Achill Island, Connemara, Cronin's Sheebeen, Cruit Island, Deserted Village, Donegal, Galway, Glencolumbkille, Grace O'Malley, Granuaile, Great Famine, Ireland, Slieve League, Sligo, Westport, Wild Atlantic Way
The “Wild Atlantic Way” is a designated travel route that traces more than 1500 miles of Ireland’s rugged and beautiful west coast. From our base in Westport we managed to travel a good bit of it. All the places we visit in this post are situated along the Wild Atlantic Way.
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There’s an interesting legend about Achill Island. In 1894, the Westport – Newport railway line was extended to Achill. The train fulfilled an ancient prophecy.
In the 17th century, 200 years before the invention of the railroad, Brian Rua O’ Cearbhain prophesied that “carts on iron wheels would carry bodies into Achill on their first and last journeys.”
That first train to Achill carried the bodies of victims of a boating accident on Clew Bay that killed 32 young people. They had been going to meet the boat that would take them to Scotland for potato picking.
The second part of the prophecy was fulfilled in 1937 when the last train to provide service to Achill carried home the bodies of 10 victims of a fire in a bothy in Kirkintilloch, Scotland. A “bothy” is a temporary accommodation for the potato pickers in Scotland.
Achill’s Deserted Village
The Great Famine struck in Achill as it did in the rest of Ireland. Some families emigrated, but most moved to the nearby village of Dooagh. Living beside the sea meant that fish and shellfish could be used for food.
Grace O’Malley, The Pirate Queen
In the 1500s, this part of Ireland was the domain of Grace O’Malley, the Pirate Queen. O’Malley was the chieftain of the Ó Máille clan in the west of Ireland. She was well-educated, exceptionally competent, and a formidable warrior. Upon her father’s death she inherited his large shipping and trading business, which sometimes crossed the line into extortion and piracy. O’Malley is also known as Granuaile, an Aglicization of her name in Irish, “Grainne Ni Mhaille.”
While on Achill Island we paid a visit to Kildamhnait Castle, one of four castles that O’Malley is reputed to have owned.
Granuaile’s exploits are legendary. During a trip to Dublin in 1576, O’Malley attempted to pay a courtesy visit to Lord Howth. She was informed that the family was at dinner. The castle gates were closed against her. In retaliation for this insult, she abducted Howth’s grandson and heir. He was eventually released when a promise was given to keep the gates open to unexpected visitors and to set an extra place at every meal.
When members of the MacMahon clan killed Granuaile’s lover, Hugh de Lacy, whom she had rescued from a shipwreck, she and her men killed those responsible for de Lacy’s death. Not satisfied with her revenge, she attacked the MacMahon’s Doona Castle, taking the castle for herself.
In 1593 her sons and her half-brother were taken captive by the English governor of Connacht. O’Malley sailed to England to petition for their release. She formally presented her request to Elizabeth I. Their discussion was carried out in Latin, as O’Malley spoke no English and Elizabeth spoke no Irish. After much talk, the two women came to an agreement about how O’Malley and her clan would be treated in western Ireland. O’Malley later realized that the agreement with Elizabeth had been useless, and went back to supporting Irish insurgents.
Grace O’Malley most likely died in 1603, the same year as Queen Elizabeth.
The big Hollywood movie of her life is yet to be made.
Both of us very much wanted to see Donegal in Ireland’s far northwest. Since it was a bit too far away for a day trip, we booked a room for two nights in Glencolumbkille, County Donegal, and set out northward on the Wild Atlantic Way.
Glencolumbkille is a tiny village on Donegal’s rocky coast. We chose it because we found cheap accommodations there, and it was more-or-less in the vicinity of some places we wanted to visit.
From Glencolumbkille, we drove north on the Wild Atlantic Way so that Sarah could revisit Cruit (pronounced “Kritch”) Island, a place she had stayed with a good friend years ago.
Driving Through Donegal
On the way back to Westport we managed to work in a short stop in Sligo, Tallahassee’s sister city in Ireland.
Built in the 1800s, Connemara’s 40,000 square-foot Kylemore Abbey has more than 70 rooms. The estate was in private hands until the owner was forced to sell it due to gambling debts. In 1920, the Benedictine Nuns operated it as a school for Catholic girls until 2010.
Christmas Eve in Westport
We were warmly welcomed into the lives of our hosts in Westport. Their son, Simon, was a frequent visitor in our cottage. In addition to joining them in The Sheebeen, we were invited to dinner at their table, and to go on walks and hill climbs with the family. This made our stay in Westport very special.
After Westport, we drove across Ireland from the Atlantic in the West to the Irish Sea in the east. We were heading for four weeks in Dublin, the last stop on our six-month European adventure. There we found the quintessential modern Irish city marked with living evidence of the nation’s painful birth, and took day trips to explore more ancient Irish history in Glendalough and Tara. We hope you will join us for the last leg of our trip.