- Walking Ireland’s Iconic Mountains – Number 1: Errigal
- Walking Ireland’s Iconic Mountains – Number 2: Muckish
- Walking Ireland’s Iconic Mountains – Number 3: Slieve Binnian
- Walking Ireland’s Iconic Mountains – Number 4: Slievemore
- Walking Ireland’s Iconic Mountains – Number 5: Croaghaun
Perched on the West Coast of Ireland at the edge of Europe, Achill Island must surely be one of the most ruggedly beautiful and scenic areas in the country. It is easy to see why the Island with its dramatic mix of sea, shore and mountain has captured the imagination of so many over the years.
It is said that on arrival on the island, the artist Paul Henry threw his return train ticket into the sea near Purteen Harbour. Over the years he spent on the island, Henry went on to produce some of his most famous paintings which featured Achill’s wild and dramatic landscape. Another frequent visitor to the island was English novelist Graham Greene who spent his time on Achill in a dilapidated and rundown house whilst using the island as an inspiration to write what is considered by many to be his best poetry.
Achill itself is a haven for walkers and outdoor enthusiasts alike. The island has the added advantage that most of its land is in common ownership meaning that it is freely and openly accessible. Achill has walks to suit all levels, from the haunting Deserted Village and Coffin Trail walks to the spectacular walk up Croaghaun Mountain to take in reputedly the highest sea cliffs in Europe as well as the highest corrie lake in Ireland which lies perched precariously at over one thousand feet above sea level. Each year, the island plays host to a popular walking festival.
The highest mountain on Achill Island is the aforementioned Croaghaun which sits neatly tucked away on the Western edge of the island. Seemingly with a constant covering of cloud, it really is a case of ‘Next Stop America’ from its summit! The most prominent mountain on the island however is the wonderfully shapely mass of Slievemore and it is this mountain that we visit next on our tour of Ireland’s Iconic Mountains.
Literally translating as ‘Big Mountain’, the impressive bulk of Slievemore dominates the very heart of Achill Island. Rising dramatically in the North of the Island, the mountain appears to stand guard over much of the surrounding landscape and it is an inescapable presence as you traverse Achill. Viewed from the lake at Keel, where the sheer bulk of the mountain can be observed, Slievemore is a massively towering presence. Viewed from the east, it takes on an altogether different facade, appearing as a magnificently shapely and elegant mountain rolling down to the breakers of the Atlantic Ocean. The classic view of the mountain is from the village of Dugort where it loyally stands guard over the ridiculously beautiful Silver Strand beach, one of two Blue Flag beaches within a few minutes’ walk of Slievemore. This mix of shapely mountain dropping down to sandy beach makes for one of the most striking and enduring images of Achill Island.
Achill Island is attached to the mainland by the Michael Davitt Bridge. The first bridge on this site was completed in 1887 but was replaced by another structure in 1949 to adequately provide for vehicles. A completely new replacement bridge was installed and opened for traffic in 2008. The island is a 4 hour drive from Dublin, 6 hours from Belfast and about 2.5 hours from Galway. The drive will take you through Mulranny, the gateway to the Corraun peninsula and Achill Island. The drive from Mulranny to Achill is a wonderfully scenic affair. Along the way, you will likely catch a glimpse of cyclists on the wonderful Great Western Greenway, a 42km off-road trail running from Westport to the island that follows the route of the former Achill extension of the Westport railway line which was closed in 1937.
The island itself is very easy to navigate. On crossing the bridge, simply follow the main road towards Keel and watch for a turn-off to the right for Dugort. There is ample car-parking available in the vicinity of the beautiful Silver Strand beach. See the Achill Tourism website for a map of the Island.
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I suggest making this walk a real case of ‘Shore to Summit’ by starting on the east end of Silver Strand beach. The short walk along the small sandy beach will allow you to take in the majestic and alluring mountain that soars into the sky ahead. From this viewpoint, it may seem something of a daunting task with its sharp ridge leading to a summit seemingly perched beside vertiginous drops to the north-east.
Arriving at the end of the beach, you will reach the Strand Hotel (formerly the Slievemore Hotel). The hotel was formerly part of the Achill Mission or ‘The Colony’ as it was also known. The Mission was formed in 1831 by the Protestant Reverend Edward Nagle, its aim being to win over the Roman Catholic population of the island to the Protestant faith. This was a unique mission in that it was the first ever established among the native population using the Irish language. The Mission was to prove very successful for a time and would include a small hospital, an orphanage, schools and cottages as well as the aforementioned hotel. It also regularly produced a steady flow of literature including a newspaper called the ‘Achill Missionary Herald’. The Mission began to decline after Nagle was moved from Achill and a combination of emigration during the 1880s and financial difficulties led to its eventual demise.
At the hotel, follow the road to the right which runs along the west side of the shore until you reach open mountainside to the left. Leave the road and head for the very obvious ridge leading up the mountain. Walk along the intermittent path to the left of the crags which drop dramatically into the coum on your right. The crags can provide a spectacular backdrop for photography of the landscape below. The ground is initially covered with dense heather but becomes rockier as you progress through the short but steep climb and near the summit ridge.
Despite what appearances from the ground might indicate, there is no sheer fall from the summit proper which is located some 200 metres further along a surprisingly broad and boggy plateau. The summit consists of a weathered trig pillar and small circular shelter constructed from stones.
If the steep climb hasn’t taken your breath away, the views from the summit of Slievemore definitely will. Right from the early stages of the climb once height is gained, the views that open up are stunning. However, it is from the summit of the mountain that you get a real appreciation of the simple beauty of the landscape that lies below. The expansive panoramic views from Slievemore are quite simply breath-taking.
The view west is dominated by Croaghaun which sits kissing the Atlantic Ocean. Looking south draws the eye to the serene Keel Lough which was alive with the tiny figures of distant kite-surfers and kayakers. Beyond the lough is the wide span of Trawmore, yet another Blue-Flag beach, leading to the spectacular Minuan Cliffs and the mast-topped Minuan Heights. Out to sea is the unmistakable, mysterious and enticing outline of Clare Island, the home of Granuaile, topped by Knockmore, ‘the great hill’. To the east beyond the island lies the mainland back dropped by the Nephins. Finally, the views north take in Blacksod Bay and Belmullet in the distance and the two wonderful beaches of Dugort, Golden Strand sitting behind Silver Strand, our starting point, at the foot of Slievemore.
If the weather allows, take some time to enjoy what must be the finest viewpoint in Achill. I had only arrived at the summit when I got a fine demonstration of how quickly the weather can change on the edge of Ireland when a thick covering of cloud quickly moved in and the beautiful views disappeared.
Having taken in the views, you can choose to reverse your route and descend the mountain back to Silver Strand. If time is on your side however, we highly recommend descending the mountain westwards towards the plateau before heading south for the deserted village at the foot of Slievemore.
This village is divided into three areas from East to West known as Tuar, Tuar Riabhach and Faiche. The whole area houses the haunting remains of around 80 traditional cottages of dry stone construction spread along a one-mile stretch of an ancient pathway.
The houses were inhabited from at least the 19th century. However when Famine struck in 1845, most of the houses were abandoned as families moved to the nearby Dooagh, a village located closer to the sea meaning that people could fish for food. Eventually the village was completely abandoned giving it the name ‘Deserted Village’.
The houses continued to be used up until the 1940s for ‘booleying’ during the summer months. This practice would see some members of the family taking livestock to graze on the mountainside whilst staying in the houses of the Deserted Village. It is believed that Achill was one of the last places in Europe to practise this type of settlement.
Having explored the village, take the track eastwards to the graveyard, turn right and then left, and follow the road back to your starting point of Silver Strand at Dugort.
“Slievemore enjoys an impossibly idyllic location, is aesthetically beautiful and is quite simply hugely enjoyable to climb”
Slievemore enjoys an impossibly idyllic location, is aesthetically beautiful and is quite simply hugely enjoyable to climb. Flanked by the understated beauty of the island landscape on one side and the massive breakers of the Atlantic on the other, there can be few mountains that lie in such stunning surroundings. If you find yourself in Achill with a few hours to spare, this is one mountain that you really must explore. If you don’t have time to spare, then I recommend that you make some. You won’t regret it!