Keel

When Paul and Grace Henry first on Achill in 1910, they turned their nose up at touristy Dugort and moved on to Keel which was the quieter of the two villages in those days. Paul famously tore up his return railway ticket and scattered the fragments into the sea. They convinced John and Eliza Barrett to provide them with lodgings at the post office in Keel. They had little money and survived largely on credit but the decision was made to sacrifice their relatively comfortable life in London in favour of life on Achill.

Keel Village, Ordnance Survey of Ireland 25” Map, 1899 (osi.ie).
Keel Village, Ordnance Survey of Ireland 25” Map, 1899 (osi.ie).

“Paul [Henry] described Keel as the most gregarious of villages, perhaps about fifty houses in all, huddled close together as if for warmth and companionship, devoid of all plan” (Kennedy, S.B., 2007, p.32). Using the Ordnance Survey of Ireland free public map viewer it is possible to look at the village in plan in 1899. From this we can get a good idea of how the village would have been laid out when the Henrys arrived 11 years later.

A rare example of a historic building in Keel.
A rare example of a historic building in Keel.

When we first explored Keel in 2013 we found that there were not many 19th or early 20th century buildings left standing in the village and those that did remain were concealed within modernisations, used as storage sheds or in ruins.  It was a pleasant surprise to see at least four uninhabited houses reasonably well maintained. It seems some people like to keep the old family home for both practical and sentimental reasons, but choose to build a new house in the vicinity.

Postcard photograph in Valentine's series (no. 62912) titled
Postcard photograph in Valentine’s series (no. 62912) titled “Keel Village (Beehive House), Achill Island. No date (Mayo County Library)

The site of the Amethyst Hotel was of great interest to the APH team as it was here that Paul and Grace Henry first lived on Achill.  A blue plaque on the wall outside records that “Paul Henry (1876-1958), Irish artist lived and worked here and at other locations in Achill 1910-1919”.

The Amethyst hotel, Keel, Achill in 2013.
The Amethyst hotel, Keel, Achill in 2013.

Unfortunately the building has been vacant for c. 27 years and has fallen into disrepair. There are plans for the building to be demolished to make way for a new development. Within the heavily vandalised remains of the interior the APH team found some 1970s fliers for the hotel and a couple of 1965 tourist maps of the island. We were also amused to find that the hotel vinyl collection included Classic Tranquility by Phil Coulter, an LP that has a Paul Henry painting as its cover image.

Postcard photograph of the Amethyst hotel, Keel, Achill. Photo by Charles McGill, Ardara, Co. Donegal. No. 95 (Mayo County Library)
Postcard photograph of the Amethyst hotel, Keel, Achill. Photo by Charles McGill, Ardara, Co. Donegal. No. 95 (Mayo County Library)

Bibliography Kennedy, S.B., Paul Henry: With a catalogue of the Paintings, Drawings, Illustrations, New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2007.

3 thoughts on “Keel”

  1. the old photo of the Amethyst would have been taken while John and Eliza Barrett owned it, they sold it to Thea Boyd in 1928 and moved to the Bervie [ when John bought the fishing Business from Alexander Hector] they opened it as a Guesthouse in ’32 it is now run by Elizabeth Barrett, their Grandniece .sometime after the photo was taken Eliza added the new entrance and Dining room.

  2. It’s such a shame they are demolishing this building. It’s a beautiful old building with lots of potential. One of my favourites on the island. Why aren’t they renovating it?! A building with such potential and history should be cherished. In the same way they demolished the graham Greene cottage! It’s madness to destroy what few buildings like this there are on the island particularly in light of so much unsympathetic development. It’s a tragedy. Not to mention the abandoned eyesore next door.

  3. One of Paul Henry’s best friends on the island for decades (and beforehand in Paris and in London, as far as we know) was ‘Achill’s Eva O’Flaherty’, the amazing intellectual, nationalist, patron of the arts and business woman, who co-founded Scoil Acla in 1910 ran St. Colman’s Knitting Industries in Dooagh for over half a century. Eva was born in LIsdonagh House in Caherlistrane in 1874 and was buried nearby in the raised O’Flaherty family vault in Donaghpatrick graveyard in 1963.

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