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.
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.
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’.
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.