Achill Island – A Shoot on the Wild Side

This year we’ve seen some of the coldest spring weather for years, with a continuous feed of polar air flooding across the country throughout April and the first half of May. But although some parts of the country saw lots of rain with it, the northwest was, for once, absolved of the penance and instead we had way above average hours of sunshine. What does this mean for landscape photographers? Well for a start air originating in the polar regions has an unsurpassed crystal clear quality. That air is also unstable and coming in from the relatively warm Atlantic and so it readily picks up moisture that forms into heavy rain and hail showers. In the right balance all of these ingredients can add up to dramatic lighting conditions.

View over Achill Island from the Menawn Cliffs, Co Mayo, Ireland.
View over Achill Island from the Menawn Cliffs, Co Mayo, Ireland.

Last month I made a couple of overnight trips to Achill Island off the west coast of County Mayo. Achill is understandably famous for its landscapes. In poor weather it has a bleakness unmatched by any other place I know in Ireland, but in the right conditions it has a breathtaking raw beauty. One of my favourite locations on Achill is the Minaun Heights which can be reached by an incredibly steep tarmac road laid to provide access to the radio masts on the summit. At over 400m, the views are far-reaching, taking in the classic sweep of Keel Strand, backed by the summits of Slievemore and Croaghaun.

Tempting as it is to set up within easy reach of the car (it is almost always seriously cold up there in a polar air flow) I prefer walking the short distance to the shrine on top of the slightly higher summit to the south. From here you not only get this classic view to the west (see image above) but by looking the other way you also get an incredible view southwest across the little village of Dooega, Clare Island, and the distant summits of Connemara (below).

Clare Island and Knockmore rainbow, Achill Island, Co Mayo, Ireland.

Don’t be fooled by the apparent sunshine and warmth in these two images, it was in fact only a few degrees above freezing, with a blustery northerly wind. Even with a down jacket, hat and gloves, and a good deal of moving back and forth to different locations on either side of the hill, I was still thoroughly chilled after two hours of shooting.

On my next visit to Achill a couple of weeks later the weather was marginally warmer, but the wind made shooting from high and exposed locations out of the question. I found myself at Purteen Harbour sheltering in my camper van and popping out every so often to shoot different compositions as the light changed from late afternoon into evening and finally to a beautiful calm dusk.

Evening fishing boats at Purteen Harbour, Achill Island, Co Mayo, Ireland.