Sands of time return Achill beach 30 years after it washed away

Ocean deposits thousands of tons of sand at Dooagh, recreating the strand

British novelist Graham Greene walked it and actress Angela Lansbury played on Achill's Dooagh beach in Co Mayo before the Atlantic stole it away more than 30 years ago.

However, for the first time since the summer of 1984, the island village of Dooagh can now enjoy a strand again, as the ocean has deposited thousands of tons of sand, shells and pebbles at Dooagh in the past few weeks.

"It's enormously significant,"says Sean Molloy of Achill Tourism, who recalls how the beach had originally sustained four hotels and a number of guesthouses before it vanished.

Currachs had launched from the beach before a pier was built in 1927, and its sand was mixed with seaweed to enrich soil and fertilise crops – as on the Aran islands.


A bugle would summon villagers to the beach when large quantities of wrack (seaweeed) were washed up with the spring tides.

Dooagh resident Emmet Callaghan still has the bugle, which was once sounded by his great-great-grandfather Patrick. A meitheal would then take place to divide the wrack into equal parcels.

"In this way the wrack was shared out equally among the families in what was once one of the largest villages in Europe, " Mr Callaghan says.

He describes how Dooagh’s population had been boosted when householders living on the side of Slievemore mountain moved down to the shore, quitting what became known as Achill’s “deserted village”, latterly used for booleying or summer pasture for livestock.

Lansbury and Greene

Mr Molloy says the beach at Dooagh was washed away before in the 1890s, but the strand was well back when Ms Lansbury visited as a child in the 1930s.

Graham Greene visited the island in the late 1940s with his partner, Catherine Walston, and the couple stayed in a cottage in Dooagh that had no electricity and just one outside tap for water.

He is said to have written parts of The Heart of the Matter and The Fallen Idol, along with poetry, while there.

Migration is part of the nature of beaches, which are formed by wave action transporting eroding material from elsewhere. Hard engineering to prevent coastal erosion can disrupt the natural cycle.

International tourism interests spend millions of euro on the controversial practice of artificial “nourishing” (replenishing sand on beaches with sand from other sources), which forces up the price of sand.

The severe storms of 2009 and 2010 had a dramatic impact on beaches across the Atlantic seaboard, stripping away sand and exposing 7,000-year-old tree roots in Galway Bay and up towards Mayo.

While signs still point to the beach, the same storms washed away access points to Dooagh, and residents now hope these will be restored by Mayo County Council.

“Achill already has five blue-flag beaches, so we are hoping that in time it will be awarded a sixth,”Mr Molloy says.

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins is the former western and marine correspondent of The Irish Times