A series by David Mullen
Crossing the Michael Davitt Bridge over Achill Sound, you’re arriving on an island of superlatives. Achill is Ireland’s largest offshore island; it has some of the highest sea cliffs in Europe where the peak of Croaghaun falls away into the sea some 688 metres below.
As you press on towards the west of the island, to Keel and Dooagh, even the skies seem bigger as you drive over the bog, stacks of turf to the left and right, and the sight of the Atlantic opens out before you — next stop Newfoundland.
The often mist-shrouded mountains, though not unduly high, loom large through your windscreen. Onward past Gielty’s pub and you’re climbing the narrow, precipitous road along the clifftop, avoiding the sheep destined to sire some of Achill’s famous lamb. Suddenly, Keem Bay is below you, the sand and sea a Caribbean white and blue.
Further still, snaking down the hairpin bends past the old amethyst quarry, where that lustrous purple gemstone was dug from the hillside, you reach the beach. It’s enough to stand on the shore, but the brave will go into the cold water, a bay where, supposedly, nobody has drowned in memory.
A landscape like this is bound to produce a wealth of stories. There’s the one of the oracle, Brian Rua U’Cearbhain’s prophecy in the seventeenth century that “carriages on wheels with smoke and fire will come to Achill and the first and last carriages will carry dead bodies”.