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A Guide To Visiting Dun Briste Sea Stack At Downpatrick Head In Mayo

A Guide To Visiting Dun Briste Sea Stack At Downpatrick Head In Mayo

It’s at Downpatrick Head on the very often overlooked North Mayo Coast that you’ll discover the magnificent sea stack known as Dun Briste.

The towering form of Dun Briste stands at an impressive 45 metres high just 200 metres off the mainland.

Although the sea stack is just 500m (about a 10 minute walk) from the car park, there are several warnings to take heed of.

Some quick need-to-knows before visiting Dun Briste


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.

1. Location 

Downpatrick Head juts out into the Atlantic Ocean around 6km north of Ballycastle in County Mayo. Here’s how long it’ll take you to get to it from Mayo’s tourist towns:

2. Parking   

There’s a decent sized car park at Downpatrick Head (here on Maps). I have heard of cars getting broken into here in the past, so avoid leaving any valuables inside/on-show.


3. The walk can get muddy

Although it’s only a 500m/10-minute walk in from the car park, it’s mainly on grass, much of which is very mossy. The path can get extremely muddy after wet weather, so keep that in mind.

4. Safety

The clifftop here is uneven and the cliffs are unguarded, 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. 

About Downpatrick Head

Dun Briste at downpatrick head

Photos via Shutterstock

Downpatrick Head is one of the more famous Signature Discovery Points on the Wild Atlantic Way for good reason.

And, despite being in the hugely popular county of Mayo, it’s location along the north coast means it doesn’t get anywhere near the visitor numbers that the likes of Achill gets.


How it was formed

Dun Briste, which means ‘Broken Fort’, sits 228m offshore and is 45 metres high, 63 metres long and 23 metres wide

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. 


What to look out for at Downpatrick Head

When you finish up at Dun Briste, there’s plenty of other things to do at Downpatrick Head 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 

Eire 64 sign downpatrick

Photo by Wirestock Creators (Shutterstock)

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’s Church at dun briste

Photo by MatGo (Shutterstock)

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

Photo by Keith Levit (Shutterstock)

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 nearby

best things to do in mayo Ireland


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:

  1. The ancient Céide Fields (17-minute drive): The Céide Fields are the oldest-known field system in the world. You’ll find megalithic tombs, a visitor centre and more here
  2. Benwee Head (47-minute drive): The Benwee Head walk offers mighty views of Broadhaven Bay and beyond (a tough walk)
  3. The Mullet Peninsula (45-minute drive): Belmullet is a hidden gem that’s home of some of Mayo’s best beaches
  4. Belleek Castle (35-minute drive): Now a one of the most unique hotels in Mayo, the beautiful Belleek Castle can be explored on a guided tour

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Peter Morley

Thursday 8th of September 2022

Nice views. This short walk is very popular so don't expect solitude like you get at Benwee Head and Erris Head.

Jane Merrigan

Sunday 29th of August 2021

Is the parking accessible to camper vans at Downpatrick head or is there a height restriction?

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