Sraith Oileán Acla

Sraith Oileán Acla | Achill Island Suite

Artistic reflections on the shared cultural heritage between Achill Island and Western Scotland

Sraith Oileán Acla is a unique Scottish-Irish collaboration inspired by the historical and cultural connections between Achill Island and Western Scotland. Specially commissioned to premiere at the inaugural Achill International Harp Festival in October 2016, it includes newly composed music by Allan MacDonald for pipes, harp and traditional ensemble, incorporating the vibrant indigenous piping tradition in Achill. The project also unearthed existing relevant material in literature, song and music which was incorporated into the show. Devised by Siobhán O’Malley and Laoise Kelly, the show features Scottish artists Allan MacDonald (pipes), Kathleen MacInnes (voice), Mary MacMaster (harp), Donald Hay (percussion) and Mayo artists Laoise Kelly (harp), Gráinne Hambly (harp), Diarmuid Gielty (fiddle), Seán O’Malley (pipes), Seán Lynch (pipes/whistle), Michael Lavelle (pipes/whistle/flute), Cian McNamara (accordion/drum/voice), Róisín McNulty (fiddle), Kevin Toolis (spoken word) and Siobhán McGinty (dance).

Historical context for the project

Seasonal Migration to Scotland

In the aftermath of the Great Famine (1845-51), many of Achill’s clachan settlements evolved into migrant-based communities, forced into economic exile on the potato fields and in the bothies on the west coast of Scotland. During the annual potato-picking harvest season (June to October), each migrant household’s young single males or females, whose ages ranged from eleven to twenty-three, travelled from Westport to Glasgow by steamboat in a group or ‘squad’ under the supervision of a foreman or ‘gaffer’. ‘Tattie-hoker’ was the phrase the local Scottish population gave to the seasonal Achill migrant worker.

A Prophecy

A prophecy by Brian Rua Ó Cearbháin in the 17th Century foretold of the coming of the railway to Achill, describing ‘carriages on iron wheels with smoke and fire’ and that the first and the last trains to the island would carry home the dead. In 1894 a group of 32 Achill people drowned in Clew Bay. Their hooker capsized while carrying a full load of passengers to a steamship in Westport that would bring them to Scotland. A special train was brought into operation to transport the bodies of the victim’s home for burial in Achill’s Kildavnet Cemetery, even though the Achill railway extension was still under construction at that time. Forty-three years later, in 1937, another special train operated to return the bodies of ten young Achill boys who perished when their bothy, which they had been locked into for the night, caught fire in Kirkintilloch. This horrific tragedy brought the plight of the island’s young migratory workers onto the national public and political arena.

Due to the hugely positive response to the premiere and only performance of Sraith Oileán Acla in October 2016, the committee are hoping to bring it back to Mayo and other locations in 2018. It is hoped that the proceeds from sales of Sraith Oileán Acla Live CD, released in August 2017, will also help to subsidise costs of further performances.


You can now purchase the Sraith Olieán Acla | Achill Island Suite CDs by cheque, made payable to Achill International Harp Festival. Requests to

CD costs €20, plus postage & package (Up to 5 CDs) €3.50 in Ireland, €6 for International.

Your purchase will be processed once payment is received.

Front L-R: Cian McNamara, Seán Lynch, Róisín McNulty, Diarmuid Gielty, Siobhán McGinty, Laoise Kelly, Gráinne Hambly, Mary MacMaster, Donald Hay. Back L-R: Allan MacDonald, Michael Lavelle, Seán O’Malley


Review : Irish Times Friday 4th August 2017

An exploration of the shared harping and piping traditions of Achill Island and Scotland, Sraith Oileán Acla is so much more: an excavation of the socio-political cross currents that have nourished the two places down through the years.

West Highland singer, piper and composer Allan MacDonald is at the heart of this live premiere recording of Achill Island Suite, but it’s the collective community voice that revels in its own story here: tales of tatty hokers and of pride in place (Douglas Hyde’s Éiróimid Feasta) sidle up alongside the beautifully intimate Dul go hAlbain, where whistles and harps trace the odyssey of the Achill Island potato pickers as they journeyed to Scotland.

Although still in evolution, this is a fine snapshot in time of a meitheal in its truest sense: a community collaborating with verve and imagination.

– Siobhan Long

[Pic below] Composer Allan MacDonald, Kathleen MacInnes, Kevin Toolis, John ‘Twin’ McNamara

[Pic below] Cian McNamara, Seán Lynch, Michael Lavelle

[Pic below] Sraith Oileán Acla Producer Siobhán O’Malley