Downpatrick Head, County Mayo

Sitting out in the wild Atlantic Ocean, Downpatrick Head is an area of unrivalled coastal beauty and historical importance…

Just a few kilometres north of Ballycastle village, County Mayo, is the the windswept outcrop of Downpatrick Head. This is the perfect place to park up and stretch your legs with an invigorating coastal walk.

The name Downpatrick is derived from a time when St Patrick himself founded a church here. You can still see the ruins of the church building, a stone cross and holy well here today. This was once a popular pilgrim destination, and today the crowds still gather here on the last Sunday of July – known as Garland Sunday – to hear mass at this sacred site.

The St Patrick connections don’t end there though. Gazing out to sea, you’ll no doubt spot the small collection of islands called the Staggs of Broadhaven, but you’ll also see a lone sea-stack standing close to edge of the cliffs. This sea-stack is called Dún Briste (broken fort). Local legend says that when a pagan chieftain refused to covert to Christianity, St Patrick struck the ground with his crozier, splitting a chunk of the headland off into the ocean, with the chieftain on top! The sea stack is beautiful to behold because you can see the layers upon layers of multi-coloured rock strata.

Megalithic mind frame

Fast-forward through the centuries and Downpatrick Head became a lookout post during WWII. You can still see the stone building there today. Another intrigue of the area is Poll Na Seantainne: this is a spectacular blowhole that plummets down to the tempestuous ocean below.

While in the area make sure to take the short drive out to visit the Céide Fields Visitor Centre in Ballycastle. The Céide Fields is the oldest known Stone Age field system in Europe. The remains of ancient stonewalls, settlements and megalithic tombs have been preserved here thanks to a protective bog environment. Truly awe-inspiring stuff.

With legs fully stretched and minds expanded, it’s time to hit the road again and get back on the Wild Atlantic Way.

Geographical coordinates: Latitude 54° 19' 33.49; longitude 9° 20' 44.45 (note, if you use your car’s GPS to go directly to this point, you may not always remain on the Wild Atlantic Way route.)

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