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Downpatrick head is located on the north Mayo coast looking out over the Atlantic. It is quite a drive up here and is way off the beaten track, so as long as you have your hiking boots and windproof jacket, we are good to go !!
Having driven quite a few miles along the winding roads there is a tiny carpark located near the head. As its early we have the place to ourselves, although frankly I can’t see this place ever getting crowded as it’s so remote .
As we get out of the car the first thing that hits us is the roar of the waves coming in off the Atlantic – wow , this is a real sight !! As we head towards the head itself there are several warnings of the danger not only of the high cliffs but of the blow holes , subsidence and eroding cliffs – this walk is not for the faint hearted !!
We have about a fifteen minute walk before we meet the cliffs and let me tell you a little about this place as we go along. Downpatrick head has a strategic importance on this part of the coast . Historically it’s been a fortress and landmark from ancient times through modern times. During the second world war it was close to many flight paths . As Ireland was neutral a lookout station was constructed, and huge sign was made from stones ‘ EIRE 64’ . Eire is the Irish for Ireland, and the number 64 referred to one of the many similar sites around Ireland as a navigation aid . As we go along there are the remains of an ancient church complete with a holy well and fragment of a stone cross . It’s said to have been founded by Saint Patrick in the 5th century and nowadays a modern statue of the saint stands inside the ruin.
Let’s push on to the cliff edge and one of the most awesome sights – the Dun Briste sea stack. I can see why there are all these warning signs, the cliff edge is totally unprotected and the sea is surging and foaming some 45 metres ( about 150 feet ) beneath us . Dun Briste – from the Irish ‘ the broken fort ‘ was once an inhabited headland that was once part of the mainland before it broke off in a storm in 1393. Also, according to an old local legend a Druid Chieftain named Crom Dubh, lived there. He refused to convert to Christianity and Saint Patrick struck the ground with his crozier and the stack was separated from the mainland, leaving Crom Dubh to die on the top.
Nowadays it’s separated from the mainland by about 50 metres ( about 160 feet ) and stands about 50 metres ( about 160 feet ) long by 15 metres ( about 45 feet ) wide .The flat-topped stack contains the remains of the buildings where people were living on the night of the great storm. In recent years archologists have landed by helicopter and it was first ascended by rock climbers in May 1990.Can you imagine that these were the first people to stand here for almost 700 years – It’s a time capsule with the remains of walls , houses and a mill wheel .
We could spend forever gazing at the sight – the light changes from moment to moment and the roar of the sea is deafening. Frankly I’m a bit spooked looking down at the eroded cliff – I hope that today won’t be the day for another collapse !!
I think that you will agree that the wind has for sure blown away the cobwebs and lets now head back to the car. Along the way we can pass the blow hole, known as ‘Poll na Seantainne’ , which is a well protected by a sturdy fence and screens . At high tide and with the wind in the right direction the waves flow though the cavern below and bust through the hole like a geyser . It is low tide now so we won’t get a soaking today. Time to head for home before the rain comes and I hope that you enjoyed todays walk through this amazing place on Ireland’s Atlantic coast .
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