Baile na hAilte: hard to pronounce, easy to love
The village of Baile na hAilte has been virtually untouched since it was inhabited. Baile na hAilte sits on the top of a hill overlooking the waters of Achill Sound, and tells a lot about life in the 19th century - from the patterns in the landscape left by old farming techniques to the relationships between landlords and tenants that are told by the architecture.
Downhill from the site is the Kildownet Cemetery and Church and the Tower of Kildownet - all named after 7th century Saint Dympna who built a church on that land. Whereas her church is gone, there is a small well near the bay that is said to be from her time and the ruins of a church built in the 19th century still stand. The roofless church contains a small altar and modern plaques depicting the stations of the cross. Like a lot of archaeological sites in Ireland, this church is a real example of how relics from the past are preserved through continual use. People still come to meditate and pray to the stations of the cross inside the church.
The church is surrounded by a cemetery which contains tombstones from centuries ago all the way to the modern era. In fact, two of Achill's most famous tragedies are eulogized there. It was foretold that if the railroad were to come to Achill, the first and last train to come to and from the island would carry in corpses. In fact the first train carried bodies home from a terrible fire that claimed the lives of farmers working on the mainland during the famine, and the last train brought the bodies of drowning victims from a boating accident at Clew Bay. Both mass graves are located in the church's graveyard. There are also some famine graves, though those are mostly unmarked.
The Kildownet Tower that stands next to the church was probably built in 1429 by the clan of Grace O'Malley. The tower is a striking contrast to the other structures on the coastline. The tower meets the sea directly on one side, and if you're brave you can shimmy out on the ledge and look at the water below.
Sheep and Wellies: Irish Archaeology
The Deserted Village atop Slievemore Mountain is one of Ireland's most famous archaeological sites. It's a bit of a hike over some uneven ground (including a small creek), but it’s worth it. The village emptied rather quickly during the famine, and the cottages that are left are an eerie reminder of the life that was once there. There are about eighty to one hundred stone cottage ruins - some of which still have all four walls and livestock hitches inside. Be careful where you walk, though, between the bog (pack Wellies), the sheep (they're friendly), and the pits created by archaeological students, it can be kind of hazardous to walk about. Also, the students can be pretty protective (with some rights) of the site. Don't disturb their work, and to be a decent person, don't take anything.
Also, I'd take a friend and a cell phone. There is a modern graveyard next to it, but other than that, you're on your own.
Surf's Up: Keem Beach
When you think of Ireland, you might not think of sandy beaches. Well, meet Keem Beach. It's the most Western point of the Achill Island, the largest island off the coast of Ireland (that's not saying much). In the 1830's and 40's, the Achill Mission called Keem Beach its home. A Protestant mission, it was unique because it was the first mission to use the Irish language instead of English. During the Great Famine, the mission declined as tensions between Catholics and Protestants rose. By the 1880s, financial troubles and anti-Protestant sentiments caused the mission to close completely. On the chillingly steep cliffs that lead down to the bay, there are still some ruins of clergy structures.
Besides being home to a lot of Protestant ghosts, the chilly waters are sometimes visited by the Basking Shark. The Basking Shark is huge - the world's second largest fish. And that fish has one huge liver. About twenty-five percent of the fish is liver. Unfortunately for the Basking Shark, people liked the oil in its liver and it was hunted greatly. They are protected now, though, as is all the wildlife on or around the beach. Keem is one of Achill's Blue Flag beaches, which means it has to maintain very strict ecological standards. There are heavy penalties for littering and the like here.
The thing I liked best about Keem Beach was the rock formations near the coast. Slippery, but fun to climb on, there is some interesting wildlife in between the rocks.
I saw some totally crazy people swimming, but I stayed on the rocks in my sweater and fuzzy cap.
Watch A Sunset over Keel Lough
Apart from Minaun Heights and the Northern Coastline, Keel Lough is probably the best spot for watching the sun set. In addition to its scenic value, Keel Lough provides some good fishing. It's not very deep which makes it also a good place for learning wind surfing and kayaking. There are several places renting out the relevant equipment and offering courses.Related to:
- Water Sports
Kildavnet Graveyard is an atmospheric spot on the Atlantic drive close to Kildavnet Tower. The cemetery has been used since mediaeval times, and given the appropriate light conditions, there definitely is something transcendental about the place.
Keem Bay, Different Perspective
Given the terrific beauty of this place, I hope you'll forgive me for repeating myself on recommending Keem Strand. This picture emphasizes the cove-like nature of Keem Bay. And the sheep and the bleak boggy slope should provide some evidence it's Ireland and not the Carribean! :-)Related to:
Trawmore is one of Achill's five Blue Flag beaches and also the Island's largest one (Trà Mhor -- Irish Gaelic for "big strand"). Its southerly direction and shallow turqoise waters should increase your chances on bearable water temperatures, but except for very rare long lasting high pressure weather conditions, the water will hardly top the 16 °C mark. Nevertheless, this is a beautiful and easily accessible place, also for wheelchair users (accessible loo on camping ground across the driveway)
Access from Keel village, next to the camping ground. Lifeguard surveillance in summer months. The eastern parts of the bay beneath Minaun are unsafe for bathing due to rip currents.Related to:
In spite of the ongoing, not always sensitive development, Keel still offers some atmospheric corners, especially its lower part between the main road and the beach. With the sun shining on the white cottages, it's possible to enjoy some almost Mediterranean impressions!Related to:
Take the Atlantic Drive
The Atlantic Drive is a signposted route leading you to Achill's best coastal scenery and many interesting places along the way.
The picture takes in the scenery across Clew Bay with Clare Island and the Mweelrea and Connemara Mountains in the background.Related to:
Drive up Minaun Heights
When the weather is fine, this is a drive not to be missed. The road starts in Cashel and after having passed some peat bog badlands, you must make a right hand turn up the hill (otherwise you'll end up in Dooega -- not a bad place to visit either :-) It is steep but good and with sufficient passing places.
There are excellent views in every direction ranging from the very best scenery of Acill Island to Blacksod Bay and the unspoilt Belmullet peninsula to parts of Clew Bay and the Connemara Mountains.
This is a good place for watching the sunset -- on your own or in romantic company. If you don't have somebody to keep you warm, bring a fleece sweater -- Minaun being quite an exposed hill, it will be often chilly up here, even in fine summer weather!
Please listen to Uncle Winfred's advice and don't drive up the mountain in bad weather.
Kildavnet Castle is probably a watchtower dwelling guarding the waters of Achill Sound. It is attributed to the 16th century pirate queen Grace O'Malley (Granuaile) who had her operational base on nearby Clare Island. The whole stretch of road from Achill Sound to Kildavnet is very scenic indeed! There's not just this tower but also Kildavnet Pier and a scenic partly derelict graveyard. Parking provided at the pier.
Watch Out for Magical Things to Happen!
I have never seen a rainbow like this one which appeared one evening above Trawmore Bay. It seems to have been caused by a low isolated shower cloud being lit by the setting sun. The second rainbow to the right seems to be a reflection.
Keem Bay and Beach
Pictures and words can only render an approximation -- this place has to be seen to believed. Simply stunning. That lunatic swimming in the 14 °C cold water is my dad BTW!Related to:
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