North Coast 2003

This tour was organised by the Belfast Naturalists Field Club

Our first visit was to Dunluce Castle (C904414), where we were lucky enough to be given a guided tour. This castle is spectacularly situated on a rocky headland. The name and the presence of a souterrain suggests that the site was occupied during the Early Christian period. However, it was not documented until the sixteenth century. It is separated from the mainland by a deep ditch, now spanned by a modern bridge. The earliest parts date from the fourteenth century but most of the castle dates from the sixteenth century when it was in the hands of the MacQuillans and later MacDonnells. It was badly damaged during an artillery attack by the English Deputy, Sir John Perrott, in 1584. It was repaired and extended by Sorley Boy and James MacDonnell but was abandoned and fell into disrepair from the later seventeenth century onwards. The rectangular court on the mainland contains seventeenth-century domestic buildings and leads downhill towards the bridge. There is a twin-towered gatehouse with Scottish corbelled turrets, dating from about 1600. There are the remains of several round flanking towers dating from the fourteenth century; beneath one of these is a rock-cut souterrain. The courtyard is dominated by a large two-storey hall with bay windows which was built in the early seventeenth century. Beyond this were service rooms, a kitchen and a lower yard. The rock on which the castle stands is penetrated by a large cave.

The drizzle which started at Dunluce Castle curtailed our visit to Dunseverick Castle (C988445) but we were able to view the ruins from the roadside. This tiny fragment of a castle stands near the southern edge of a pear-shaped rock. It is probably part of the gatehouse of a late sixteenth-century castle built by the O'Cahans, who held it under the MacQuillans and later the MacDonnells, Earls of Antrim. The castle was probably destroyed by the Parliamentarians, led by Captain Venables, in the middle of the seventeenth century. The site is named after Sobhairce, who lived in the middle of the second millennium BC. Dunseverick was at the northern end of one of the five great roads which radiated from Tara.

Due to the generosity of Maurice McHenry, we were able to park our twenty-two cars in his farmyard before climbing the hill to Magheraboy Megalithic Tomb (D037438). The remains of this tomb comprise a circular cairn, with a kerb about 10m in diameter. Only the stones of the burial chamber and the kerb remain. From north-east to south-east, the cairn is truncated by a modern stone wall and no visible trace survives on the east side of the wall. The chamber is oriented north-west to south-east and consists of three stones supporting a massive capstone, 2m long. The south-west side stone fits into a groove in the capstone. The chamber is approximately lm square. The tomb is typical of the small passage tombs in Co. Antrim and there are two smaller such tombs in the neighbouring townlands of Clegnagh and Lemnagh Beg. It is similar to the tombs at Craigs and Ballylumford, both of which have lost their kerbs.

After lunch at Ballintoy we travelled in convoy to West Torr, losing only two cars in the process. On the summit of a steep hill (D213406), with panoramic views all round, and itself very conspicuous, are the remains of passage tomb. A cairn kerb forms an almost complete oval, 19.5m north-south by 20.7m east-west. The tomb is orientated west-east with a rectangular chamber at the centre, formed by two side stones at the north, three side stones at the south, a single back stone at the east and two portal stones at the west. The chamber is 1.8m long by 1.15m wide. Two stones immediately north of the north portal stone could be traces of a side chamber. The remains of a probable passage, 10m long by 1.3m wide, lead from the chamber to the western edge of the tomb. An examination of the stones indicated that they had been collected from several locations around the north coast.

We drove along the twisting scenic route close to Torr Head to view the cashel at Altagore (D250349). It has a thick drystone wall and is situated on rocky pasture land overlooking a small valley to the east and the sea to the south east. Some loose stones are visible at the south, extending about 6m out from the wall. There are very few loose stones in the interior. The entrance to an intramural passage, 0.75m high by 0.7m wide, is to the west, but it has been blocked with stones. The Preliminary Survey of the Ancient Monuments of Northern Ireland indicates that the passage is only about 1.5m deep. The entrance to the cashel lies to the north with the western jamb still in place. To the west of the entrance there are stone steps leading to the top of the wall. The internal diameter of the cashel is 15.6m by 17.1m, while externally it is 19m by 21m. The wall stands to its original height at the south and west, but the upper courses of the eastern wall appear to have been rebuilt.

Our last visit of the day was to Layd Church (D245289), a rectangular building with a two-storey tower at the west end. The upper storey is fragmentary but there is a very fine vault above the ground floor. There are very good traces of wicker centering. There is a doorway in the south wall of the church and a square-headed doorway leads from the church to the tower. Above this is a rectangular opening. This feature is repeated at the window above the doorway. In the south wall of the church is a fragmentary piscina and the east window seems to have been small. The north and south walls project beyond the line of the east gable in the manner of antae. Just outside the tower, a nineteenth-century cross provides a fine example of Celtic Revival work, featuring interlacing as well as picture panels. Close to the entrance to the churchyard is a sandstone pillar with a round, expanded top. This is perforated. It may be of great antiquity but has been re-used as a more recent memorial. There are some eighteenth-century memorials near the church.