The beautiful Irish island with one of the world’s best beaches

You don’t have to travel far across the Atlantic to get a taste of the Caribbean. Only about 600 feet, in fact.

Achill Island is the largest on the west coast of Ireland, and, alongside some 2,300 inhabitants, it is home to one of the world’s best beaches.

Every year holiday planners Big 7 Travel compile a list of the 50 top sandy stretches based on Blue Flag awards, social media popularity and visitor reviews.

Not for the first time, Keem Bay out on the windswept western tip of the island made the cut. 

A quick glance at its white sands, turquoise waters and the dramatic verdant cliffs that frame it and it’s easy to see why.

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With an area of just 57 square miles, Achill Island has been connected to the rest of County Mayo by the Michael Davitt Bridge for 136 years.

Although the vast majority of people speak English on a day-to-day, roughly half the island is in the Gaeltacht – the traditional Irish-language-speaking region of the country.

Once a hub for shark fishing – back when basking shark liver oil in particular was a prized commodity – Achill’s economy is now reliant on tourism, which grew rapidly in the Sixties and Seventies.

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It’s no surprise as to why. Skirting the landmass which consists 87 percent of peat bog are beaches plucked straight from the tropics.

In its 2023 guide, Big 7 Travel placed Keem Bay 47th globally – just behind Tugboat Beach in Curacao and Panama’s Isla Robeson.

It notes: “Keem Bay is a breathtaking rural and sheltered beach surrounded by cliffs on Ireland’s largest island – Achill Island. Its gleaming white sand rivals tropical islands and the water is superbly clear.”

Only Wales’ Rhossili Bay and Cornwall’s Pedn Vounder beaches rank higher in the British Isles.

The area’s natural beauty isn’t spoilt by an arcade or fair ground, and the slopes that surround Keem Bay’s 2000 feet of pearly white sand are lush with a variety of plants and wildlife. 

In a tip of the hat to Ireland’s infamously wet weather, the travel site adds: “The sun might not always be shining, but when it does it’s world-class. And yes, it’s beautiful even on a rainy day.”

These factors are, however, worth bearing in mind. Even in the hottest months of July and August, the mercury averages just under 13C (55F), and there’s a 50/50 chance of showers on any given day. You may be best off in the water, which itself creeps up to 16C (61F). 

The chilly clime is easily overlooked by most. Lonely Planet named it one of Europe’s best beaches in 2021, and in 2020 lottery holder Lottoland found the spot to be Ireland’s favourite home holiday destination in an online poll.

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