Portbradden/Kinbane Castle/Dunseverick Castle
Portbradden, County Antrim.
Portbradden is a a tiny village at the Western end of White Park Bay. The last house in the row overlooking the bay operated as a salmon fishing station until the 1980s. It had been a salmon station since the middle ages or earlier. This is the Port of the Salmon.
Until recently, all of the houses on the bay were lived in by different members and branches of the same family who also owned and farmed the land on the clifftop above. The first house on the bay has been renovated eccentrically with a private summer seating area on the roof of the boathouse across the lane. Halfway up the cliff, there is another outdoor gazebo. The cannon in the garden were salvaged after they were thrown ashore in fearsome winter gales over the years. Across the driveway of the house there is a little whitewashed building that vies for the honour of being Ireland’s smallest church. In reality it was built many years ago as a calving byre when the owner of the house was a farmer, but it has been beautifully fitted out with stained glass windows, carved wood and other ornaments. It is non-denominational and when the door is open, it is open to the public. There is an offering box and every year the owner donates the contents to a non religious charity like the Lifeboat or a Cancer Research organisation.
Past the salmon fishery, the path rises towards the cliff and then through a natural hollow in the rock. Just round the corner there are caves which were excavated in the 1950s. They had been inhabited since the stone ages and the eight living floors were 4 metres thick. Apart from fireplaces, the remains of animal bones and some very large cod, there was a decorated comb and a tiny phial for perfume with a bone stopper. There were two clay images of goddesses of the same pattern as those from the Eastern Mediterranean. And there were 3 stone age graves, a mother and her daughters who were aged about 20 and 16.
What an amazing variety of things and what legends would we find if we knew their stories?
The path continues along one of the nicest coastal walks to Dunseverick Harbour.
All the coastal castles on the coast are set on basalt except this one and Red Bay.
Kinbane means the Castle on the White Headland and it is built on a long, narrow wedge-shaped limestone outcrop that projects into the sea. The path to the castle is mostly steep steps which descend the cliff to sea level. It was built in 1547 by Colla MacDonnell when he was clan chief. Like all the coastal castles, it was heavily defended on the landward side with a strong curtain wall. There is a two storey residential tower just inside the wall. The curtain wall encloses a large courtyard and there is evidence of other wooden buildings within it. In 1551 the castle was besieged by Lord Deputy, Sir James Croft and again in 1555 when the castle suffered some damage from cannon, but it was never captured.
The hollow below the castle is called Lag na Sassenach or Hollow of the English. During one of the sieges, fires were lit on the headland above, which summoned McDonnell clansmen from all the land around. The McDonnells who came surrounded and massacred the besieging force.
After Colla’s death, Sorley Boy MacDonnell exchanged the castle for another in Scotland, which suited Colla McDonnell’s son. Kenbane was given to Owen MacAllister as a reward for his clan’s service and loyalty to the MacDonnells.
The descendants of the MacAllisters of Kenbane lived there until the 1700s.
Dunseverick Castle is named for its legendary founder, Sovarky and the earliest known clan that owned it were the O’Flynns. It is set on a huge tear-shaped block, separated from the mainland by two massive gullies.
At Dunseverick, there are walks to the east and west because it is part of the Causeway Cliff Path with Dunseverick Harbour to the east and the Giant’s Causeway to the west. A trip down one side of the gully and up the other leads to the original castle entrance, in a natural fissure in the rock which is overlooked on both sides. Once on the top, it is sometimes possible to trace the foundations of the enclosing wall and the buildings that once stood here.
About 3 metres from the cliff edge there is a holy well supposed to have been visited by Saint Patrick, one of the many…, many…, many… places where he was supposed to have been. In a time of trouble, Patrick’s treasure was thrown into the well, but none has ever been discovered.
In the 800s, Vikings took the castle but it is noted that it was the only time the castle was breeched. The castle was occupied continuously until its capture and final destruction by Cromwellian troops in the 1650s. The O’Cahan family held Dunseverick in its later years and the last one left it in 1657. Today only the ruins of the Elizabethan residential tower survive and although the castle remains are sparse, Dunseverick is another place that can conjure up visions of past glory and present wonder.
Video produced by Ambient Light Productions