THE SLOPES OF SLIEVEMORE
people of Achill Island are renowned for their warmth and friendliness.
Their ‘Cead Mile Failte’ has endeared them to countless tourists
from all over the world, many of whom return to the Island again and again.
Achill is the largest island off the Irish coast. Being virtually untouched
by change, It has retained its natural, rugged beauty. Lying in the Atlantic
Ocean, off the west coast of County Mayo, Achill is a tourist’s
The scenery is just breathtaking. The 2,000 ft. sea-cliffs at Croghaun
mountain are said to be the highest in Europe. It is widely believed the
Corrie lakes on Croghaun date back to the Ice Age.
Minaun Heights is a ‘must’ for the keen photographer. On a
clear day much of the Island can be seen from this vantage - point.
At the foot of the Minaun cliffs lie the sea caves known as the Cathedral
Rocks. These can be explored at low tide.
The golden strand beaches at Dugort and Valley, in the north of the Island,
attract many who prefer a tent or caravan holiday. This location is ideal
for those who wish to ‘get away from it all’ and enjoy a quiet,
The largest of the Island’s beaches is the beautiful Keel Strand,
which stretches for over two miles. The small sheltered beach at Keem
Bay, in the west of the Island, is very popular. The waters here seem
to be warmer than elsewhere.
A journey along the rugged coastline of the Atlantic Drive, with its spectacular
scenery, is a wonderful experience.
The large expanses of boglands and moors, and the lakes, hills, and valleys
attract many visitors to Achill. Many of them prefer to use bicycles as
they tour the Island. These can be hired locally.
Slievemore mountain is probably one of the most popular tourist attractions
on Achill. During one of my visits to the Island I met two enthusiastic
climbers in Dugort. These young men were determined to reach the summit
of Slievemore mountain (over 2, 200 feet). I believe the view from the
top of the mountain is spectacular, taking in the whole Island.
A number of Megalithic Tombs, which are about five thousand years old,
can be found on Slievemore. These ancient burial chambers have aroused
great interest amongst the locals in recent years. Students of archaeology
have visited the Island specifically to research these historic monuments.
Not far from the village of Dugort stand the remains of the Achill Missionary
Settlement, which was built by Rev. Edward Nangle on the slopes of Slievemore
in the 1830’s.
But the area of Slievemore most frequently visited by tourists is definitely
the Deserted Village. Visitors from many parts of the world come to view
this stark reminder of bygone days. Many of them wonder how such a village
During my days in Primary school I learned a poem entitled ‘The
Deserted Village’. Little did I think back then that many years
later I would stand amongst the ruins of such a village on the slopes
As I approached the Deserted Village I could see the remains of about
seventy stone built houses. There had at one time been a thriving community
of families living in these now crumbling dwellings. The small whitewashed
cabins would all have been thatched. But these houses had no chimneys.
The smoke from the fire escaped either through the open door or filtered
into the thatch. There was only one small window in the house. Many of
these dimly-lit, smoky houses accommodated not only large families but
also a couple of cows and pigs.
The staple diet of the inhabitants of the village consisted mainly of
potatoes. Cabbage, turnips and fish were used to a lesser degree. The
rich soil of Slievemore was particularly suited to growing potatoes. The
lazy-beds (ridge and furrow fields) in which the potatoes were grown can
still be seen around the outskirts of the village.
There was almost total dependence upon this one vegetable. Ultimately,
this proved to be disastrous. When the blight affected the potato crop,
causing it to fail, the ensuing Great Famine of 1845-49 helped to empty
this once-thriving village. Many of its former inhabitants had already
known the cruel scourge of eviction. Those who didn’t die from hunger
or disease either emigrated or moved to the village of Dooagh. There was
a greater chance of survival for those who lived nearer to the sea.
The old road from the Deserted Village to Dooagh can still be seen. It
is often referred to as ‘The Old Bog Road’. The people who
returned to the deserted houses in later years and used them as a ‘Booley
Village’ travelled this well-worn road. Each year, May 1st marked
the beginning of the booley season.
The Islanders planted their crops in fields that were not fenced or enclosed
in any way. As a means of protecting their crops from the grazing livestock
they moved their animals to fresh pastures in the mountains, where they
stayed for the duration of the Summer months.
Some of the Islanders accompanied the livestock to the mountains and remained
with them. Their accomodation consisted of a number of temporary dwellings.
Family members regularly visited those living in the booley villages,
bringing them fresh supplies of food. The milk and butter were then collected
and brought back home.
As soon as Autumn arrived the herdsmen brought their animals back down
from the mountain pastures to the lowlands. The Deserted Village was used
as a Booley Village for a number of years.
One beautiful evening as I walked along the slopes of Slievemore, on the
rugged track that leads to the Deserted Village, I stopped for a while
to watch a shepherd round up his sheep. He had two sheep-dogs with him.
One was an older, mature, experienced animal, while the other was a young
learner. It was fascinating to watch these dogs in action. The shepherd
stood in one position and whistled and shouted instructions to his dogs.
Responding to their master’s commands they circled the sheep until
they had them pointed in the right direction. While the younger dog guided
them towards the desired destination the older one took on the responsibility
of rounding up any that sought to stray from the flock. When his sheep
arrived safely at the grazing area he had chosen the shepherd recalled
his dogs and headed for home.
That same evening I was walking through Slievemore graveyard. I noticed
the burial place of three courageous sheep farmers who had died on Slievemore
mountain while seeking to rescue their sheep. I stood in silence at that
graveside, with great respect in my heart for those three brave men whose
lives had been lost on that wild mountainside.
I was reminded of a similar event that took place many years ago in another
part of Ireland.
In the mid-1800’s, John, a minister of the Gospel, received a message
asking him to visit a house in a very remote and inaccessible part of
the South of Ireland. The request came from the mother of a boy who was
very sick and likely to die very soon. Her desire was that John might
be able to help her dying son to make his peace with God during the short
time he had left.
It took John some time to make the journey, as he had to walk over steep
hills and through rough terrain. But he eventually reached the door of
the little whitewashed cottage. As he entered the dimly lit kitchen the
distraught mother rose and offered him the chair upon which she had been
sitting. She was delighted to see him. After thanking him for coming she
led him to where her son lay. He was about eighteen years old.
The boy was very ill, and showed signs of severe suffering and anguish.
He lay in a small bedroom with his eyes closed. The room would have been
in complete darkness were it not for the chink of light that filtered
through the tiny shuttered window.
The boy opened his eyes as his mother and John approached. John introduced
himself and explained that he had come in response to the mother’s
request. A bout of coughing shook the boy’s feeble frame, causing
him severe shortness of breath.
John asked him if he’d had the cough for some time. The boy told
him he’d had it for about a year. John expressed his surprise at
the fact that a hardy country-boy, who had been reared in the mountains,
should have contracted such a severe cough. He thought he would have been
accustomed to harsh weather conditions. The boy went on to tell John of
what had happened to him.
“I was hardy and strong until that terrible night. I will never
forget it. Just about this time last year one of the sheep went astray.
You see, my father keeps sheep on the mountains. This is how we make our
living. When father counted his sheep that night he discovered that one
of them was missing. He was very concerned for the safety of the sheep.
So he sent me out to look for it.
The weather had been very bad and the snow covered the ground like a blanket.
A very bitter wind was blowing as I set out on my journey. I felt as if
the wind was piercing me right through. But I didn’t mind. I was
very anxious to find my father’s sheep. I had a lot of walking to
do over the rugged, snow-covered mountains. But I kept on going through
the darkness of the night and didn’t stop until I found the poor
John then asked how he got the sheep home. He wondered if it had been
willing to follow him home. The boy said the poor animal was very tired
and would have been unable to make the journey. So he decided to lay the
sheep on his shoulders and carry it home.
John suggested there must have been great rejoicing at home when the boy
returned with the sheep. “There surely was. Father and mother were
really delighted. And the people who had heard that one of our sheep was
lost came in the next morning to ask if it had been rescued. In matters
like this the neighbours are mighty kind. They look out for each other
and make themselves available to help if anybody is in trouble.
They were all very sorry to hear that it had been necessary for me to
stay out all night on the snowy mountainside, in the freezing wind. It
was morning before I got home. As a result of being exposed to the harsh
weather I caught this cold. Mother says I will never be better now. But
God knows best. Anyway, I did my best to save the poor lost sheep,”
said the boy.
Here is the whole Gospel story, John thought to himself. The sheep is
lost. The father sends his son to seek and to save it. The son goes willingly.
He endures much suffering, eventually sacrificing his life to save the
sheep. Having found the sheep, he carries it home on his shoulders to
the flock. He rejoices with his friends and neighbours over the sheep
that was lost but is now found.
John explained to the dying boy the plan of salvation, making use of his
own simple account of what had happened out on the mountainside. He then
read to him some verses from the Scriptures, which speak of the shepherd’s
love for the lost sheep -
‘What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them,
doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that
which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth
it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together
his friends and neighbours, saying unto them – “Rejoice
with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.” I say unto you,
that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more
than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.”
’ (Luke Ch. 15 vs. 4 – 7)
God enabled the dying boy to fully understand these words of Jesus. He
himself was the lost sheep. Jesus was the good shepherd who was sent by
the Father to seek and to save him. Christ laid down His life on the cross
at Calvary so that he might be rescued from destruction and brought safely
to his everlasting home. Having rescued His sheep, the good shepherd will
not leave him to walk the perilous path alone. He carries him on His shoulders
rejoicing to the Heavenly Fold.
The dying boy understood it all. He invited Jesus Christ into his heart,
trusting Him to forgive his sins and to save his soul. He sincerely prayed
to be carried home like the lost sheep in the Heavenly Shepherd’s
The boy lived for just a few days after John’s visit. He died peacefully
in the little cottage in which he had been reared. “Jesus, my Saviour”,
and “Jesus, my Shepherd”, were the last words he uttered.
Friend, I trust you have been blessed as you read this account of what
happened out on that wild mountainside so many years ago. The poor sheep
was lost. No matter how hard he tried, he could not find his way home.
Irrespective of what efforts he made, he could not save himself. The father
knew this and sent his son to rescue the one who was lost. Do you see
the great value the father placed upon one sheep?
Do you see the great value God the Father placed upon one young Irish
shepherd boy who lay lost and dying in that remote little cottage? God
loved this boy so much that He sent His Son to die for him so that his
soul could be saved.
did you know that God places great value upon YOU? He sees your lost condition.
He tells us in His Word that –
‘ALL we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every
one to his own way..’ ; ‘For ALL have sinned, and come short
of the glory of God.’ ; ‘For the wages of sin is death..’
(Isaiah Ch. 53 v 6 ; Romans Ch. 3 v 23 ; Ch. 6 v 23)
a sinner you are in danger of perishing – ‘Except
ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish’. (Luke Ch. 13
He knows that, regardless of what efforts you make, you cannot save yourself.
These efforts may include membership of a particular Church, religious
exercises or good works. But none of these can save you - ‘NOT
by works of righteousness which WE have done, but according to his mercy
he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy
Ghost’. (Titus Ch. 3 v 5)
to the Scriptures you are in a very serious condition. You are lost, in
danger of perishing, and unable to do anything to save yourself.
God the Father sent His Son to rescue you – ‘For God
so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever
believeth in him SHOULD NOT PERISH, but have everlasting life’.
(John Ch. 3 v 16)
said –‘For the Son of Man is come to SEEK and to SAVE
that which was lost… I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth
his life for the sheep’. (Luke Ch. 19 v 10 ; John Ch. 10
He is seeking you TODAY. He is willing to save you TODAY-
‘Behold, NOW is the accepted time; behold, NOW is the day of salvation’.
(2 Corinthians Ch. 6 v 2)
we began this little booklet by considering some of what has happened
on Slievemore mountain. But let us not forget what happened on Calvary’s
mountain. The Good Shepherd went up Calvary’s mountain for the purpose
of rescuing those who are lost. He willingly became your substitute and
laid down His life on your behalf.
As He suffered and died upon the cross He paid in full the penalty for
the guilt of the sins of all who will repent of their sins and put their
faith in Him.
I encourage you to seriously consider your lost condition. You cannot
save yourself. So why not cry out to the Good Shepherd, asking Him to
rescue you - ‘For whosoever shall call upon the name of
the Lord shall be saved’. (Romans Ch.10 v 13)
the fact that you are a sinner, come to Him in sincere repentance, asking
Him to forgive you.
Place yourself in His hands, trusting Him to save you and to carry you
safely home to His Father.
© Dick Keogh