Last Deserted Village Residents Have Emotional Reunion

Posted in Connect on July 25, 2019.


An emotional family reunion took place in Achill over the weekend when two members of the last family to live in the Deserted Village returned to their former home.

The Callaghan family were the last family to live in one of the famed Deserted Village cottages on Achill Island until they left the island in 1948. Over the weekend, two of the remaining eight children, brother and sister Anthony Callaghan and Annie Ward, along with extended family members, returned to their former family home.

The Deserted Village is believed to once have had a population of 1,700 prior to the Great Famine when the majority of the residents left to settle closer to the sea in Dooagh and Pollagh in Achill.
While the traditional stone cottages were used as a seasonal Boley village until the early 20th Century, the Callaghan family remained living there permanently.

Anthony Callaghan, son of Patrick and Annabelle Callaghan, was the last of the family to be born in the Deserted Village and was six years old when the family emigrated. He now resides in Glasgow and along with his sister, Annie, who resides in Donegal, they returned to their former homestead, which is now in ruins on the foot of Slievemore.

This trip was much more special than their previous visits as they were accompanied by 50 family members from all over the UK and Ireland, all keen to connect with their unique heritage.
Anthony and Annie recalled their memories of living in the village and going to school in their bare feet and looking after their cattle. Marie McGuire, daughter of Anthony, said that it was an emotional occasion.

“It was an emotional time for all of us and it was great to be back in Achill together as a family. We all live in different countries and don’t meet up too often and when we do it’s often for funerals. To be together for such a happy occasion was something we will always remember,” she said.

Hugh Ward, son of Annie, explained that the family had been talking about a reunion for a number of years and it was important to see their heritage.
“We are lucky enough to have two members of the family who are here still with us. It’s just incredible, we have learned so much about our history up here today. It is a fabulous occasion but there is a lot of sadness too obviously. The times spent here were hard times. We are privileged nowadays when we look back and see what they had. It is a lifetime for us, the younger ones here are all in awe of it,” he said.

The family unveiled a plaque at the family home with a photograph taken in 1935 of some of the children. The names of the children are also listed and they are Patrick, Bridgie, Mary, Annie, Katie, Bella, Agnes and Anthony.

Hugh said that it was right that the last family to live in the Deserted Village are remembered.
“I live in Co Cork now and the amount of people who have said they have been up in Mayo and say do you know the Deserted Village. They have all been and I can say that my mother’s family were the last ones to leave. For us it is an incredible story and I don’t think it gets the appreciation that it should. They were incredible people.”

Check out a video from the reunion here:

Unique Family Reunion on Achill Island.

The last children born in the The Deserted Village return for emotional reunion 71 years after leaving. The Deserted Village at Slievemore provides a haunting reminder of times past on Achill Island.Prior to the famine, the population was in the region of 1,700. Although it was used as a seasonal Boley village until the early 20th Century, almost all its permanent residents left during the 1850s. Almost all! One family, the Callaghan’s remained behind. Their cottage was the most westerly in the village and was aligned in a east-west direction. It was larger than the others, although this seems to be due to later extensions built onto each gable. By 1948, almost 100 years after their neighbours had left, it was time for the Callaghan’s to move out too. The families father worked in Scotland and recruited seasonal workers from Mayo and Donegal to work on the potato farms of Scotland. So the family with eight children, Patrick, Bridgie, Mary, Annie, Katie, Bela, Agnes and Anthony left the village for the last time. Anthony was the youngest and was only six years old when they moved away. He holds the distinction of being the last child born in the Deserted Village. In July 2019, he returned to their old home with his sister Annie, the last surviving siblings. But this trip was much more special than their previous visits as they were accompanied by 50 family members from all over the UK and Ireland, all keen to connect with their unique heritage. The younger members of the family had many questions and although Anthony was only 6 when he left he still had many vivid memories of his childhood. He recalled getting a football and bringing it to school where it was burst by the bigger boys but the kind hearted teacher “Master Quinn” replaced it for him the next day! He remembered his sister Mary, gathering berries to make jam in the same can that they milked the cows with. The cows saw the can and presumed it was time for milking so ran towards Mary. The frightened Mary ran away, spilled the berries and no jam was made that day. Annie recalled collecting the local white quartzite, coloring it purple and selling it to unsuspecting tourists as Achill’s famous amethyst! She also told of milking the cows (sometimes not just their own) and collecting water from a nearby spring. One of the youngest members of the family asked Anthony which was his bedroom. He pointed up to the long disappeared loft to the puzzlement of his audience. Both Annie and Anthony remembered making the long journey to school in the neighboring village in their bare feet!Some great memories were revealed but you got the feeling that many more precious memories had just being created. Set at the foot of the south-facing slope of Slievemore mountain, this 'village' consists of the remains of almost 100 traditional stone cottages. They are set either side of an ancient pathway, almost all aligned in the same north-south direction, and they occupy one of the most sheltered areas of Achill Island. The 'village' – literally it is three distinct groups of cottages – extends for a distance of about one mile.It is thought that the village was occupied during several different stages in history, with some of the buildings perhaps being constructed on top of previous dwellings. Through study of the field systems surrounding the Deserted Village, archaeological investigation, and historical research it has been established that settlement dates at least to the Anglo-Norman period (12th Century AD). The presence of a megalithic tomb close to the village, indicates habitation in the area some 5,000 years ago.Wild Atlantic Way Mayo.ie Blue Flag Media

Posted by What's on in Achill on Monday, July 22, 2019

Thanks to Seán Molloy for sending us the video link.

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