One of the most remote islands in Ireland is home to one of the country’s most enduring mysteries. Achill Island was once home to what appeared to be a thriving village established in 1838. Over forty homes once lined the valley near Keem Bay, but today all that remains of the abandoned settlement is a few mounds of earth hinting at what once stood above ground.

An excavated foundation of one of the abandoned homes.

Locals in the area have no memory of the village, and the only records left behind were collected by travel writers who noted the village’s serene beauty but described the locals as “primitive and backward.” Given that the other settlements on the island remained inhabited, what could have happened to the village at Keem?

Keem Bay today

To begin answering this question, a team of researchers and students from the Achill Archaeological Field School have begun carrying out excavations on the village in a search for clues that might help solve this mystery. According to the school’s website, there is evidence of some type of trauma which occurred around the middle of the nineteenth century:

The haunting and evocative remains of the houses are a monument to a traumatic period in the island’s history that is being slowly uncovered by archaeological investigation and documentary research. Folklore associated with the village revolves around the ‘booley (transhumance) phase’ of seasonal livestock herding that took place subsequent to abandonment of the village in the mid nineteenth century.

The archaeologists have so far found the houses were typical rural dwellings constructed of stone and mud, which usually leave much more significant ruins than what has been left behind today. According to Irish news outlet IrishCentral, there is evidence that the homes were intentionally destroyed.

Students and researchers pose beside one of their dig sites.

Current theories revolve around the great famine that occurred in Ireland around the same time period, although these do not account for the fact that the village appears to have been razed or demolished. The Achill Archaeological Field School plans to return in 2017 to conduct further investigations.

Brett Tingley

Brett Tingley is a writer and musician living in the ancient Appalachian mountains.

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