Above St Aidan’s and just below Binevenagh is this fascinating hillfort. Craigbolie Castle, also known as Dun Crutheni, is a D shaped fort commanding expansive views over Magilligan. The boundary wall is made of stone though time has covered it in vegetation. Near the centre is a circular raised area thought likely to indicate the site of a former structure. The Cruthin were the dominant power in this area at the start of recorded history (the 5th century), and have been linked by some to the Picts in Scotland (though this link has been dismissed by others). An asteroid was named after them in 1986 - ‘3753 Cruithne’. The form of the fort has been noted to resemble fortifications on the west coast of Scotland so there may have been some link across the water. Today it is a powerful reminder of a time long past.
St Aidan’s Church Magilligan, is located further along the Duncrun Road. Like most medieval churches a comandiing position was selected and it has fine views of Lough Foyle below. The structure dates from the early medieval period and is said to have been founded by St Patrick. The single lancet window is thought to date to the 13th century. A mortuary house in front of the gable has been traditionally understood to be the grave of St.Aidan, the patron of the church. St Aidan was St Columba’s biographer and also Abbot of Iona - the monastery founded by Columba off the west coast of Scotland. The ruin is of the medieval parish church, repaired in 1622 & in use until the C18th when the Earl Bishop gave it to the Roman Catholic congregation on the completion of the new Church of Ireland. A pre-emancipation Catholic Church is constructed nearby.
This cross in a corner of a field, below the Duncrun Road and overlooking Magilligan, is all that is left (that can be seen) of the early medieval Duncrun Monastery. Reportedly destroyed by the Vikings its stone is reported to have been reused for a nearby castle which was in turn used in the construction of nearby cottages. The cross itself is a very unusual one for these parts. Often described as a ‘Cross of Lorraine’ i.e a cross with two horizontal bars associated with Lorraine in France and thought to have originated in Moravia from Byzantine influences, if true, this is a reminder of the connection between the church of these times and a much wider world. I am not so sure however. To my eye the second bar may be a device to separate the cross above from a different image below.
Magilligan Halt is a dramatic example of railway architecture with horizontal lines and overlapping roofs appearing to emphasise speed in this new form of travel. Designed by John Lanyon and built between 1875 and 1875, the signal box windows at the end are from elsewhere and were added, to complementary effect in the early 1990′s.
Magilligan Martello Tower looks across the narrowest point of Lough Foyle to a similar fortification above Greencastle in Co Donegal. Both were built between 1812 and 1817 and formed part of a series of similar fortifications built around the British Isles to guard against a Napoleonic invasion. The squat circular form with a pronounced batter was thought to be effective against canon fire from ships attempting to access the Lough. A large 24 pound gun was mounted on a track on top of the fort. Inside, are vaulted brickwork rooms and a well. A projecting machiolation protects the door to the rear and houses a small guard room. The Greencastle fort is elliptical rather than circular and is linked to a barrack and a two levels of gun emplacements. Those at the lower level are now partly obscured by a row of holiday apartments. During WWII an anti aircraft gun was mounted on top of the tower. The structure is now a Monument in State Care.
392 Seacoast Road Magilligan, a three roomed traditional house with unrendered basalt rubble stonework. Like other vernacular houses in the area it is located with its gable facing the prevailing westerly wind. Magilligan was once famous for its thatched houses and there is still a reasonable number surviving. This building was formerly thatched in Marram Grass taken from the nearby sandhills and secured with ropes. This was changed to wheat straw secured by hidden scallops in 1994.
Bellarena House was the centre of an estate that once covered around half of Magilligan. These were designated church lands under the Plantation of Ulster and were leased from the Bishop of Derry. It is a triple pile building (three pitched roofs) with a projecting sandstone porch added by the eminent Victorian architect Charles Laynon in the late 1830′s, who also made internal changes. The main part of the building is said to date from 1797 but there may be remnants of an earlier, seventeenth century house within its fabric. Built of basalt stone it has a very distinctive appearance and commands its surroundings well.
Bellarena Dispensary is located behind a curve on the Seacoast Road as it enters the Magilligan area. Built around 1840 the taller building is the dispensary while the lower is a separate house. In 1997 it was still in use as a doctor’s surgery two days per week. The little Gothic windows give the building great charm and this, and the fact that it is built on the edge of the Bellarnea Estate, suggest the hand of the landlord in its commissioning and construction.
Marks of Time
Sketches of buildings in the North West of Ireland and further afield with a little information about their history.