Downpatrick Head in Mayo had been on my bucket list for years and I really don’t know why I didn’t visit sooner. Located about 5km just outside of Ballycastle it is about a 2 hour drive from my hometown of Galway. People come from all over the world to drive the Wild Atlantic Way and discover all of the hidden gems of Ireland’s rugged coastline. It is the most wonderful adventure to follow the legendary coastal trail on the west coast of Ireland.
Downpatrick Head Walk
On a clear day you can see the dramatic sea stack at Downpatrick Head from the nearby Céide Fields Visitor Centre. Visiting Downpatrick Head in Mayo certainly rivals the far more famous Cliffs of Moher in County Clare as an experience of nature in the wild. Follow the Wild Atlantic Way signposts to a gravel car park. From there it is a short walk on an incline across rough grass to the cliffs. As always be extremely careful and keep a tight hold of small kids. The cliffs are unfenced and winds can be strong up there.
Downpatrick Head is a majestic place to visit. Jutting out in the ocean and rising almost 40m above the waves, it provides unrivalled views of the Atlantic, including a unique collection of islands known as The Staggs of Broadhaven. The impressive Dún Briste sea stack stands alone in the Atlantic Ocean. From the cliffs edge you can see the different coloured layers of rock and observe the many species of birds that call Dún Briste home. It is a bird watcher’s paradise here!
Dún Briste means Broken Fort in Irish. According to an old local legend, a Druid Chieftain, named Crom Dubh, lived there. He refused to convert to Christianity so St Patrick struck the ground with his crozier and the stack was separated from the mainland, leaving Crom Dubh to die on the top.
The sea has eroded the headland in the area and spouts up to impressive heights through blowholes which are fenced off for safety. ‘Poll na Seantainne’ is a spectacular blow-hole with a subterranean channel to the sea. It is well known in the local history because during the 1798 rebellion 25 men, Irishmen and French soldiers, lost their lives taking refuge on the ledge at the bottom. Unfortunately the tide came in before ladders could be replaced to get them out. There is also the remenants of a World War II lookout post to explore.
In addition to the natural scenery and wildlife, Downpatrick Head is home to the ruins of a church, holy well and stone cross, which together mark the site of an earlier church founded by St Patrick. Ireland’s patron saint is also honoured with a statue that was built in the early 1980s. Given its religious associations, Downpatrick Head was once a popular destination for pilgrims, who came here each year on the last Sunday of July, known as ‘Garland Sunday’. Today that tradition lives on, and mass is still celebrated at Downpatrick Head on that same day.
The landscape at Downpatrick Head is so unique with mounds of green bubbly soft grass. This place looks so unique from above!
A trip to Downpatrick Head will be a memorable one. We had such a lovely day and stopped in Foxford on the way home to visit the Foxford Woollen Mills who have a rich history of craftmanship of high quality Irish lambswool throws and blankets. It is a home lovers dream and no visit to this part of Mayo is complete without stopping by.
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