Nestled off the west coast of Ireland with breathtaking landscapes, Achill Island is somewhere everyone should visit at least once. It may not have the allure of the lights of Times Square or the sunshine of Santorini, but Achill Island has something special.
From the iconic Keem Bay and landscapes seen in the film “Banshees of Inisherin” to the historic remnants of deserted villages, Achill Island remains one of the most mesmerising places I’ve ever visited. This little island truly captures the spirit of Ireland’s Wild West. After spending just five days here last summer, I can assure you that Achill Island has everything, from breathtaking nature to exhilarating activities!
If there is one main reason to visit this island, it is the beauty and nature it offers. So often, we feel the need to travel so far and fail to see what our own country has to offer. The scenery on this little island is simply unmatched.
Standing on the dramatic cliffs of Keem Bay, it was as if I was standing on the edge of the earth. The sea and the sky blurred into one all-consuming blue haze. The sea was alive with its waves crashing vigorously against the rocks.
The drive around this private corner of the earth was equally serene. The main roads were barely two cars wide. However, encountering anything other than sheep on this journey was a rarity. There was no obnoxious glare from the lights of oncoming cars or cold streetlights. The transition from the country cottages along the coast to the main seaside town was seamless and peaceful. Outside the car window, the enormous greenness was infinite. It was a beauty and a uniformity that stretched for miles and miles.
An incredible way to explore the hills is by cycling along the island’s greenway or taking a short hike around the ruins of Achill Islands’ deserted village. This trail takes you through the 5000-year-old ruins with several small signposts providing information. Apart from a few signs, these ruins remain entirely untouched. There is no need for them to be embellished or monumentalised. Everything here is exactly how it should be. The view from this walk looks over the sweeping hills, all the way down to the coastline. It is the perfect route for a morning stroll or a more extreme hike.
Some of the most beautiful scenery on this Island came in the evening as incredible sunsets. It was as if the world was standing still. The colours in the sky felt low, rich and heavy, making one feel as if the sky was wrapping itself around them. I have never seen a sunset quite like it, and I don’t know if I will be as lucky as to again. The burning red in the evening sky was almost apocalyptic. It was impossible not to sit back in awe. In an interview in late 2022, Irish actor Colin Farrell described the island’s sunsets as “like the Greek Islands”, illustrating how the colours “were indigo and amber and it was just magnificent”. He was right.
However, beautiful scenery is only some of what this incredible gem off the west coast offers. There were countless activities at one’s disposal, too.
On the first day of this trip, we took a surf lesson on keel beach with the school “AchillSurf”. For just €30, we learned the proper skills and swam in the sea for an hour and a half. The wetsuits, water shoes and surfboards were all included. This was not an easy task for a novice surfer, but the instructor was incredible, allowing us to take our time and begin our lessons on the sand before tackling the sea.
The sea was calm, with just enough of a wave for you to build momentum. The sand was reassuringly soft and smooth, with very few rocks in sight. If you’re like me, there is every chance that you may leave the water black and blue, with a shiner on your chin. But let me assure you, I would not change that experience or those memories for the world.
And if surfing isn’t your thing (which very nearly was the case for me), Calvey’s Equestrian and Homestay Language Riding Centre also offer horse riding lessons and excursions around the Island or on Keel Beach. Horse riding on the beach is something everyone should get to experience. These well-trained and cared-for animals allow riders of any level to experience the thrill and excitement of horse riding in the most dramatic setting.
However, if you’re interested in an activity that is a little less physical, well then, Achill still has something in store for you. Whether you’re a film buff or more of a casual viewer, Achill Island Film Festival showcases a range of productions from documentaries to dramas to romcoms. Next year’s film festival will run from the 9th to the 11th of May 2024 and is sure to be every bit as astounding as the years past.
Achill Sound is this island’s main town, which was almost unbelievable as I stood on an almost silent main street on a midsummer’s night. But for such a small island and such a quiet town, you have plenty of options for excellent food.
Blasta at Ted’s is a food truck that embodies the phrase “Jack of all trades”. From burgers to gluten-free alternatives, there is high-quality food for everyone. And, of course, nothing soothes the soul quite like a takeaway pizza after a long day of surfing and activities. Pure Magic Pizza was precisely that – pure magic!
The final morning of this trip was spent in The Beehive Craft Coffee Shop. This tranquil café was the perfect celebratory meal to wrap up a truly peaceful and heartwarming trip. Inside was a range of locally sourced food, homemade soups, sandwiches, and coffee. It also had a small craft store, selling the work of local artists and creators, the embodiment of supporting local communities.
The experience I had and the memories that I made in this place will be cherished forevermore. There is an authenticity to Achill Island that felt rare. Life on Achill Island doesn’t need to display fancy tourist attractions or specific geographical wonders to capture my attention. How this heart-warming, tranquil, serene world exists so close by amazed me. This little island’s dramatic landscapes, pristine beaches, embracing environment, and untouched nature truly capture the essence of Ireland. It is a place where time seems to stand still because the beauty of Achill is timeless.
Saoirse Wilson – A&L Editor