The Caves at Cave Hill

Five caves have been cut into the rock at Cave Hill, north Belfast

There are five caves at Cave Hill, north Belfast, but little is known of their history. Manmade, they were cut from the rock like others at Ballymartin and Donegore.

According to the Ulster Journal of Archaeology, ‘No distinct age can be credited with their formation, as no direct evidence of the occupation has been discovered. The floors of each are cut in the solid rock and there is no accumulation of ages to contain any implements or other articles’.

The first cave is at ground level and can be easily accessed. Its entrance was originally in the shape of a door and measured just 1m across. Its inner walls still show that it was fashioned with some regard to regularity of form.

About 23m higher up on a ledge is the second cave. Its entrance is difficult and dangerous to reach, only accessible by climbing the ledge that runs up and across the face of the cliff. It is the smallest cave of the five, but also the best formed, complete with a dome shaped roof.

On another ledge, approximately 40m above the entrance to the first, are the third, fourth and fifth caves. The ledge by which these caves are reached has its beginning to the west of the entrance cave, but the climb is even more dangerous: many lives have been lost attempting it.

The fourth and fifth caves are entered by a tunnel leading from the third. The fourth is the largest of the caves and has a window or opening situated near its entrance. At the bottom of this window, a 15cm deep channel has been cut into the rock for the purpose of draining the rainwater that would otherwise flood the interior. The fifth cave is situated above the third and is reached from the latter by steps cut in the cliff.

Although no evidence of occupation has been discovered, stories are told of the famous Ness O’Haughan, a highwayman from the Braid valley, who reputedly used the caves as a hideout.

© Catherine McWilliams. Reproduced with kind permission of the Cave Hill Conservation Campaign 2003.