Dún Briste in Ballycastle in Co. Mayo

The sea stack known as 'Dún Briste' was part of the mainland until 1393 when heavy seas severed it from the mainland and the people were taken from it by means of ship's ropes.

According to one legend, a pagan chieftain, named Crom Dubh, lived there. He refused to listen to St. Patrick who tried to convert him to Christianity. St. Patrick hit the ground with his crozier and the stack was separated from the mainland, leaving Crom Dubh to die there.

On July 31st 1980, Dr. Seamus Caulfield, his father Patrick Caulfield and Martin Downes, Professor of Biology at Maynooth College, landed by helicopter on Dún Briste and spent two hours there examining the remains of the building and plant life. They discovered that the building across the centre of the headland was a structure 30 ft by 13 ft inside built up against the south of a long continuous wall which runs through from the edge across the headland. The doorway in the centre of the south wall still stands over three feet high on one side. The remains of the west gable of the house had narrow divis - which may be a drainage channel - perhaps the building was a byre rather than a dwelling house. On the other hand it could have been a dwelling with the animals being kept at the west end of the building.

On the western side of the stack another building over 20 ft. long and at least 10ft wide partly survives but its west wall has now disappeared as that side of the building has eroded into the sea. In the building the door was in the North gable but of course there may have been a second doorway in the West wall which has now gone. Towards the mainland a long slab set upright may mark a grave. In a few places along the Western edge, remains of a wall survive and in this wall was the most fascinating feature of all. There was nothing more than a low opening about 2 ft. square. It is exactly like the sheep runs, which can be found in many places, which allow sheep to pass from one field to another but restricts cattle.

The size and shape of the buildings suggest that they were medieval. The area on top of the stack measures about 50 yards long and 15 yards across the centre. On the stack there was no trace of sea pink, a plant that is so common on the headland; instead the most common plant was a red fescue which, because it is ungrazed, grows very long each year and has built up into high tufts over 1 ft tall.

By Maeve Dunne

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