Complete Guide to Downpatrick Head, County Mayo

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Downpatrick Head in County Mayo has some of the most breathtaking views in County Mayo and along the Wild Atlantic Way. Located near Ballycastle on the North coast of Mayo, the stunning sea stack just beyond the Head was formed by the relentless power of the Atlantic Ocean. The name ‘Downpatrick’ has its roots in Saint Patrick’s history, who is supposed to have visited the area to convert pagans to Christianity. Today, most visitors come to marvel at the sheer cliffs, the wild ocean and the unique pillar known as Dún Briste. A captivating place to visit.

Downpatrick Head, County Mayo

Knockaun, Co. Mayo, Ireland

Coordinates: 54.32611, -9.32530

Beautiful sea stack and cliff views

Be careful with high winds (if you use a drone)

Open year round

Amazing Viewpoints
Light-Medium Hikes
No facilities
No toilets
Free

What is it? Downpatrick Head

As you travel along the Wild Atlantic Way, there are a wide number of Coastal ‘Heads’ from Malin to Fanad to Mullaghmore! “Head” in this definition refers to a “headland”, or a point of land extends into the ocean, often quite high and with a sheer drop. A very large headland is usually called a cape. In this instance, Downpatrick Head meets all of the measures for a Head, with rather spectacular cliffs and the sea stack known as Dún Briste.

On the day I last visited, the weather was very strong. In order to capture the photographs on this page, I used a drone, but it probably wasn’t the right kind of weather to use one!

How to Visit Downpatrick Head

The best way to visit Downpatrick Head is via a self-drive itinerary. This location is not widely included on tours out of Dublin or Galway.

Parking & Facilities

There is a parking lot as you approach the Downpatrick Head site, which is free. To explore the site, you will need to walk through a gate on to a signposted pathway. There are no facilities or toilets at the site.

What to see at Downpatrick Head

Dún Briste

This stunning sea stack stands 45 metres high and is known as Dun Briste (Broken Fort). It is very unusual in geological terms as it became a sea stack very recently in 1393 (I believe this is very recent for sea stacks!). It would originally have been connected to the mainland by a land arch which fell away into the sea. One thing to notice are the striations or stripes on the pillar.

With it’s flat top and safe location, bird life has thrived here as a nesting site. According to an academic visit to the top in 1980, there’s evidence of two ruined stone buildings on the top.

This drone shot is from a different angle and gives a sense of where the original arch would have been. I was fascinated by the hollowing out of caves at the foot of the cliffs. People can walk right to the edge of the cliffs and look over! Of course, it’s only by boat or drone that you can see this angle. It’s so gorgeous.

Blow-hole – Poll na Seantainne

When you walk across the top of Downpatrick Head, you’ll be able to see a remarkable blow-hole which is part of a channel that goes back out to the Atlantic Ocean. It’s the site of a historical tragedy in 1798 when a group of Irish and French rebels who took refuge there were lost when the tide came in.

Eire 64 Sign

In much the same way as at Malin Head and Loop Head, you might see a sign marking out EIRE 64 in white chalk letters. These signs are left over from World War II, when they indicated to pilots that they were flying over neutral Irish territory.

Garland Sunday

A Catholic Mass is held at Downpatrick Head on the last Sunday of each July as part of a pilgrimage to St Patrick at this site and is known as Garland Sunday.

The St Patrick Connection

The term “Downpatrick Head” connects with an old story about St Patrick and a Druid Chieftain called Crom Dubh. When the chieftain refused to convert from paganism, St Patrick is said to have hit the ground and where he hit, the sea stack Dun Briste separated from the mainland with Crom Dubh on the very top, condemned to die.

My Drone Issues

All my work with the drone started to go wrong at Downpatrick Head. With strong winds, the drone can ‘skip’ a little as it is pushed off course. At Downpatrick Head, the wind was so strong, I really struggled to control the drone at all. The only thing I could think to do was to lower the drone as that function was still working from my remote control. By some miracle, the wind was less strong the lower I went, so I took the drone towards the cliffs (a precarious task and very risky) and managed to get over land just as the battery started to completely lose power.

Find the accompanying video for this article below:

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I'm Patrick, your Irish guide to the skies and beyond. With 58 countries visited, my journeys have taken me from busy economy to fabulous first-class.