Grace O’Malley or Granuaile as she was known, was the Queen of Irish pirates back in the 1500s. She had the most fearsome reputation and her legend remains to this day. In July 1593, Grace O’Malley travelled to England to meet Queen Elizabeth I, the two most powerful women in the British Isles, refusing to bow to the Queen of England, it is said she is the only woman to ever commit an act of such rebellion and to keep her head!
Situated next to the castle is the ancient church and cemetery at Kildownet. The remains of the church are thought to date from the 12th century. The cemetery here is the home of two very sad events and Achill’s greatest ever tragedies. The Clew Bay drowning of 1894 where young people from every village on the island gathered together to travel to Scotland where they would work the harvest. They set off from Achill in boats known as hookers. One of the boats, the Victory, had over 100 islanders on board. With the excitement of reaching Westport and seeing the much larger steamer ship they all rushed up from the hull and over to the side of the boat, when tragedy struck and the hooker capsized. The passengers, mainly girls as young as twelve, screamed as they struggled to stay afloat. Within a few hours, thirty bodies lay side by side at Westport Quay. The devastation brought to Achill on that day lasted a lifetime as almost every family on the island lost a loved one. In 1937 another tragedy hit when ten boys from Achill, working as harvesters in Scotland, died in a terrible fire. The Bothy in which they had been locked for the night caught fire with no chance of escape.
If you do happen to visit Kildownet or the castle, take a few moments to sit down and look over the water and listen to the absolute silence…it really is beautiful.