Farming, History of Achill Island in Co. Mayo

Achill is covered for its two-thirds by bog, mainly in its centre. A large portion of cultivated peat and sand is found in the coastal areas.

Slievemore is the second highest peak on the island after Croaghaun and stands at 671 metres. On this mountain the reddish sandy soil is rich in cobalt and minerals. Here potatoes and vegetables grew well. Here teenage boys and girls of the family took the cattle to graze in summertime and used to live in the houses of the Deserted Village until go back to their homes in the villages beside the sea.

Cattle used to be the mainstay of the Achill’s economy, but then, in the 19th century, sheep, easier to breed, became more popular. This lifestyle, called ‘boolying’, was carried on until 1940’s not only on Slievemore but also on Croaghaun mountain and in the Curraun Peninsula.

When the Deserted Village was definitely abandoned the people of Dooagh used to pasture their cattle on the mountain during the day and milk them there. The cans of milk was stored in the fresh water of the streams and then brought back home in the evening. Old locals used to say the best tea on Achill was made with Slievemore’s water.

Crops used to be grown around the villages on small pieces of land rented from the landlord with the “Rundale” system. This was a system used for farming: the land was held in common and then shared by all the villagers to graze their cattle and sheep after the crops’ harvesting.

In the fields and right up the mountains “lazy beds” can be still seen nowadays. That’s a way parallel banks of potato or crops ridges were dug by spade, with narrow drainage channels between them, where seaweed fertiliser was applied to improve the ground.

Turf and bog deals were cut and dug up from bogs. They were left on the ground to dry and then collected for fuel.

Women used to spin the wool on the spinning wheel near the fireplace lit with bog-deals or turf. Also, bog deals were used for roofing houses and for making household furniture.