Tairngreacht Acla - The Achill Prophecy


If you visit Achill Island today, you might hear locals talking about the death train. The tale begins in the 17th century when Brian Rua O' Cearbhain, a mystic from Belmullet prophesied that fire carriages on iron wheels would one day come to the island and that the first and the last would carry the dead. At the time of the prophecy, trains hadn't yet been invented.

Director Neal Boyle brings to life the story of the Achill Islanders, the period of the rail line and the chilling consequences of the macabre prophecy in Tairngreacht Acla.

Achill Island circa 1900

Achill Island's past is one of a struggling people; poverty and the island's remote location have always worked against the inhabitants. Life on the island in the nineteenth century was eked out through subsistence farming. Each spring, men and children, many as young as thirteen, would migrate to Scotland to work for the season in the potato fields, leaving the women to mind farm and family.

By the end of the 1800s however, plans were afoot to develop rail in Mayo county. The people of Achill quickly organised themselves and successfully lobbied to have a line opened from Westport to Achill Sound. Construction on the line began to the delight of the people of Achill. The rail line represented hope, the possibility of investment and a better future.

On the 14th June 1894, as the rail line neared completion, the Islanders gathered in their hundreds to get on hookers bound for Westport to meet a steamer which would take them to the potato fields of Scotland. The story of the disaster that unfolded that day is recounted by locals; Tomas Mac Shéain, John Sweeney and Peadar Mac Giolla Bháin.

It appears that only four hookers turned up that morning when six had been expected.

'..there were nearly 600 people waiting to be brought from the quay to Westport quay where the steamboat 'The Elm' was waiting to bring them to Scotland. Now, the owners of the hookers had a decision to make; to fault and take as many people as possible or to refuse people on safety grounds.'

Tomas Mac Shéain

The Victory, heavily overloaded, capsized just outside Westport Harbour. Thirty-two islanders drowned that day. There were so many people returning with the bodies to Achill that it was decided to put on a train even though construction of the line wasn't fully completed. The first train to Achill carried the dead.

For a brief while after the line officially opened, Achill Island caught a glimpse of what might have been. Local archaeologist and historian Theresa McDonald, (Achill Archaeological Field School), tells of the attempts of Scottish man Alexander Hector to set up a fish export business from Achill. John Sweeney explains how the train did make a big impact with tourism. But for the majority of islanders, it simply made it easier to migrate to Scotland and England. Martin McNamara recounts how at thirteen he travelled on the train with his father bound for Scotland, leaving his mother to mind their small farm.

Achill Island circa 1900

'Thirteen, I was only thirteen year. I should be above at school be right! But I thought I was doing a good thing to be leaving school and going to Scotland, that it was all right. Nobody here only herself, and she didn't like us going away you know.'

By 1937, with the island's fortunes not much improved, the Achill branch line was scheduled for closure. The passenger service was stopped, leaving only a freight service. Many mourned the line's end. Older islanders remarked that at least Brian Rua's prophecy hadn't come to pass. Then, on the 16th of September 1937 the tragic news came: ten migrant labourers from Achill had died in a fire in Kirkintilloch, Scotland, hundred of miles from their homes and loved ones…


Tairngreacht Acla is the second time Director & Cameraman Neal Boyle has brought stories from the Islands to our screens. In 2006 he produced and directed Fíniúin Inish Meáin for TG4. That film chronicled the remarkable story of James Concannon who left his home on Inish Meáin, the Aran islands, in 1865 to seek his fortune in America. His legacy still thrives today at Concannon's Vineyard - one of California's oldest wineries.

Production Details:

Directed & Camera: Neal Boyle
Producer: Peter Kelly, Jennifer Davidson
Production Manager: Tristan Rosenstock
Editor: Maurice Healy

For further information, publicity stills etc., contact:

Esras Films Ltd.,
43 Mount Merrion Avenue,
Blackrock, Co. Dublin, Ireland
Tel: +353 1 288 1939 Fax: +353 1 283 6253 eMail info@esras.com

TX: Sunday 2nd November 2008 at 9.30pm, TG4
Repeat TX: Tuesday 4th November 2008 at 8.00pm, TG4

Tairngreacht Acla
A Cogar documentary for TG4
TX: 02.11.08
Duration: 25 mins

An Esras Films production for TG4
broadcast on Sunday 2nd November 2008 at 21.30