016 Achill Island History and Things to Do – with Patricia Byrne

Welcome to Episode 16 of the Thin Places Travel Podcast. In this episode, we’ll be focusing on Achill Island History and things to do on the Island. Our guest is the writer, Patricia Byrne who is from County Mayo and has written extensively about Achill Island including two non-fiction books on Achill Islands recent history and most captivating historical characters. 

Patricia Byrne discusses Achill Island
Writer, Patricia Byrne discusses Achill Island


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#016 Achill Island History and Things to Do 
Host – Mindie Burgoyne
Guests – Patricia Byrne – Writer from County Mayo
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Achill Island History and Things to Do

This episode is focused on the largest of Ireland’s islands – Achill Island. It lies off the coast of County Mayo and can be accessed by a bridge. It’s an island of stories, of sorrow, of powerful women, and it has some of the most beautiful scenery is all of Ireland with sheer cliffs, amazing mountains, bogland, sandy beaches, and historic villages.  Achill Island  – as my friend Ruth O’Hagan says, “… is one big, fat, giant amethyst sitting in the Atlantic Ocean. And it’s true that amethysts were mined here, and one can still see the veins of purple in the gray rock cliff faces.

Achill is old landscape. Inhabitants of the island are said to go back 5000 years.  The Belfast born painter, Paul Henry visited Achill Island with the intent of staying a few weeks but found that he couldn’t leave. He said of Achill Island, “Achill … called to me as no other place had ever done.” He ended us staying for years.

Patricia Byrne is a writer who currently lives in Limerick, but is from County Mayo and has Achill Island ancestors. The stories of Achill Island and her ancestors captured her imagination so strongly that she has spent years researching and writing narrative non-fiction about the island’s history and people.   She is a graduate of the NUI Galway writer program. Her most recently historical non fiction books are:

The Preach and the Prelate: The Achill Mission Colony and the Battle for Souls in Famine Ireland  


The Veiled Woman of Achill: Island Outrage and a Playboy Drama

In our conversation today, Patricia and I talk about the stories in her books, but also about Achill Island itself and many opportunities for travelers to the island.

Guest Interview with Patricia Byrne – Mayo Writer Living in Limerick

What is it about Slievemore Deserted Village that is most compelling?

It is the mountainside remains of a village that was deserted during and after Ireland’s Great Famine in the mid-nineteenth century. It includes the remains of over 80 cottages and also potato ridges – lazy beds.

What is the background – history of the site?

When the potato famine struck in 1845 the movement of people from the village started through a combination of famine death, emigration, evictions and movement of the people towards the sea. This movement continued after the Great Famine and the settlement developed into a ‘booley’ village – with people using the village for summer grazing of their animals on the mountain slopes and moving down to the villages of Dooagh and other areas by the sea in the winter.

Are there any legends or mythology tied to the site?

The people tell stories of suffering associated with the village; of losing their lands on Slievemore and being forced to build new soil from sand, seaweed and peat closer to the seashore. The ‘lazy bed’ potato ridges are clearly visible to this day and evoke memories of the trauma of suffering arising from the failure of the potato crop.

Do you think those stories have a deeper meaning?

The place and the stories carry the people’s memories of their history and their suffering. The historical trauma is buried in the soil.

What surprises travelers about the site? …. something one wouldn’t expect?

People are surprised when they come close to the site and observe the detail of the houses and their construction methods as well as the still evident shape of the potato ridges dug into the mountain slopes. The Nobel Laureate writer Heinrich Boll had a cottage nearby in the 1950s and spoke of his astonishment on coming upon this village, ‘a skeleton of human habitation’.

What are your thoughts on thin places or liminal places where the physical and spiritual worlds seem to cross?

The landscape carries powerful memories of our ancestors’ lives and their traumas. We can walk upon the ground where they lived, toiled and suffered. The place is a poignant image of leaving – through death and emigration – and absence.  

What advice would you give to a traveler who is seeking out thin places or sites with spiritual energy?

Learn what you can of the place’s history and stories. Then go to the place, walk there quietly and reflect on what the place and landscape convey to you.  


The Preach and the Prelate: The Achill Mission Colony and the Battle for Souls in Famine Ireland  

The Veiled Woman of Achill: Island Outrage and a Playboy Drama

Patricia Byrne’s Website  www.patriciabyrneauthor.com

Twitter  @pbyrnewrites

Achill Island Links

Achill Heritage Center  

Slievemore Deserted Village

Other Sites and People Mentioned in this podcast

Francis Van Male and the Red Fox Press

Visual Poetry on Achill Island  – by Mindie Burgoyne

Amethyst Hotel – – Now Amethyst Bar

Heinrich Böll – Irish Journal

St. Dymphna’s Holy Well

The Atlantic Drive

Artists who fell in Love with the Rugged Beauty of Achill

2019 Ireland Tours – Scotland and Ireland – visit http://thinplacestour.com


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