Achill Island has long been a refuge and a source of inspiration for artists, poets, writers and creative thinkers of all classes. Its vast landscapes, wild weather, rugged people and captivating light have provided subject matter for figures such as; Heinrich Boll, Paul Henry, Robert Henri, Charles Lamb, Graham Greene, and more recently, Camille Souter, Padraig McCaul, Ronan Halpin and others.
Heinrich Boll was born in Germany in 1917 and won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1972. He carved out a career as a journalist and writer and in the late 1950’s he made his first visit to Achill. Throughout the 1960’s and into the 1970’s, Boll lived and worked in Achill, residing in a cottage in the village of Dugort. His book ‘Irische Tagebuch’, ‘Irish Journal’ is well known and recounts some of his experiences of Achill. The Boll Cottage in Dugort has been used since 1992 as an Artist’s Residence. A local committee, the Heinrich Boll Foundation in Germany, the Boll Family and Mayo County Council maintain the cottage and administers the Artists Residency Programme.
Belfast born artist, Paul Henry spent eight years on Achill Island, and became fully immersed in local life during that time. Henry painted scenes of people at work and views of the sea and mountains and his paintings have become part of private and gallery collections all over the world. The Luxemburgh Gallery in Paris has Henry’s painting of Dooagh village on permanent exhibition.
American painter Robert Henri spent several summers in Achill with his wife, between the years 1924 – 1928. Henri is most famous for his portraits of the local people of Dooagh, where he stayed while in Achill. Many of these paintings are on display in galleries across the United States.
British novelist Graham Greene, author of such classics as Brighton Rock, The Third Man and The End of the Affair, visited and stayed on Achill Island a number of times in the late 1940s. He wrote parts of the novels The Heart of the Matter (subsequently banned in Ireland) and The Fallen Idol in the village of Dooagh, and Achill Island is also said to have inspired Greene to write some of his best poetry.Graham Greene retained a special affection for Achill Island, which he mentioned frequently in his letters and notes, although this was largely due to the circumstances of his visits. Graham Greene was introduced to Achill by his mistress, Catherine Walston. The story of Graham Greene’s relationship with Catherine Walston, the vivacious American wife of millionaire British MP Harry (later Lord) Walston, has been chronicled in William Cash’s book ‘The Third Woman’ (pub. 2000) and was turned into a film, ‘The End of the Affair’, by Neil Jordan in 1999.
Charles Lamb and Derek Hill
Other painters such as Charles Lamb and Derek Hill also spent time in Achill, attracted by its wild beauty and unique character.
Achill Island is home to one of Ireland’s oldest traditional music summer schools – Scoil Acla. This school was set up as a school of traditional Irish War Pipes in 1910 and continues in its’ current format since 1985. At the heart of Scoil Acla is tuition – for all ages and abilities – in a range of traditional musical instruments, including the harp, uileann pipes, fiddle, concert flute, bango, concertina, tin whistle and accordion. Scoil Acla hosts a highly respected writers workshop, along with regular concerts, poetry readings, drama performances and art exhibitions. Classes are offered in Gaeilg’ Acla (Achill Irish language) and courses in the visual arts are also provided. For more information visit scoilacla.ie.
Aside from Scoil Acla, a visitor to Achill will often stumble across a traditional music session in one of our many pubs. These sessions are sometimes organised but often impromptu, and the musicians will always welcome a fellow musician to pick up an instrument and join in! Check out the weekly event flyer to see where the next trad session place.
There has been a strong tradition of highland piping on Achill for the past 60 years and Achill Island is home to five full pipebands, one from each village and an all-island pipe band that competes under the name of the “Achill Pipeband” at national and international competitions. The bands play a central role in the St Patricks Day festivities on Achill Island, with all 5 bands marching together. The Dooagh band start the day with the 6am reveille and the parade lasts for most of the day, with the other bands joining at various stages along the route. Visitors and locals follow the bands from church to church, and pub to pub, for the duration of the day, making this one of the most unique St Patricks day parades in the country!