The magnificent Downpatrick Head is one of my favourite places to visit in Mayo.
It’s most famous for its sea stack, Dun Briste, which stands at 45 metres high, 63 metres long and 23 metres wide, just 200 metres offshore.
A visit out to Downpatrick Head is a fine way to spend a morning, with other nearby attractions, like the ancient Ceide Fields, a short spin away.
In the guide below, you’ll find out everything from parking at Downpatrick Head in Mayo and some VERY important safety notices to what to see nearby.
Some quick need-to-knows before visiting Downpatrick Head in Mayo
Although a visit to Downpatrick Head in Mayo is fairly straightforward, there are a few need-to-knows that’ll make your visit that bit more enjoyable.
Downpatrick Head juts out into the Atlantic Ocean from the north coast of County Mayo. It is 6km north of Ballycastle and 14km east of the Ceide Fields archaeological site. The headland provides superb views of the magnificent Dun Briste sea stack that stands just 220 metres offshore.
There’s a nice big car park at Downpatrick Head, so you shouldn’t have any hassle finding a space. From the car park, the cliffs and famous Dun Briste sea stack are a 10 – 15 minute ramble away.
Be aware that the clifftop is uneven and the cliffs are unfenced at Downpatrick Head, so it’s important to keep a good distance from the edge. It can be incredibly windy at times so be extra careful if you have youngsters in tow.
4. Dun Briste
The big attraction at Downpatrick Head is the sea stack known as Dun Briste, which means “Broken Fort”. It sits 228m offshore and is 45 metres high, 63 metres long and 23 metres wide. Now an undisturbed home for puffins, kittiwakes and cormorants, it’s pretty impressive with its colourful rock strata and churning waters below.
About the incredible Dun Briste sea stack
A visit to Downpatrick Head in Mayo is well worth a day trip, if you’re staying in Westport (80-minute drive), Newport (60-minute drive), Achill Island (95-minute drive), Ballina (35-minute drive) or Castlebar (60-minute drive).
The dramatic grassy-topped sea stack was originally part of the headland and is a Signature Discovery Point on the Wild Atlantic Way.
How Dun Briste was formed
Legend has it that St Patrick struck the ground with his crozier and the stack parted from the mainland stranding the heathen Druid Chieftain, Crom Dubh.
Geologists tells us the stack separated from the coast in a wild storm in 1393, probably when a sea arch collapsed. The people who lived there had to be rescued using ship’s ropes to cross the chasm.
Exploring the sea stack
In 1981, a team including UCD archaeology professor Dr Seamus Caulfield and his father Patrick (who discovered the Ceide Fields) landed by helicopter on top of the sea stack.
They found the ruins of two stone buildings and an opening in a wall that allowed sheep to pass from one field to another in mediaeval times. They also studied the fragile ecology on top of the stack, which is now a haven for puffins, gulls and seabirds.
Other things to see at Downpatrick Head in Mayo
When you finish up at Dun Briste, there’s plenty of other things to do at Downpatrick Head in Mayo before you hit the road.
Below, you’ll find everything from the Eire 64 sign to St Patrick’s Church and much more.
1. Eire 64 Lookout Post from WW2
Seen from above, Downpatrick Head has the clearly visible ’64 EIRE’ sign. The headland was the site of a neutral look-out post during WW2. The signs were constructed of white stones embedded in concrete and were constructed all along Ireland’s west coast. The coastal markings indicated to aircraft that they had reached Ireland – a neutral zone.
2. St Patrick’s Church
St Patrick, Ireland’s patron saint, founded a church here on Downpatrick Head. The ruins of a more recent church built on the same site. Within the remaining stone walls is a plinth and statue of St Patrick, erected in the mid-1980s. The site is a place of pilgrimage, particularly on the last Sunday in July, known as “Garland Sunday”. People gather to celebrate mass at this ancient religious site.
3. Pul Na Sean Tinne
Pul Na Sean Tinne is Irish for “Hole of the Old Fire”. It’s actually an inland blowhole where some of the softer rock layers at Downpatrick Head have been eroded by the sea. It resulted in a partial collapse and a tunnel through which the waves surge with some force. There’s a viewing platform and during stormy weather the surge sends foam and valour high into the air from the chimney. It can be seen from a distance, hence the name “Hole of the Old Fire”.
Things to do near Downpatrick Head in Mayo
One of the beauties of Downpatrick Head and Dun Briste is that they’re a short drive from many of the best things to do in Mayo.
Below, you’ll find a handful of things to see and do a stone’s throw from Dun Briste sea stack (plus places to eat and where to grab a post-adventure pint!).
1. The ancient Céide Fields (17-minute drive)
Head 14km west from Downpatrick Head to the Céide Fields which has dramatic views of the Atlantic Ocean. Drop into the award-winning Visitor Centre for more information about the oldest-known field system in the world. The archaeological site includes megalithic tombs, fields and dwellings preserved for millennia beneath blanket bogs. The Neolithic formation was discovered by schoolteacher Patrick Caulfield in the 1930s while he was cutting peat.
2. Benwee Head (47-minute drive)
Benwee Head is also known as “Yellow Cliffs” – guess why! It’s a phenomenal series of cliffs, rocks, chimneys and arches carved out by the Atlantic Ocean. There’s a 5-hour loop walk here that provides remarkable views across Broadhaven Bay to the four “Stags of Broadhaven” (uninhabited islets).
3. Mullet Peninsula (45-minute drive)
Located 61km west of Downpatrick Head in Mayo, the Mullet Peninsula is a well-hidden gem with plenty of unspoiled scenery in an area which seems to teeter on the very edge of the universe! See our guide to the best things to do in Belmullet for more.
4. Take a tour of Belleek Castle (35-minute drive)
Now a one of the most unique hotels in Mayo, the beautiful Belleek Castle offers award-winning cuisine and tours of this historic residence. This magnificent manor with its extravagant Neo-Gothic architecture was built in 1825 for Sir Arthur Francis Knox-Gore for £10,000. Craftsman, smuggler and sailor Marshall Doran came to the rescue and restored the ruin in 1961, adding mediaeval and nautical touches.
5. Or head for a ramble in Belleek Woods (35-minute drive)
Surrounding Belleek Castle are 200 acres of woodland on the banks of the River Moy. Trails weave through this urban woodland and are ideal for walking, running and cycling. Enjoy the seasonal abundance of flowers from primroses and bluebells to foxgloves and wild garlic on the Belleek Woods walk.
FAQs about visiting Dun Briste in Mayo
We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from whether there’s parking at Dun Briste to what there is to do nearby.
In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.
Is there parking at Downpatrick Head?
Yes, there’s a big car park at Downpatrick Head. Just make sure to hide any valuables and to lock your doors before you leave.
How long is the walk to Dun Briste?
The walk from the car park to Dun Briste takes between 15 and 25 minutes, max, depending on 1, pace and 2, how long you stop at the attractions on the way.
What is there to see near Downpatrick Head?
You’ve everything from the Céide Fields and Belleek Castle to the Mullet Peninsula and Benwee Head nearby.