Graham Greene and Catherine Walston first stayed on Achill in 1947. Greene claims that their first visit that year, coming at the start of their affair, ensured that it would continue. Writing to Catherine in 1949, Greene says: 'Somehow I feel an awful reluctance and ache of heart when I address the envelope to Achill. That was where we began [...] we probably would never have done more than begin if we hadn't had these weeks, but only an odd couple of days in England [...] I wish I could make you feel, not just by faith, how missed you are the moment the door closes and how life begins when the door opens.' (quoted in William Cash, 'The Third Woman', p117)
Achill was a hugely symbolic place for Graham Greene, the location where not only his most significant affair began in ernest, but also the location he associated with the introduction to a new world, the 'opening of a door' as he put it. The door that opened for him in Achill was to bring an intensity of love and passion but also obsession, jealously, guilt and despair. Achill Island allowed Greene to cut himself off from the old world of his own and Catherine's marriages and families, from the literary world in England, and from the deceit necessary in their social circle in order to continue the affair. As Greene wrote in 1950, 'I long for somewhere like Achill or Capri where there are no telephones' (Cash, p119). Achill, where Greene baked bread and cooked eggs in a pan by a turf fire in Walston's primitive cottage, represented life stripped to its bare essentials. The remoteness of Achill and the anonymity the couple enjoyed there contrasted sharply with the guilt-ridden complexity of their social life in England.
The peaceful sanctuary of Achill Island fired Graham Greene's creative imagination, allowing him to work on the books The Heart of the Matter and 'Fallen Idol', and to begin the work that was to become The End of the Affair. On returning to London after a second trip to Achill in the summer of 1947, Graham Greene presented his editor with the completed manuscript of The Heart of the Matter. Greene said that the last part, written in the cottage at Dooagh, was 'good'. He added to Catherine: 'If you'd taken me to Achill two years ago, it would all have been good perhaps (Cash, p129).
Graham Greene was so taken with Achill Island and the surrounding area that he even considered giving up writing books, marrying Catherine Walston and the couple buying a country hotel, The Old Head at Killsallagh, Louisburgh on the south side of Clew Bay. The Old Head was another west of Ireland retreat for Greene and Walston, and also, later, for the Poet Laureate Cecil Day-Lewis and his young son Daniel Day-Lewis. The hotel (now converted to holiday apartments) is located directly across the bay from Ernie O'Malley's Burrishoole home, and O'Malley and Walston had often stayed there. It is unlikely that Graham Greene would have considered buying the hotel had he known its significance for Walston. In the end, he never married Catherine. The affair lasted some twelve or so years, and though his fondness for Achill Island remained his visits ceased long before the end of the affair.