Saturday, September 17, 2016

Guest Blog: Achill Island

This is our academic blog post on the abandoned village on Achill Island. This blog contains the adventures of Brad, Meghann, Elizabeth, and Eva.


We visited Achill Island, on the west coast of Ireland where the land is 87% peat bog.  Becuase of the poor soil farming enough food to live on was quite difficult. When the British invaded, the Irish were pushed to the western edge of the country where the ground was rocky, boggy and sandy. They were slowly starving to death when the potato plant was introduced. If it wasn’t for the potato plant they would have starved. The potato can grow in harsh soil and is very nutritious. Between 1845­ and 1852, Ireland the potato crop failed, bringing a Great Hunger on the Irish people and millions of people starved to death, died from famine-related diseases, or emigrated elsewhere. 

Life during the Great Hunger was not easy. We must stress the point that this time period was not a famine, due to the fact that there was plenty of food in the country. Great Britain was exporting most of Ireland's supplies, leaving the people weak and starving.  For clothes, the women would go out along the wire fences and collect the tufts of sheep wool stuck to them. They would string it together into yarn and make hats, shirts, and gloves, anything to keep them warm.

Sheep still dot the landscape

In such a harsh environment, it was easier for the people to live in community with each other and help each other than it was to live alone, miles from anyone else. The typical house was very small and simple. Four stone walls and a thatched roof. There was often a stone wall to keep animals out of the area where the family would have potato beds and a garden. In some of the stone buildings, there was a large rectangular “window” that seems to have been shelves. The houses were the size of a normal college dorm room. Now imagine, instead of having 2-3 students in there that there were families of twelve or more. The space just got a lot smaller. That is how these families lived. They were in deep poverty and living off of an unforgiving land. They built their homes from the rocks in the boggy soil. Since there were no trees, the fuel for their fires they had to cut, dry, and haul peat sod from the bogs themselves. This is a practice that many on Western Ireland continue to this day. Their lives were hard and it only got worse when the Great Hunger came.

The corners of the building were very well made.

There were these half "windows" in many buildings. Perhaps they were shelves?

Very small space.

The English, in an embarrassed attempt to “save” the people, decided that, instead of giving them their food, they would send the Irish away. They began offering tickets to Irish families for a ship that would take them to America. It was a difficult choice for the Irish. They love their land. But they and their children were starving. Some families were forced to accept the ticket. This is why there is such a large Irish-American population. Once overseas the people would try to bring the rest of their family over to their new home. Most sent what little money they made back home so that they could buy a ticket or at least survive. This was such a hard time for the people of Ireland that the people who lived through it would not speak of it and many of its stories were lost.

No one knows what happened to the people in this village. Maybe they died from starvation. Maybe they moved to try to make a better life for themselves. Maybe this village decided to take the ship to America.

The waves in the earth that were once potato beds.

To this day the life these people lived can still be seen.To grow potatoes they mixed their own soil in "beds" and these rolls of earth can still be seen beside the small houses. Although there is still much  controversy over the Great Hunger between the British government and the Irish people, it  does not rule out the effects that it had on the country as a whole. The death toll was  particularly high and hardship found in each home was tragic. The points made in this blog are from an Irish perspective, but people can argue who started the atrocity or why it came about, but it is in the past and now it is important to look at the effects and what it left behind, a stronger Ireland.  

We are not going to go as far to say this area felt haunted, but the thick mist lying over the hill did not help. This walk, however, was very humbling. To see the size of these homes and know how many people lived in them was very sad. The entire home was only about the size of a regular college dorm that we would complain about sharing with one or two other people, but these homes were usually shared with two families that could house up to 20 people. Seeing these homes gave us a feeling of thankfulness for the blessings we have in our homes and the food we have at our disposal and not fearing a famine, or hunger, such as this.

A thick mist covered the hill.


  1. That is so horrible! Kind of like what America did to the Indians! Did you try the potatoes? Do they even taste good? How do the people support themselves now? But, I suppose the more important question would be: What did that experience do to the people spiritually and how could one reach them now?

    1. Yes. A lot like the Americans with Indians. Since the potatoes haven't been tended for hundreds of years, there probably aren't any left. If that is what you are asking. :)

      A lot of the people during the Great Hunger died, moved overseas, or just somehow survived. Those who tried to steal food and were caught were sent on prison ships to Australia. There is a wonderful song called "The Fields of Athenry" that depicts a young couple separated because of this. In general there were thousands of Irish who immigrated elsewhere.

      Not everyone died or moved, of course, those who stayed probably banded together and shared what they had. When the potatoes began to grow again after about ten years, life became easier. Although it wasn't food, the peat from the bogs was vital to their survival. They would cut "logs" of peat sod from the bogs to fuel their fire to survive the winter. It is a free source of fuel, and people still use it today. What exactly happened no one will ever know. For those lucky enough to survive, they never talked about it. Why would they want to talk about something so horrible. Therefore most of the stories have been lost.

      Ever since St. Patrick came to Ireland in the 400's, the majority of the Irish have been devoutly Christian. They have deep faith and Christian heritage and they are proud of that. That was the problem when the English came in and tried to convert the Irish who already believed in the Lord. Just because the Irish worshiped differently didn't mean they needed converted because they weren't following the same God.

      Today, the Irish are still proud of their heritage and that needs to be respected. Although the younger generations seem to be falling away and into "modern" atheistic beliefs as happens everywhere, many Irish still hold to their original beliefs and love of God. They are not open to people barging into their culture trying to convert them when so many believe in God, just as they were not open to "conversion" when the English tried to impose their beliefs on them.

      I'm sorry this was so long. I guess the short answer is that there are no firm answers. But the best way to approach anyone is with love and a willingness to learn from them and see things from their point of view.

  2. Sorry, Elizabeth, but as you can probably guess, Stefan wouldn't let me use his account!