One of the 3 caves on Cave Hill
Cave Hill is a basaltic hill overlooking the city of Belfast in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. The hill forms part of the south eastern border of the Antrim Plateau. It is distinguished by its famous "Napoleon's Nose", a basaltic outcrop which resembles the profile of the famous emperor.
On a clear day, the summit offers views across the city, the Isle of Man and occasionally Scotland. Like Arthur's Seat, Edinburgh, it offers a strenuous climb, just a few miles from the centre of a major urban center. On a rainy day the trails can be miserably muddy and slippery. The imposing cliffs can be dangerous (especially during wet weather), with many people requiring rescue after seeking a shortcut to the summit or the higher caves. There have even been several deaths from falling off the sheer cliffs, so be careful!!!
Cavehill rises to almost 370 metres (1200 ft) above sea level. Most of its lower-east side lies on the Belfast Castle Estate, which has as its focal point the imposing 19th century Scottish baronial castle. The castle was designed by Charles Lanyon and constructed by the Marquess of Donegall in 1872 in The Deer Park. The slopes of Cavehill were originally used as farmland but from the 1880s a major planting exercise was undertaken, producing the now familiar deciduous and coniferous woodland landscape. Belfast Castle Estate was given to Belfast City by the Earl of Shaftesbury in 1934.
There are 3 large caves that give Cave Hill its name. The lowest is 21 feet (6.4 m) long, 18 feet (5.5 m) wide and varies from 7 to 10 feet (3.0 m) in height. Above this is another cave; 10 feet (3.0 m) long, 7 feet (2.1 m) wide and 6 feet (1.8 m) in height. Above this is the third major cave, said to be divided into 2 unequal parts, each of which is more extensive than the larger of the other caves, but the ascent is notoriously dangerous and thus few venture to it.The caves are man-made, and it is postulated that they were originally excavated for iron-mining.
Adjacent to the lowest cave is 'The Devil's Punchbowl', also sometimes called 'The Devil's Cauldron', a site where ancient Celtic farmers corralled their cattle. This consists mainly of a steep hill, mainly of rocks and boulders, and is considered dangerous to amateurs.
By bus: Belfast Castle and Hazelwood entrance;
Metro Services: 1A-1H (Mon-Sat) 1C-1E, 1H (Sun),
Carr’s Glen; 12, 61.
By car: Car parking at Belfast Castle, Belfast Zoo
(Hazelwood), Upper Cavehill Road, and Upper
The hill was known in the original Gaelic as Beann Mheadagáin or the hill of Madigan, after either a king of Uladh ulaid (Ulster) Madigan, who ruled from AD 838 to 855, or a later king Madigan (AD 933-948). The later king's grandson, Eochaid Mac Ardgal, was killed at the battle of Crew Hill in 1003 - in which the Ulidians were defeated by their old enemies, the Kinel-Owen-, and it is from him that McArt's fort derived its name. The residential neighborhood at the foot of Cave Hill's entrance is derivatively known as Ben Madigan, with street names to match, and is a wealthy semi-outer city, semi-suburban area. The name 'Ben Madigan' can also be found attached to buildings, schools etc. close to the area, e.g the Belfast Royal Academy has the Ben Madigan Preparatory School on the Antrim Road.
The crowning stone Giant's Chair of the O'Neill clan was apparently sited on Cave Hill's summit until 1896 and gave its name to the nearby Throne Hospital. The Cave Hill Throne was destroyed by loyalists in December 1896 after a reference was made to it in an article in the nationalist paper 'Shan Van Bocht'.
During World War II, a bomb dropped prematurely during a German bombing raid on Belfast exploded, causing a large crater near the grounds of Belfast Castle. It is understood that RAF Bomber Command was situated on Cave Hill in the early years of WWII before relocating to Castle Archdale in Fermanagh. Hence the German bomb may have been intentional.
On June 1, 1944, an American Air Force B-17 bomber crashed into Cave Hill during heavy fog, killing all ten crew instantly. The incident inspired Richard Attenborough's film, "Closing the Ring." Some scenes of the film were shot on Cave Hill.
This fort, on the summit of the hill, is an example of an old ráth or ring fort.It is believed that the fort's inhabitants used the caves to store white foods for the winter and may have served as a refuge during times of attack. It was here that United Irishmen Theobald Wolfe Tone and Henry Joy McCracken met in 1795 to take an oath to undertake rebellion in 1798. McCracken was captured on Cavehill in 1798.
McArt's Fort is an example of an old ráth or ring fort.
Commanding the eastern slopes of Cave Hill just past the trailhead is the multi-turreted Scottish Baronial style Belfast Castle. The home was originally built for the third Marquess of Donegal in 1870 and was later given to the City of Belfast in 1934. Legend has it that the castle’s residents will experience good fortune only as long as a white cat resides on the premises. This bit of local folklore is commemorated in the ornate formal gardens by nine artistic representations of cats in mosaic, painting, sculpture and garden furniture.
Belfast Castle is open Mon-Sat from 9:00-5:30 and Sun. from 10:00-5:30. Admission to the castle is free.
There is no red tape.
The park opens at 7:30 and generally closes around 9:30. Admission to both Cave Hill and Belfast Castle and the castle's gardens is free to the public.
Dogs are welcome as long as they are leashed or under the verbal command of its owner.
Make sure you take water. Once you begin the ascent past Belfast Castle, there are no more opportunities to refill your bottle.
Camping is not allowed in Cave Hill Park. A range of lodging opportunities are available in Belfast.