Revisiting Achill Island

13 October 2015, Tuesday
So … a reboot. Today we …
left Galway headed north on the N84 …
saw some interesting things just along the road (and took lots of photos of them) …
visited a couple places we visited twelve years ago (and saw lots of change): Burrishoole Abbey and Achill Island … realized that change is inevitable, though we might wish time could have stood still on Achill …
had an early supper in Westport, Co. Mayo, which is the perfect size town for meandering (large enough to have plenty of things to see, buy, eat, drink—but not so big that parking is difficult) … saw lots of beautiful scenery, most of it not caught on camera …
and probably more than that. But that was enough.

We wanted to revisit Achill Island, a place we’d both found purely magical in 2003. I checked the map in the room, even sketched out a rough map of Achill, and knew the route we would take.

But we had a little trouble convincing Ms. Emily Gp.S. that we were the boss of her and that we really did want to leave town on the N84! Crazy. You can become so dependent on GPS but sometimes you just have to throw caution to the wind and follow the signs! 🙂

It was a pretty day, and about twenty miles up the road … what is that?

See the birds? We disturbed them.

See the birds? We disturbed them.

We pulled over into the parking lot of a pub across the street and jumped out. It was an only-in-Ireland moment: “Oh look, honey, it’s a twelfth-century tower house!”

It’s lovely. Look at those bartizans at the top.

It’s lovely. Look at those bartizans at the top.

Bartizans have multiple uses, all of them defensive in nature.

Bartizans have multiple uses, all of them defensive in nature.

I know now this is Shrule Castle.

I know, I know. Again we are being a little inaccurate. It’s a tower house. Wikipedia says there are more than two thousand of these still standing in Ireland, of the eight thousand built during the Middle Ages. This was an age when a family (of wealth) had to be prepared to defend its home against rival tribes. Tower homes were rendered obsolete as a defensive strategy with the advent of guns and cannons in Cromwell’s era (1600s).

Here’s a detailed early history (and photos from inside the tower) from Visions of the Past:

Shrule Castle is situated near the banks of the Black River, on the Mayo/Galway border. This imposing three storey tower house was built circa 1238 by the [Norman] de Burgh family. It passed from Richard Óg de Burgh, 2nd Earl of Ulster, into the hands of his son John de Burgh in 1308. The castle was captured in 1570 by a force consisting of Sir Edward Fitton, President of Connaught and Vice Treasurer of Ireland, and the McDonnells of Knocknacloy. The McDonnells of Knocknacloy were an infamous Highland Scottish clan who served as Gallowglass mercenaries mostly in Tyrone and Antrim. Mac Uilliam Ochtair, Lord of Thomond, the de Burghs of Mayo, and McDonnells of Mayo attempted to retake the castle but were unsuccessful. However during a battle on 18th June 1570 Edward Fitton was knocked from his horse seriously wounding his face, and the chief of the McDonnells of Knocknacloy, Calvagh McDonnell, was killed in the battle.

William Burke then occupied the building and granted it to his son John Burke in 1574. By 1619 the castle was leased by Richard Burke, 4th Earl of Clanricarde to Piere Lynch, the Mayor of Galway City.

What happened after that? How long did someone live in it before it was abandoned? I don’t know. We know that it was the site of a massacre of Protestant refugees in 1642, but after that … not much. (There’s a description—scroll down—of Shrule, written in 1837, which describes the castle as “remains,” so it was abandoned, it would seem, by the 1800s.)

But … what a ruin! What a landmark!

But … what a ruin! What a landmark!

I’ve always been attracted to these old ruins and the antiquities—things human beings built. I don’t romanticize them, but I do like to imagine what it was like, and looking at them in person gives me a sense of awe. We made no attempt to cross the fence, though I’ve since read there’s a stile that’s been overgrown, so once the public was welcome to explore. Nowadays the ruin is clearly unsafe, unsteady; the public is advised to stay out of it.

It’s a pretty setting though.

It’s a pretty setting though.

Then we walked back across the highway to the parking lot.

This is the pretty little house tucked behind the pub’s parking lot. Gorgeous color!

This is the pretty little house tucked behind the pub’s parking lot. Gorgeous color!

And we drove on, though Kilmaine, Ballinrobe, Ballintober, Ballyhean … headed north along the N84. We’d stop and take pictures if we saw something pretty.

Or interesting. Strange landscape here. How did all those piles occur? A mining operation? Who knows!

Or interesting. Strange landscape here. How did all those piles occur? A mining operation? Who knows!

We’re getting close to our destination, here, because I can see mountains in the distance. What a pretty day it was!

We’re getting close to our destination, here, because I can see mountains in the distance. What a pretty day it was!

In Castlebar we got on the R311, following the signs west to Achill Island. We paused again in Newport, for a look at this.

A beautiful bridge.

A beautiful bridge.

It’s the historic Seven Arches Bridge, built in 1892 to carry the Midland Great Western Railway across the Newport River.

A view at low tide.

A view at low tide.

Brickwork is characteristic of the Victorian era.

Brickwork is characteristic of the Victorian era.

The railway is now defunct, and has been turned into a greenway for hikers and bicyclists. The bridge is restored—as a pedestrian bridge. At this junction, we caught the N59, which runs along Clew Bay (the harbor here in Newport is one of the most sheltered in the bay).

This is the less impressive bridge that carries the N59 across the river.

This is the less impressive bridge that carries the N59 across the river.

We were close, now, but had one more stop to make—Burrishoole Friary, which is about a mile or so on the other side of Newport. We’d first seen it in 2003 and had fallen in love with it. We wanted to see it again.

Burrishoole Friary. Just as pretty as we’d remembered it.

Burrishoole Friary. Just as pretty as we’d remembered it.

Well … hold that thought. Wikipedia does note that the grounds are an actively used cemetery; we noticed ourselves twelve years ago. And time marches on. There was more paving, a new road …

This road on the left goes up over the hill and disappears into the distance. Twelve years ago there was just grass on the other side of the friary boundary wall.

This road on the left goes up over the hill and disappears into the distance. Twelve years ago there was just grass on the other side of the friary boundary wall.

… and a lot more gravesites.

A lot more! My goodness.

A lot more! My goodness.

It is a pretty site for a graveyard.

It is a pretty site for a graveyard.

We caught our breath—this is as it should be—and went inside. Here’s what we saw.

Burrishoole Friary, October 2015.

Burrishoole Friary, October 2015.

Standing in the doorway of the nave, looking into the chancel.

Standing in the doorway of the nave, looking into the chancel.

Closer.

Closer.

Standing in the chancel, looking into the nave.

Standing in the chancel, looking into the nave.

Burrishoole is a national monument now. About its history, Wikipedia says,

Burrishoole Friary was founded in 1470 by Richard de Burgo of Turlough, Lord MacWilliam Oughter. It was built without the permission of the Pope. In 1486, the Pope instructed the Archbishop of Tuam to forgive the friars. Richard de Burgo resigned his lordship in 1469 and entered the friary he had founded where he remained a friar until his death four years later. This was not an uncommon occurrence and serves to illustrate the connection between patrons and their foundations at the time.

The church and the eastern wall of the cloister remain.

Closer.

Closer.

Beautiful.

Beautiful.

A closeup of the harp.

A closeup of the harp.

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You can see our car in the distance.

You can see our car in the distance.

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O Lord, have mercy … a gravestone from 1795.

O Lord, have mercy … a gravestone from 1795.

We wandered around outside, in the breeze and the sunlight, thankful for this magnificent day.

This would have been the backyard of the friary, although now it feels like the front, since we enter the grounds from the direction we’re looking. The road is on the far side of the graves.

This would have been the backyard of the friary, although now it feels like the front, since we enter the grounds from the direction we’re looking. The road is on the far side of the graves.

This would have been the front yard. The door to the nave is behind me.

This would have been the front yard. The door to the nave is behind me.

I took a photo of this gravesite twelve years ago too. It’s cleaner now.

I took a photo of this gravesite twelve years ago too. It’s cleaner now.

When we were here before, it was high tide on the small river (called the Burrishoole Channel) that empties into Clew Bay on the North Atlantic Ocean. It connects to Lough Furnace, which is connected to Lough Feeagh to the north.

IMG_1435river

Cows in the next field also enjoying this fine day.

Cows in the next field also enjoying this fine day.

And then we drove on. It was a very fine day, and Achill was calling us.

Achill is the largest island off the coast of Ireland—though you might not realize you’ve crossed to an island these days, there are so many bridges you’ve already crossed. When we stayed here in 2003, it felt like the land that time forgot … and it hasn’t changed that much.

We crossed on the R319 and made a little detour onto the Slievemore Road to have a look at the deserted village, then circled back to Keel and the beautiful Trawmore Strand. But first—a decompression stop.

To stretch our legs and have some ice cream, just sitting on a stone wall by the side of the road, watching the world go by.

To stretch our legs and have some ice cream, just sitting on a stone wall by the side of the road, watching the world go by.

We took a lot more photos at Burrishoole than at Achill, mostly due to the fact that the roads were very narrow and there were few scenic overlooks, places to safely park and admire the view.

This is taken from the R319 looking west at the village of Keel. The little patch of green in the center right is a golf course. That’s Keel Lough (the lake) on the far right.

This is taken from the R319 looking west at the village of Keel. The little patch of green in the center right is a golf course. That’s Keel Lough (the lake) on the far right.

The majority of Achill is bogland—peat bog. It can feel bleak and lonely.

We are on the north side of the island, here, looking west.

We are on the north side of the island, here, looking west.

The roads are small, the sheep are everywhere. Be careful!

The roads are small, the sheep are everywhere. Be careful!

The day was getting away from us, though. When we found the deserted village, we didn’t hike in.

The deserted village from a distance. It was farther than we wanted to hike.

The deserted village from a distance. It was farther than we wanted to hike.

So we turned the other way on the Slievemore Road and made our way toward the water.

We’re headed to this bay, at Keem. You can just see the water on the right at the horizon; the bay is encircled by those cliffs.

We’re headed to this bay, at Keem. You can just see the water on the right at the horizon; the bay is encircled by those cliffs.

I was kicking myself, again, for not having a paper map. For all our technology—and I love Google Maps, which helps me reconstruct our travels—sometimes an old-fashioned map is a good thing to have.

On the Slievmore Road, coming into Keel. Those magnificent cliffs are the Minuan Cliffs.

On the Slievmore Road, coming into Keel. Those magnificent cliffs are the Minuan Cliffs.

Sheep are everywhere.

IMG_0822sheep

You really do have to be vigilant. They’ll step out in front of you.

You really do have to be vigilant. They’ll step out in front of you.

A view of the Minuan Cliffs from the Trawmore Strand.

A view of the Minuan Cliffs from the Trawmore Strand.

It was getting on to five o’clock, and we had a couple hours’ drive ahead of us, so we headed back toward Newport, and instead of retracing our route through Castlebar, we stayed on the N59 to Westport. We’d read about some good restaurants there.

Here we learned that—at least in the western counties, in the smaller towns—“real” restaurants don’t open until six o’clock. I felt a bit gauche when inquiring about this in a store in Westport; the Yank from a country where restaurant is an all-purpose word. But, no, we could get food in a hotel bar, or in an an establishment called a café or bistro—a real restaurant, however, would not be open at the time of day we wanted to eat. What a bumpkin I am!

So we ate at the Mill Times Hotel bar, and had goujons. For the rest of you bumpkins, goujons are chicken fingers/tenders. 🙂

I did enjoy this lovely room divider at the Mill Times Hotel.

I did enjoy this lovely room divider at the Mill Times Hotel.

And then we made our way carefully back to Galway City.

 

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