly natural event and has apparently occurred many times before.  John O’Shea, who has lived in a house on the beach for 46 years explained “When the wind is up north the sand builds up, when the wind’s sou’ west the sand goes out.”  It happens with Keel, Dooagh and Keem Bay, he said, and it happens regularly.  But this time seems to be different. The story has gone global.   John has had phone calls from Texas, Netherlands, New Zealand asking what’s going on.  A group of Chinese came – they didn’t want to see the Cliffs of Moher they wanted to see the New Beach!  Irish Times reported it and since then the story has spread.  Al Jaziera, The Times and more recently the Guardian did a six page spread.

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A particularly high tide and favourable marine conditions along with the northerly winds has brought back the sand and boulders that had been waiting below the low tide mark.  The world has taken notice and the tourists have come.

Beaches are a dynamic environment.  Man’s desire to live close to the beach creates conflicts that are often resolved by serious intervention in the natural process.  Huge quantities of rock are sometimes dumped to protect buildings or infrastructure and prevent erosion of the land and sometimes sand is ‘shifted’ from elsewhere to maintain  a ‘beach’.

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What has happened in Dooagh however shows that if we just leave things alone, Nature will find a way to restore equilibrium.  Beaches disappear.  And they come back.  We should celebrate with the people of Achill the return of  its sixth beach and hope that it lasts a long time.  But if it doesn’t last and the tides and winds sweep it away, we should celebrate that too.  These natural rhythms are on a planetary time scale and rarely on a human one.

Please take note Mr Trump.

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Categories: My Journey, Real Ireland, Wild Ireland | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Life is a beach. Keel is a beach.

My camera and I spent a few hours on the strand at Keel on Achill Island in Co.  Mayo.  I thought I would share some of those moments with my blog readers,

Life is a beach
Keel is a beach
Keel is Life
Keel is sand, sun, grass, clouds and mountains
Keel is hitting a ball
Keel is walking or running
Keel is reading and thinking
Keel is wheels
Keel is long shadows
Keel is a dune of cobbles
Keel is lost in clouds
Keel is reflections
Keel is people
Keel is light

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Keel is sand sun grass cloud and mountains

 

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Keel is hitting a ball

 

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Keel is walking

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Keel is running

 

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Keel is reading

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Keel is wheels I

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Keel is wheels II

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Keel is long shadows I

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Keel is long shadows II

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Keel is a dune of cobbles

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Keel is lost in clouds I

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keel is lost in clouds II

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Keel is reflections

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Keel is people

 

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Keel is light

 

 

 

Categories: My Journey, Real Ireland, Wild Ireland | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Achill Island – a story of butterfly collections, Jehova’s Witnesses and old postcards.

During late July I spent a week on Achill Island in the west of Co Mayo. My reason for being there of course was music, a Summer School called Scoil Achla. This was my third time and I have spoken at length about it in my previous blogs. Indeed raved about it, so I won’t repeat that here. Just type Achill into the search box!  This time though I didn’t attend classes and to say I needed a break after the summer touring would be putting it too mildly. This was the perfect place to spend time away from the music but to have it on tap at the same time. At least that was my intention.

After my previous visits I thought I knew Achill. But what I discovered here was another Achill, not the one I had written about before. Oh that was all here too, the wonderful music and the undeniable beauty of this place as a Summer holiday destination.  So let’s get that over with.  Here are some shots that showcase Achill Island.  Hopefully you will hop onto the internet, book your accommodation and plan your trip as soon as possible.  But before you do read on……

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This time I got to know the people.  I met some genuine Achill characters, people that shape the place now and reflect where it has come from.  In particular there was John O’Shea, quintessentially Ireland and quintessentially Achill. A more delightful person you will struggle to meet. He lives in the appropriately named “Beach House” and he welcomes you to his house with his whole being. Never short of a quip, or a quick riposte, or a yarn he would entertain and educate for hours given the chance. I was introduced by a friend and we connected straight away. He has a passionate interest in the history of Achill and collects photos, postcards, books and ephemera relating to this. This parallels my own interest in the early history of the Goldfields of Western Australia as well as our similar collecting interests.

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So I spent quite a bit of time in his home as he generously allowed me to view his collections and we swapped stories.  He talked of the original settlement and the sale of the Island to the Rev Nangle and the establishment of the first village. Paintings by Alexander Williams and postcards dating  from 1903 to the First World War speak eloquently of an Achill which though much has disappeared is readily identifiable today. IG3C4770IG3C4778

One story that stuck with me was of a cruel landlord. Many of his tenants were killed in a tragic accident that took 25 lives. Because these families had lost their breadwinners and could not pay the rent they were evicted. This was 1847! in the height of the famine. He showed me a wooden bowl and a spoon made of horn, from this time, used to eat soup. This puts stories like this into harsh reality.IG3C6257

John is a truly charming man with a great line of patter and is quite one with the ladies. He is legendary for inviting visitors to the island to view his ‘butterfly collection’.  So for his 77th birthday his many friends on the island got together and created a butterfly collection for him. Each butterfly is cleverly designed to tell a story and is an individual work of art and he now proudly displays his ‘real’ butterfly collection.IG3C4755IG3C4744

He is also a man of spirit, a spirit I suspect comes from a harsh life in a remote place. He single handedly appealed a decision of his home insurers following their refusal to pay for storm damage and has taken it all the way to the High Court where he has tasted victory against the whole legal system railed against him. What we would call an Aussie Battler.

A lasting memory for me was of how he handled a pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses at his front door. They arrived moments after me so I was standing in the foyer listening. There was a father and his daughter. Two other daughters in the car if they needed the heavy artilery. They said they were from Germany but initially didn’t say what they wanted. The man’s first question to John was whether he had a God. A man of faith, John answered he did. “Does your God have a name?” John was well aware where they were headed and he dodged around the answer, quoting passages from the Bible, which completely threw the evangelist’s well rehearsed patter. The man was searching for passages to respond with on his tablet (that’s the android version not one of stone!) but was not able to recover. At the same time he charmed the daughter with handshakes and blessings and she could do nothing but smile. He had them on the ropes now as he asked whether they were Jehovah’s Witnesses knowing full well they were. When they affirmed, “Yes”, he said, “I have read the Watchtower and I think you have a different view of God to me”.  As the man tried to fight back then came the knock-out punch. “I’m so sorry I don’t have time to talk with you, my Australian cousin is here”.  I bet they don’t meet many like that.

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There were so many highlights of my time on Achill. Here are a few that randomly jumped into my brain

  • Having a sean nós dancing lesson in one of the local pubs, from Pauline, a local artist and then being joined by some random punters for an impromptu performance.

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  • Fired up by this I then did two proper sean nós dance workshops offered by the School. Thanks Pauline for dragging me along.

  • And then a bit of a dance on Keel Beach.IG3C6400
  • The Red Fox Gallery and Press and Frances and Antic-Ham who run it. Two people in such obvious harmony and in harmony with their special place over looking Doogart. Francis collects polaroid cameras and they produce the most stunning Polaroid photography and art in book form.IG3C5493

  • A walk on Keem Beach, one of the most beautiful in IrelandIG3C4870IG3C4910aIG3C5206

  • The constant mist that hangs over the hills; lifts like a dancer lifting her skirt and just as quickly letting it fall.  And occasionally she puts on a spectacular show in the evening light.  IG3C4617IG3C5555IG3C5469IG3C6091IG3C5549IG3C6301IG3C5313

  • Impromptu sessions in quiet pubs.

  • Noisy sessions in packed pubsIG3C5411IG3C5410IG3C5414IG3C5349

  • A lovely vegetarian meal with my new friends at Pauline’s house with views over Keel and then songs and tunesIG3C6282IG3C629413918672_10153802382657634_1999679985_o

  • Hot soup in the Beehive CaféIG3C6106

  • the labyrinth at the end of Keel beach. Mirroring the twists and turns of life and our endeavours to reach the centre.  IG3C6442IG3C6430

  • The evening light turning the cliffs yellow and red and reflecting on the shallow strand.IG3C6321IG3C5908IG3C5920IG3C5930IG3C5947

  • Fish and chips for my birthday at Geilty’s Pub. The best I have tasted in Ireland.  And at the same meal, my introduction to banoffee!

  • Nutella and banana pancakes sold from a caravan at the camping ground at Keel. No pictures sorry.  Too busy scoffing them down.
  • The sound of Paul Dooley’s Brian Boru harp,  Absolutely entrancing to all ages….IG3C5685a

  • Brendan Begley singingIG3C5579

  • Sessions in the Wave Crest Hotel, which only opens for the Scoil Acla week.IG3C5595

  • The Richview Hostel and the many international visitors who inhabited it

  • A swim in Keel Beach with Bridge and Siofra. Everyone else was wearing wetsuits! Still can’t believe I did that.13879371_1016935231760452_1295093538081463806_n

  • And I was still talking to Bridge afterwards so it was pizza with them at Pure Magic CafeIG3C5545

  • A visit to the workshop of Johnny Butler who took the time to show me how Uilleann pipes were made. A true craftsman.

  • A couple of hours at the Inishbiggle Festival including tunes in the tent and skipping rope.

Actually there’s a whole lot more but that gives you the gist.  I have said enough.  If you have lasted this long then you deserve a medal.  Achill is a special place and a special time.

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Categories: Festivals, Real Ireland, Stories, Trad Irish Music | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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