Kinbane Headland is about three miles from Ballycastle in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, on the way to Giant’s Causeway. The walkway leads along the cliff with views of a long narrow headland with castle ruins. The path is narrow and stepped. The view is beautiful, Rathlin Island, birds, flowers and ruins, and, of course, sheep.
Kinbane means White Head, after the white limestone.
Kinbane Castle is a two-story castle built in 1547 by Colla MacDonnell, brother of Sorley Boy MacDonnell. You can see the remains of the tower, courtyard and other ruins.
Sorley Boy MacDonnell was probably the most powerful Scoto-Irish chief. He established the MacDonnell clan in Antrim. Sorley Boy MacDonnell resisted the English and Scots governments when they tried to drive them from their lands. Their stronghold was Dunluce Castle.
Kinbane Castle withstood a siege by Lord Deputy, Sir James Croft and English forces in 1551. The castle was rebuilt again when English forces partly destroyed the castle by cannon in 1555. Colla MacDonnell died at the castle in 1558. The castle seems to have passed to his brother, Sorley Boy MacDonnell.
During the 16th century a garrison of English soldiers besieged the castle again. They hid in a hollow below the castle, now known as the Hollow of the English, Lag na Sassenach. The story tells that the English massacred those left in the castle. Those that escaped lit fires, calling for reinforcements who surrounded and took the castle back.
The castle passed peacefully from Sorley Boy MacDonnell to Gillaspick MacDonnell, son of Colla MacDonnell. Then it was awarded to Owen MacIan Dubh MacAllister, 2nd of Loup, Chief of Clan MacAlister for loyalty to the MacDonnell clan, then passed to his descendants.
The castle remained in possession of the descendants of the MacAllisters of Kenbane until the 18th century.
The sign by the Kinbane Cliff Path says:
Kinbane (“White Headland”) is tucked below this car park, just out of site. At the first corner on the cliff path, the headland and the remains of the castle can be seen. These are reached by continuing down the steep steps to the remote bay below.
The stone castle was built about 1544 by Colla McDonnell. All that remains now is a large gate tower and two flanking walls. Care should be taken if visiting – these ruins are unstable.
The tiny turf and stone ice house in the car park and a derelict cottage hidden in the bay below are all that remains of Kinbane salmon fishery, which ceased operations in the late 1980s.
Gobe Feagh (“Raven’s Point”), an imposing basalt headland, guards the west end of the castle’s cove. Ravens patrol their territory regularly, and may sometimes be seen on the juniper-clad grassy slopes below their cliff.
Myths, Mists and Legends
The turbulent waters of Moyle swirl past Kinbane Head, wash the Ballycastle beach and crash against Fair Head. Several Celtic legends are set in this area. Best known may be the story of the four Children of Lir, who were turned into white swans by their wicked stepmother, and had to spend three hundred years on the lonely sea of Moyle.
When the grey sea mist rolls in and curls over Fair Head, it is said to take the shape of the Grey Man, whose home was on the imposing promontory. The doorway still exists as the Grey Man’s path, a great split in the headland.
The sea breaks constantly on a submerged rock off Kinbane Head. This is Manannan’s Rock. Mannanan is a mythical sea god whose name is also linked with the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea.