The Caves at Ballybunnian and Raths at Kilkee

J. Stirling Coyne & N. P. Willis
c. 1841
Volume II, Chapter XII-8 | Start of chapter

The cliffs of Ballybunnian contain a great quantity of alum, iron pyrites, &c., which have occasionally taken fire from being exposed to the action of the atmosphere, and which fire was formerly supposed to be of volcanic origin. We shall insert a short account of this phenomenon from a tourist who visited them forty years since; his description is well worth the perusal of every lover of science.

"Some years back a part of these cliffs, between the castles of Sick and Dune, assumed a volcanic appearance. The waves, by continual dashing, had worn and undermined the cliff, which giving way, fell with tremendous violence into the sea; several great strata or beds of pyrites, iron, and sulphur were . in consequence exposed to the action of the air and salt water, the natural effects of which were that they heated and burned with great fierceness. The clay near it is calcined to a red brick, mixed with iron ore, melted in many places like cinders thrown from a smith's forge. Many who did not consider well the causes, and the effects naturally to be expected from them, have supposed this to be volcanic."

To the kindness of Captain Sabine we are indebted for an account of the birds which he met with on these coasts. "Of sea-birds, I recognised in flight, of terns, the hirundo and minuta; of gulls, the argentatus, fuscus, and tridactylus, and I heard of a gull with very red legs, which was, I suppose, the ridibundus; of the guillemots, the troile, brunnichii, grylle, and alba; cormorants and oyster-catchers abundant; the oyster-catchers more frequently in groups than in pairs, although it was the breeding-season; puffins and razorbills. Of land-birds, the only species worth particular remark is the chough, which breeds in the rocks at Ballybunnian, as does the rock-pigeon."

"Before leaving Loop Head, the visitor is recommended to walk about a mile along the cliffs towards Ross, where their fancifully curved strata present extraordinary appearances. In the face of the rock, one of the bays is the resort of thousands of sea-gulls, whose young, in the autumn, ranged on narrow shelves of rock that line the bay, loudly scream for food, which the parent birds seem to answer as they skim along the surface of the water, looking down for their prey; altogether the noise was so great, that a party who lately visited it rushed forward in amazement to see what could have produced such extraordinary clamour. Near this is a conical hill, called Cahir Croghaune, situated a short distance from the road, and well worth ascending; the view all round will amply repay for the trouble.

"In the spring of 1831, one of the cliffs which had been undermined by the waves, fell into the sea with so loud a noise, that the manager at the lighthouse thought it was thunder. When a party recently visited this place they found it dangerous to approach, as many of the fragments appeared ready to follow the fallen masses."

From the complete absence of ooze, and the exclusive sand and rock which form the western coast of Ireland, the sea-water at Kilkee is remarkably pellucid and bright; and the persons engaged in recovering the sunken cargo of the Intrinsic worked to great advantage, from being able to see objects distinctly at fifty feet below the surface. A very uncommon variety of curious sea-weed is also found here, particularly the Carrigheen moss, used by invalids, and said to be as nutritious as isinglass.

The antiquarian finds matter of interest at Kilkee, in the shape of two of the ancient Raths—one on each side of the village. That on the east seems of great antiquity. The circumference outside the rampart is two hundred and fifty-six yards, the top of the mound, one hundred and twenty-six; the height of the top of the rath, above the fosse, which has been filled considerably, is twenty feet; the height of the centre rampart, ten feet, and twelve above the fosse. At the south side of the top of the mound is a passage, covered with large flags, and leading into the interior. An inhabitant of Kilkee, who, some years ago, penetrated to the interior, found a chamber of twelve feet diameter, walled at the sides, and covered with broad thick flags. Within his memory, this person said, this and other raths had been the abodes of fairies.