ON THE SLOPES OF SLIEVEMORE

The 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 paradise.

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, relaxed holiday.

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 could ‘die’.

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 of Slievemore.

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 lost sheep.”

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 arms.

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.

Dear 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.

Friend, 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)

As a sinner you are in danger of perishing – ‘Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish’. (Luke Ch. 13 v 3)

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)

According 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.

But 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)

Jesus 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 v 11)

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)

Friend, 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.

May 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)

Acknowledging 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