Sunburn. Sea cliffs. Cerulean blue water. Oh, you thought I was talking about someplace tropical? Nope. Welcome to sunny, stunning Achill Island in County Mayo, Ireland.
I’m not kidding when I say that we got sunburned here. This was our first full day in Ireland and this is what it gave us. Ridiculous, I know. We based ourselves in Westport in County Mayo for the first week to be able to tour various points along the Wild Atlantic Way, dip down into Connemara all while spending time exploring Mayo’s western terrain. We had a few ideas but as with most travel plans, they are contingent on the weather. And when touring Ireland, one is constantly monitoring the weather. Or the clouds. Not a problem on this fine day!
Achill Island is in northern County Mayo and is the largest island in the country. With roots going back as far as 5000+ years and nearly 20 percent native Irish speakers, the history is rich here. Connected to the mainland by bridge makes this an easy excursion and like just about any spot in Ireland, there is a tourist office with maps, suggestions and stories at the ready. And away we go!
The remains of Kildamhnait Castle, or Grace O’Malley‘s Castle dates from the 15th-century. Grace, or Granuaile, the daughter of a chieftain later became both a fearless captain and pirate within her famous seafaring family. She is lovingly referred to as the “Pirate Queen of Connaught” and the name O’Malley is seen in numerous places throughout the region; Teach your daughters about this lady when they want to hear about female superheroes!
A tour along the Atlantic Drive is cause for many shouts of “pull over!” And “watch out for those bikers!” Brave souls, as they were called by most locals. (Me too.) For the slower set, brightly-colored wild hydrangeas and fuchsia are resplendent at nearly every turn and path.
Jagged rocks are juxtaposed with velvety green grass as they fall into the sea. One sight more breathtaking than the next. If you think Ashleam Bay with its lovely cove beach is pretty, get ready…
Just remember that when you pop out of the car you may have a buddy! (Watch out for droppings in even the most unlikely places!)
And if you look closely enough, some of them get tired of grazing all day.
Keem Strand is a beautiful horseshoe-shaped beach with the striking cliffs of Benmore to the west and Croaghaun mountain to the east. With barely a cloud in the sky, this was a perfect day to take a dip. Or take a climb!
At over 600 meters, Croaghaun mountain gives Keem Strand the honor of the highest sea cliffs in Europe.
On the slopes of Slievemore mountain, there is an abandoned village called the “Deserted Village”. It is thought that the former residents used these cottages in the summer and warmer months to tend to grazing cattle and sheep until the Great Famine.
It’s always noteworthy in these small cemeteries that many of the gravestones share the same surnames.
The Golden Strand was captivating with its almost-florescent green algae to one side and well, golden smooth sand to the other. It was difficult not to jump into those pools of fuzzy, fluffy algae!
Some say that the Wild Atlantic Way is the road trip of a lifetime. Little did we know that our first day of touring would be as spectacular as this day on Achill Island. How could each day be as amazing as this one?, we asked ourselves that evening. The sun was so bright that we tried to take a shot not wearing sunglasses but as I’ve quipped in the past, I may have the same eye malady as Bono! (As it turns out he just came out saying he has glaucoma. I do not…)
And please remember to watch for the locals. As you do.