Situated on the north west corner of Mayo the parish of Aughoose has both amazing scenery and a notoriously wet and windy climate in winter. Standing on the shores of Sruth Fada Conn bay the area is reputedly one of the places where the Children of Lir spent 300 years according to Irish mythology.
People have been living in northwest Mayo for millenia. The Ceide Fields, a 5,000 year old settlement is situated 30 Miles east of Aughoose, however since this settlement was first built the landscape has fundamentally changed and it is now covered in bogland. In spite of this patches of farmland have been carved out of the landscape over several generations. In the medieval era Aughoose and the wider Erris area was conquered during the norman expansion into Connaught in the 1230’s and 40’s. Norman settler family names of Barrett and Philbin amongst others are still common in the area. In modern times Aughoose has gained much unwanted fame as the epicentre of an ongoing 12 year community struggle against shell who are attempting to build a high-presssure raw gas pipeline and inland gas refinery in the area.
Historically life in Aughoose has been a struggle, land is poor indeed it is a struggle to sustain grassland which quickly reverts back to bog if not constantly maintained. While fertilisers are used to this end today, traditionally much of the farmland in the area was created by hauling seaweed from the shoreline onto the land to create small plots of farm land. AE Russell described Aughoose as “perhaps the poorest area in Ireland” while John Millington Synge described the area as the “poorest in the whole of Ireland” in the early 20th century. The history of poverty and survival is still evident in the landscape today as old potato ridges can still be seen high up on hillsides as people used all available land.
While the land is poor it is perhaps the weather that has makes life in north Mayo most difficult. Perched on the Atlantic, the area is battered by storms each winter. Winds of over 100 miles per hour frequently sweep up Sruth Fada Conn Bay.
The old parish church of Aughoose is a testament to how difficult life can be in this area and how people have dealt with this difficult environment. Aughoose today has a relatively modern looking parish church however on the roadside before you reach the new structure you can see the ruins of what seems like a long abandoned parish church.
Now only a ruin, this church architecture shows how people learned to survive in what can be an inhospitable environment. The structure is low with the northern seaward side of the church composed of a solid wall with no windows.
While it appears odd this protected the structure from the storms which sweep up Sruth fhada Con bay, which have on occasion blown out the glass in windows.
The southern (or landward) side of the church has four slender windows and a small sacristy with a fireplace.
Today the church is clearly a ruin used as cattle pen. The windows are partially blocked for this purpose while the lintels from some of the doorways have been removed for reuse elsewhere as have the floor boards or which no trace remains. While the building was designed and built to withstand the tough unforgiving winters in Mayo its ancient appearance is deceptive. While it appears long abandoned it was in use until October 1961. Once the new church was built the old building went into sharp decline. The roof was removed at the request of the church after it was damaged by the weather and was begining to collapse.
This church is not the oldest in the area. A mile or so south lies the ruins of the earliest known church dating from the medieval period. This ancient site was used by the community to celebrate mass each Easter until the last few years ago when Shell bought this land on which the site stands. Since then local priests feel it inappropriate to use the site given the widespread hostility in the area to Shell.
Standing beside the church abandoned in 1961 is the remains of what was once the parish priests house. This structure survived the weather slightly better than the church. Its most famous resident was Fr Joseph Foy a priest long widely believed in mayo to have carried out mircales. In Aughoose according to local lore he raised a child from the dead in the village of Rossport which is situated across Sruth Fhada Conn bay. His life was surrounded in controversy as he was dismissed as a priest due to heavy drinking. Although the church does not accept Foy’s supposed powers many in north Mayo today still believe that he carried out some miracles. There is a podcast here on the story of Father Joseph Foy. (its no. 16). (Incidentally he is not the only mystical figure associated Aughoose and the wider area known as Kilcommon. In the 17 th century Brian Rua U’Cearbhain who made famous prophecies was born in the area.)
In the early 20th century a new parish priests house was built on the northern side of the church and the old house was converted in to a parish hall. Today it used by the local campaign against Shell as a storage space but this building too is on its last legs.
While the parish church and the former priests house stand side by side there is no graveyard in the immediate vicinity. The location on the shores of Sruth Fada Conn bay made it unfeasible to have a cemetery in the area as the water table is too high. Two miles away north of Aughoose, the land rises up to Dooncarton mountain which looks out over Broadhaven bay. It was here that the local community buried their dead. Unfortunately this too has not survived untouched by the weather of north west Mayo. The mountain side is covered in highly unstable bog and in 2003 the graveyard was heavily damaged in a land slide that saw local roads swept away and many houses damaged. This issue is a major concern for residents opposing Shell’s plans given they to dig a tunnel underneath the bay which many feel will serve to further destablise the hillside.
Aughoose although a difficult place to live in Winter is amazing in Summer. It has stunning scenary and much to see if you have a car. Kilcommon lodge is a beautiful hostel and a great place to see the area from. In the photo Album below you can see some shots of the wider area