Atlantic Drive, Achill Island
Achill Island and the Currane Peninsula, on the west coast of Co Mayo, are among the most remote and scenic areas in Ireland. Some of the local roads that follow the coastline of Achill, and which boast some of the most spectacular views of the area, have been designated ‘The Atlantic Drive’. These pages describe the routes of Achill’s Atlantic Drive.
Loop 1: Curraun
This 20km loop contains few hills and is therefore perfect for cyclists. Begin your journey at Achill Sound and take the R319 across the Michael Davitt Bridge. To the left of the road you will see the Railway Hostel which was once the end-of-line station for the Achill rail line. This line connected Achill to Westport from 1895 to the 1930s. As you continue your journey through the villages of Polranny, Tonragee, Owenduff an on to Mulranny, the dismantled railway line is located to your left. Also visible on the left are tidal waters fed from Blacksod Bay and Achill Sound, and which culminate in Bellacragher Bay, a large tidal inlet that is home to a fish farm.
To your right on this part of the journey from Achill Sound to Mulranny are several peaks, including Polranny Hill (452m) and Curraun Hill (524m). In between these imposing peaks is an extensive area of forestry that is accessible on foot via a network of paths and trails. Many of these tracks are marked on the Ordnance Survey Map No. 30.
The R319 ends at the junction with the N59 just outside the village of Mulranny. Take a right turn at this junction, then about 200m further on take a sharp right turn, following the signs for the ‘Atlantic Drive’ and Curraun.
This coast road runs close to the cliff edge and provides spectacular views of Clew Bay with its reputed 365 islands. Visible immediately to the left is the golden strand and village of Mulranny. Looking across Clew Bay, Croagh Patrick (764m) can be seen to the south-east, Mwreelrea, the Sheefry Hills and the Maamturks in Connemara are due south, and to the south-west lies Clare Island and Achill Beg island. There are several lay-bys and parking spots along this stretch of narrow and twisting road, perfect for picnics or simply to stop and explore the coastline on foot. One of these lay-bys is at the site of the Spanish Armada memorial. This plaque was erected to commemorate the ship San Nicolas Prodaneli which was wrecked on the shore at Toorglass, Currane Peninsula, in 1588.
Follow the road through the villages of Dooghbeg and Bolinglanna, and on into the village of Currane, where a copper mine was once worked and where the founder of the British police force, Sir Robert Peel, once resided. Curraun House, locally known as ‘the George’, was once the site of a famous tropical garden, and for many years was the house of the landlord Dickens.
Taking the road through the village, you will drive for some miles following the shoreline of Achill Sound. To your right is Curraun Hill while across the waters of the Sound (to your left) you should be able to see Kildavnet Tower, a 16th century Irish tower house that was formerly used by Granuaile, the legendary pirate queen. This road ends at a junction with the R319, at which you should take a left turn towards Achill Sound, your starting point on this loop of Achill’s Atlantic Drive.
Loop 2: Achill Island
This 19km loop contains several steep climbs. Cyclists may have to walk their bikes up these stretches of hill.
Starting from the village at Achill Sound, drive away from the bridge and down the island. About 500m outside the village as you approach a small wooded area look out for a left-hand turn with several signposts, including one for The Atlantic Drive. This road, lined with spectacular rhododendrons in early summer, takes you along the Achill Island side of Achill Sound, through the villages of Shraheens and Derreens to Cloughmore. On this stretch of the journey you will pass the ancient church and graveyard at Kildavnet, close to the Tower and lifeboat station. Continue on to a T-junction with Darby’s Point and the pier to your left, Achill Beg island straight ahead, and take the right-hand turn to continue along the Atlantic Drive.
You are now travelling along Achill Island’s spectacular ‘Atlantic Drive’, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and the islands of Clare and Achill Beg. Take time to park up and explore the cliffs on foot, or just sit and listen to the crashing waves on the rocks below.
Inland to your right you should be able to see the now grass-covered ridges and furrows of the ‘lazybeds’. These ancient cultivation ridges were used for growing potatoes or cereal crops and often run parallel to the slope of the ground in order to aid drainage. Their existence on these rocky hills by this remote coastline demonstrates how far cultivation and settlement was spread across Achill in former times. To your left, between the road and the sea, lies further evidence of former habitation including no fewer than three promontory forts.
The stretch of the Atlantic Drive between Cloughmore and Ashleam meanders for about 4.5km before ascending a small hill to a vantage point that looks down into Ashleam Bay. This small, pebbly cove, sometimes known as Portnahally, is enclosed by rocky cliffs some 80-100ft high. Here the road descends in a series of hairpin bends overlooking the inlet of Ashleam Bay.
Continuing up the other side of this valley you have the choice of turning right through Ashleam village and back towards Achill Sound, or turning left to continue along the Atlantic Drive route until you reach the seaside village of Dooega. This picturesque fishing village boasts one of Achill’s five Blue Flag beaches.
Taking the main road through Dooega, you will reach a left turn leading to Minaun Heights. This steep road ends at a hill-top viewing point, giving a breathtaking view of Achill Island. On a clear day, you can see the entire area and also Blacksod Bay and the Belmullet Peninsula. Back on the main road, stop off in Cashel for a while. From Cashel you can travel to Achill Sound through Glendarry Woods, or travel to Keel and Dooagh.