Ghost Village of Achill Island

Along the southern slope of Slievemore Mountain, which is on Achill Island in Co. Mayo, the ruins of nearly 100 stone cottages remain. Achill Island was once home to what appeared to be a thriving village established in 1838. Over forty homes once lined the valley near Keem Bay, but today all that remains of the abandoned settlement is a few mounds of earth hinting at what once stood above ground. It is believed that the cottages were at least semi-inhabited as recently as the mid-1900s as “booley” homes, where farmers would live during the summer months with their herds grazing nearby. However, archaeological finds indicate that the area was inhabited as far back as medieval times.

Locals in the area have no memory of the village, and the only records left behind were collected by travel writers who noted the village’s serene beauty but described the locals as “primitive and backward.” Given that the other settlements on the island remained inhabited, what could have happened to the village at Keem?

Keem Bay (Present Day)

The larger of the houses excavated by the team measured about 23 feet long by 10 feet wide, and may have also been a winter home for cattle, since it had a stone-lined drain near the door. The students also uncovered pieces of fine, decorated earthenware from English potteries, three glass beads that may have been part of a rosary, and lumps of amethyst from a nearby quarry that were sold to tourists drawn by the Protestant Achill Mission, which was founded in 1831. The village is thought to have been abandoned during the Great Famine of the 1840s.

An Archaeological Field School is held annually at the Deserted Village under the guidance of a local expert, and it is hoped that this research will yeild yet further clues as to the history and former inhabitants of this most evocative of villages.


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