The walk up to the base of Slievemore (‘Big Mountain’) in County Mayo is a long hike across green fields dotted with sheep. The wind is constant here, blowing over a collection of 5,000 year old megalithic tombs, making the purple heather tremble, and slapping me in the face with my own hair. A mile away in the opposite direction, sun bounces off the magnificent turquoise sea.

There has been one kind of settlement or another at the foot of this mountain since the 12th century. However, now all that remains sheltered under the grand slope is a ghostly collection of stone houses built in the 1800s, and abandoned during the famine of the 1840s. It is known simply as, ‘The Deserted Village.’ The settlement extends along a mile-long ancient track and consists of somewhere between 80 and 100 stone cottages. No one has ever been able to give me a total count of the cottages, and when I tried, I lost count. Anyway, there’s a lot of them.

Inside, the houses reveal how simple lives must have been lived, far more in tune with the natural world than anything we might be able to imagine. 

Each cottage is a single room measuring a few metres in either direction, with only one or two cubbies in the stone walls to hold the possessions of an entire family. This room was used as kitchen, living room, bedroom, and even stable. The walls are of stone only, no mortar or cement holding them together.

In 1838, before the famine, the Ordinance Survey showed there were 137 occupants in this village. By 1850, after the famine, the whole place was deserted. 
Now, sheep graze among the lazy beds where the 19th century dwellers grew their potatoes. The ridges can still be seen because they were burned into the earth by the potato fungus that destroyed the crops.
So, what happened to these people? Where did they go? If you ask local historians, they’ll tell you some attempted the four kilometre walk (2.5 miles) to Dugort to renounce their Catholic faith in order to get a serving of watery soup from the Protestant Reverend Edward Nangle. Those who were too sick or malnourished to make that journey, simply disappeared. There is a tale of one elderly couple in particular who simply curled up together at the side of the road and died.
But there is another story. One reported in a 19th century newspaper published at the height of the famine. It tells of an unnamed village in County Mayo where a priest travelled to give extreme unction to the entire population, all of whom were dying. That might have been the case here.  
Whatever the ending, the plot of this tale is a reminder of a horrific episode in Ireland’s past when human nature’s greed permitted wholesale eviction of Irish citizens. Many Irish were thrown out of their dwellings by British landlords so those dwellings could be levelled and more cattle could graze.
Unfortunately, modern Irish landlords have learned nothing from that appalling history and the evocative village of Slievemore. Today, landlords in this country don’t topple down houses because, after all, that would be destroying their own property. But they are toppling down lives by getting rid of long-standing tenants and replacing them with new ones who will pay much higher rents. Without proper rent control measures, the current housing crisis is set to continue and escalate.

On my way down the hill, wind screams through the toppled stones, a wild, bone-chilling sound. It makes me wonder . . . What sort of ghost towns will modern greed leave behind?