Achill Island pictured from the mainland before the Michael Davitt bridge was built and opened in 1887.

The state of four Mayo islands in 1838 recalled

By Tom Gillespie

SAMUEL Lewis (circa 1782 to 1865) was the editor and publisher of topographical dictionaries and maps of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. The aim of the texts was to give in 'a condensed form' a faithful and impartial description of each place.

The firm of Samuel Lewis and Co. was based in London. Samuel Lewis the elder died in 1865. His son of the same name predeceased him in 1862.

The names of places are those in use prior to the publication of the Ordnance Survey Atlas in 1838.

The dictionary gives a unique picture of Ireland before the Great Famine.

Lewis’ reference to Mayo islands of that period reads:

ACHILL, a parish in the barony of Burrishoole, county of Mayo, and province of Connaught, 14 miles (W.) from Newport-Pratt; containing 5,277 inhabitants.

This district comprehends the islands of Achill and Achillbeg, and the peninsula of Coraan, Achill.

The island of Achill, which is the largest off the Irish coast, is situated in the Atlantic Ocean, and is separated from the mainland by a narrow sound, of which the southern part, called Pollyranny, is fordable at low water.

It is bounded to the north by Blacksod and in the south by Clew bay, and is 16 miles in length and about seven miles in breadth, forming a line of coast about 80 miles in circuit, and comprising 46,401 statute acres, chiefly the property of Sir Richard A. O’Donnell, Bart., and partly belonging to the Marquess of Sligo.

The eastern side is mostly a precipitous range of cliffs, but the eastern side is in every part well sheltered.

Achill Head, a bold promontory, is situated in the south-western extremity of the island, in lat. 53 degrees 53’ 58" (N.), and lon. 10 degrees 12’ 20" (W.); and at the northern extremity is Saddle Head, at the entrance to Blacksod bay.

Between this and the smaller island of Achillbeg is a channel called Achill Hole, where vessels drawing 10 or 12 feet of water may ride in safety in all states of weather.

The peninsula of Coraan, Achill, also called the Hook of Achill, lies to the east of the island, and is connected to the mainland by a narrow isthmus of Pollyranny; a powerful tide runs in the sound at the narrows called Bull’s Mouth.

The surface is very elevated, rising into lofty eminences, of which the highest is the hill of Coraan, 2,254 feet above the level of the sea.

There is but little arable land, which is chiefly in the valleys and near the shore.

In addition to the mountains of Coraan and Slievemore is Menal Hill, on which is a precipice rising abruptly from the sea to the height of 700 feet.

Till within the last 15 years (1813) there were no roads in this retired district; the Sound is about a mile across, and a house has been built and a ferry boat established for the accommodation of travellers.

There are several good and safe harbours; and the Fishery Board built a landing pier at this place.

Keel is a coastguard station, and is one of the six that constitutes the district of Newport; and at Dugarth there is another, which is one of six included in the district of Belmullet.

The living is a rectory, in the diocese of Tuam, and in the patronage of the Archbishop: the tithes amount to £100. There is neither a church, glebehouse, nor glebe: divine service is performed at the house of the Achill mission, at Dugarth, twice every Sunday, in the English and Irish languages.

In the R.C. divisions this forms a separate and distinct parish: there are two places of worship, one at Kildavenet and the other at Dookenella, but no regular chapel has been built.

There are schools at Dugarth, Slievemore, Keel, and Cashel, in which about 380 children receive instruction; also two play schools, in which are 80 boys and six girls.

There are remains of old churches, with burial grounds attached, at Kildurnet and Slievemore; and at the former place are also the remains of an ancient castle, which originally belonged to Grace O’Malley.


ACHILLBEG, an island in the parish of Achill, barony of Burrishoole, county of Mayo, and providence of Connaught, 22 miles (W.) from Newport-Pratt: the population is returned with the parish.

This island is situated on the western coast, and on the north side of the entrance to Clew bay; it is separated from the larger island of Achill by a narrow sound, which in some parts is fordable and almost dry at low water.

The western shore is very wild, and, in consequence of the swells running to a great height, is unapproachable even in the calmest weather.

It comprises of 200 statute acres, the property of Sir Richard A. O’Donnell, Bart. A small portion of land is arable and the remainder in rocky pasture.

A coastguard station has been established here, and is one of six stations constituting the district of Westport.


INNISHTURK, or INISTURK, an island, in the parish of Kilgavower, barony of Murrisk, county of Mayo, and province of Connaught, 20 miles (S.W.) of Westport; containing 554 inhabitants.

It is situated off the western coast, near Clare island, and consists chiefly of mountainous land and bog.

In the R.C. division if forms part of the union of districts of Clare island, and has a chapel. The pier, which was erected at the only landing place in the island, has fallen into ruin.


INNISHBIGGLE, or INISHEGIL, an island in the parish of Kilcommon, barony of Erris, county of Mayo, and province of Connaught: the population is returned with the parish.

It is situated at the entrance of the bay of Ballan, and contiguous to the island of Achill, on the western coast; and comprises 800 acres of bog and mountain, the property of Sir Richard A. O’Donel, Bart.