Achill - An Artist's Paradise in Co. Mayo

The creative instinct of painter, photographer and writer have long responded to the unique atmosphere created by Achill's unique light and dramatic landscape.

This combination has attracted many artists throughout the years.

Heinrich Boll

Boll arrived on the island in the early 1950s’ and lived in Dugort. His cottage is now home for writers and artists, funded by Mayo County Council and The Arts Council of Ireland to facilitate the continuing tradition of artistic expression on the island.

Graham Greene

The English writer Graham Greene lived for some years in Dooagh.

The British novelist Graham Greene visited and lived on Achill in the late 1940s’.

It is said that he wrote part of his two novels “The Heart of the Matter” and “The Fallen Idol” in Dooagh. Also, the island inspired some of the most beautiful Greene’s poems.

He was introduced to Achill by Catherine Walston who was the wife of millionaire British MP Harry (later Lord) Walston and friend to Ernie O’ Malley, who introduced her to the island. She rented a traditional stone cottage in Dooagh as a rustic retreat.

They first stayed on Achill in 1947 and started their affair that year.

Achill was a hugely symbolic place for Graham Greene, a place where his imagination could work and feelings of love, passion, obsession, jealousy, guilt and despair could grow freely.

He loved Achill so much that he thought to give up writing books, marry Catherine and buy the country hotel, The Old Head at Killsallagh in Louisburgh on the south side of Clew Bay, but he never did and despite his fondness for the island his visits ceased.

Paul Henry

Irish artist Paul Henry lived on Achill Island too.

He is best known for his superb representations of this very special island where he learned to capture the peculiar interplay of light and landscape specific to the West of Ireland.

In the 1910 summer, Paul Henry and his Scottish wife Grace Mitchell Henry arrived in Achill. They planned a two week holiday on the island. They were both painters, and the Achill’s landscapes and people enchanted them so much that they decided to stay longer than planned. Actually, they lived in Achill until 1919.

The wild landscapes were source for Paul’s works and imbued his imagery and style which became distinctive for the new Irish Free State and iconic of the western Irish landscapes. He focused on people working and doing their daily chores in the landscape, village and homes alike.

Also, Paul was involved in the Gaelic revivalists active on the island and directed the Douglas Hyde play Casadh an t Súgáin in the Scoil Acla Hall in Dooagh village.

His wife Grace was inspired by the rugged landscape and simple island life too. Her style was different, more modernist and expressionistic. Her Achill landscapes were reduced to essential outlines and flat shapes. Actually, Grace was not as happy living there and their stay on the island led to their separation.

Robert Henry

Maybe the most famous artist who lived in Achill is the American painter Robert Henry. He made several trips to The West of Ireland. He visited Achill and, after 1913, he rented a house near Dooagh: Corrymore House which he purchased in 1924. During the following years every spring and summer he travelled back to Achill to paint the Achill’s children. His portraits are the most emotional aspect of his body of work.

Like Paul and Grace Henry, Robert Henri Achill reminded him of Breton farming and fishing communities which he had visited when a painting student in Paris. Probably Robert and Paul met in Paris as art students, but most likely they met in Achill. Incomprehensibly they never mentioned each other in their accounts.

In 1899 he rented a cottage in ruin with the annexed three acres field at Bleanaskill Bay. He rebuilt the cottage, turning it into a bigger house and set a garden which is the only surviving garden made before the First World War on Achill.

His works were focused on marine and landscape compositions and his day to day diary, written on the island between 1906 and 1913, is a unique piece of work. It gives the portrait of the man, both as artist and naturalist, enthralled by the island.

Other Artists

Many other painters and writers were inspired by the unique landscapes of Achill including Marei Howet, Maurice MacGonigal, Louis le Brocquy, Mainie Jellett, Derek Hill, Louis MacNeice, Camille Souter, Ernie O’Malley and Peader O’Donnell.

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