August 14th - Archaeological sites on the North Coast

Leader Lorraine Bourke NIEA

A group of members assembled at Layde Church on this fine sunny day for a visit to several ruined church sites and appreciate the prehistoric landscape in dramatic coastal settings. At Layde, overlooking the sea along a sheltered valley, we saw a multi-period medieval church with a later west tower retaining its distinctively Irish ‘wicker centering’. This was a method of supporting the vaulting during building while the mortar set. The gravestones proved as interesting to members as the church itself. We then processed through Cushendall, busier than usual with a festival in train, and lunched at the Yacht Club car park. From here we could appreciate the dominant Lurigethan hill, a large promontory fort of probable Bronze Age date. We then headed southwards for Ardclinis Church passing en route below Red Bay Motte and Castle. Lorraine has been supervising the conservation work at Ardclinis and she related how the medieval ruin had been cleared of vegetation revealing the original masonry of the west end. This is believed to be on the site of a 1500 year old foundation. A small, cross-inscribed stone near the gate was much admired. A highly decorated 12th- century crozier from the site is in the National Museum, Dublin.

Our journey continued northwards where we stopped beside Loughaveema, the vanishing lake. This natural phenomenon, which was empty on the day, provided a lively discussion as to its cause and we learned that it was also a focus of interest in prehistoric times with a court tomb, three portal tombs, a wedge tomb, a round cairn and Neolithic occupation site all found in the immediate surrounding landscape.

Our final site was Bonamargy Friary, dating to about 1500, as oasis of peace surrounded by Ballycastle golf club. Although the sea is not actually visible from here now the siting on the Margy river and proximity to the coast with plentiful fish supplies was vital for the life of the Friary. We heard that the church had been thatched and was burned in 1584. A beautiful east window survives and is thought to replace an earlier one. We speculated about a wooden rood screen which may have divided the nave and chancel and saw the cross commemorating Julia McQuillan, ‘the black nun’, a reclusive here in the mid 17th century after the friars had left. We noted the east range with its several rooms below and a dormitory above. A foul water drain at the south end was admired as being advanced for its time. We tracked the corbels which would have supported the cloister roof and puzzled over the historic conservation of the west wall. Members lingered over the gravestones as usual and noted in particular a small group of war graves. 

Before dispersing, Lorraine reminded members of the former glassworks and coastal coal mining which had flourished here in Ballycastle under the patronage of the Boyd family. All were very appreciative of the detailed handouts which Lorraine had prepared.

Claire Foley

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