Saturday, 16 February 2013
‘There’s something in the core of me
that needs the West to set it free’
Standing on the beach in Keel at noonday today (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)
Normally, a walk on the beach is a good exercise for body, soul and intellect at the weekend. Two weeks on the beach brings on an added bonus. But this weekend I managed to visit six beaches – five on Achill Island, and a sixth at Mulranny on the way back to Dublin.
In all, it was more than a 680 km round trip from the Braemor Park in Dublin to Achill Island, off the west coast of Co Mayo, and back again, getting back to Dublin late this evening [Saturday, 16 February 2013].
Strokestown House ... the Palladian house built in the 18th century by the Pakenham Mahon family (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)
Four of us left Dublin just after noon on Friday and headed west to visit Achill Island. After a brief stop to take some photographs in Edgeworthstown for future research, our first real half-way stop was for a late lunch in Co Roscommon at Strokestown Park House, the 18th century Palladian home of the Pakenham Mahon family until 1981, and now the home of the Famine Museum.
The house was built by Thomas Mahon MP (1701-1782) on lands granted to his grandfather, Nicholas Mahon, in the late 17th century.
The spectacular cliff view on the Atlantic Drive on the south coast of Achill Island on Friday evening (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)
By the time we got to Castlebar, the rain was beginning to come down, and the road out through Burrishoole and Newport was shrouded in mist. By the time we got to Mulranny, it was difficult to see down onto the long stretches of beach or out to Clew Bay, and we decided to continue on the road.
But darkness had not yet fallen by the time we reached Achill Island, and after crossing the Sound we took a detour south along the Atlantic Drive, through Kildavnit, passing the ruined castle associated in legend with Grace O’Malley the pirate queen, by the small quay at Cloghmore, up above the cliffs at Ashleam, and on to Dooega.
We joined the main road to Keel again at Cashel, and, as we passed by the signs to Dugort and the Strand Hotel, I realised that it is a full year since I was last in Achill, when we returned for Martin Walsh’s funeral.
There was a time when Achill was a much-favoured retreat when I wanted to get away and needed a quiet place and write, and found it in the Strand Hotel in Dugort.
I suppose I am a little surprised that as Achill has become more accessible with easier roads from Dublin, I have been here less and less frquently. As we drove across the island, I realised how deserted in winter Achill is.
At Keel, as darkness closed in, we called in to seeTom and Una McNamara. The McNamara family once ran the Boley House, which was the finest restaurant in Achill in its heyday in the 1980s and 1990s.
After dinner in the Achill Cliff House Hotel in Keel, we drove back to Dugort hoping to find a little music and some Friday night life. The Strand Hotel was in complete darkness, but we stll had a short stroll on the beach below and listened to the gentle waves beneath the night skies.
Eventually, we ended up in the Valley House, where a violent incident in the late 19th century inspired John Millington Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World.
Back in the Achill Cliff Hotel in Keel, as I thought of the day ahead of us today, I was reminded of the reasons I returned to Achill so often in the past and was reminded of the words of Oliver St John Gogarty:
There’s something sleeping in my breast
that wakens only in the West.
There’s something in the core of me
that needs the West to set it free.
Looking back on Keel from Lake Corrymore (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)
Through the night we could hear the Atlantic wind howling across the island, and the waves crashing against the rocks and the pebbles on the shore at Keel.
By morning, much of the mist had lifted, and it was dry. Despite the chill in the wind, it was good weather to see more of Achill Island, and we drove up past Captain Boycott’s House up to Corrymore Lake for a view back across much of the island.
785Standing on the beach at Keem Bay this morning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)
From Corrymore, we took the steep road down to Keem Bay, where the beach was deserted, but the water was sparkling and there were clear views across the seas, with streaks of silver light in the skies and on the sea.
Looking back at Keem Bay this morning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)
As we climbed back up the road from Keem, we wondered what we were looking at in the water below ... basking sharks? a pair of dolphins? or just rocks?
We stopped in Keel again to have a look at the beach in the daylight. We lingered a little before turning north again, to visit the Deserted Village below Slievemore and to hear again the stories of “booleying” and the impact of the famine in the 1840s.
Further east, still on the slopes of Slievemore, we drove up by Grey’s and the former Slievemore Hotel in the former mission colony built in the mid-19th century by the Revd Edward Nangle.
We were delighted to find the door into Saint Thomas’s Church was was open, thechurch had been reroofed, and a new organ has been installed.
Looking down onto the beach at Dugort towards the Strand Hotel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)
We had another look at the beach at Dugort, below the Strand Hotel, and recalled the many many years I stayed in the Strand Hotel time-on-end and went to church in Saint Thomas’s. There were happy memories of many people who had ministered and worshipped in this church over the decades – some of them buried in the churchyard.
A clever sign at the Golden Strand (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)
We stopped again at the Golden Strand at Masterson’s. A sign for the restaurnant once said: “Slow Down. Good Food Ahead.” But a clever dollop of what paint had been applied recently, making a witty thrological point worthy of the Vicar of Dibley.
Here we enjoyed yet another lengthy beach, and once again miles and miles of golden sand stretched before us and the golden grass allowed us to imagine that Spring might soon arrive.
Looking toward’s Inisbiggle from the small jetty at Bull’s Mouth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)
The road east through Dooniver brought us to Bull’s Mouth, where we stood at the small jetty where two currachs were tied up and another two or three were upended. We stood in wonder for a while beside this tiny beach as we gazed across the narrow water and its deceptively strong currents and cdounter currents to the tiny island of Inisbiggle that lies between Achill and the mainland coast of Co Mayo.
We stopped once again at Achill Sound to buy the morning newspapers, but all four of us decided against visiting the so-called “House of Prayer.”
Standing on the edge of the causeway at Mulranny that leads out into Clew Bay (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)
We stopped at the Mulranny Park Hotel for lunch, and then eventually made that good on that long-standing promise to visit the beach below, with its panoramic views out to Clew Bay.
The steep steps below the hotel lead down to a causeway that seems to stretch out infinetly to Clew Bay. We could have lingered longer. I must return in summer to enjoy the visit in the evening sun.
There was one more stop along the way – to visit Saint Nathy’s Cathedral in Balaghdereen. It had been dark for many hours by the time we got back to Dublin tonight.