Geology and Landscape

Geologically Slieve Gullion and the encircling ‘ring dyke’ hills are considered to be the best example of a volcanic ring dyke system in the UK or Ireland.

The ice age sculpted the rocks and landscape of the Mourne Gullion Strangford UNESCO Global Geopark into the deep u-shaped valley forming Carlingford lough, numerous natural bays at Strangford lough and the flat plain along the Mourne coastline. This is the scene that met the first settlers as they arrived in skin boats around 7000 years ago, they were hunter-gathers of the Mesolithic period. Access to the coast dictated settlement patterns because it meant fresh fish and opportunities for trade and these communities began an enduring relationship with the sea. Maritime industry has thrived in Mourne Gullion Strangford UNESCO Global Geopark, it is central to trade even today with busy commercial ports in Warrenpoint and large fishing ports in Kilkeel and Ardglass. The Newry Canal was the earliest summit Canal in Ireland or Britain, its route follows the same low land route as the receding ice.

Glacial activity also led to the formation of the ‘Gap of the North’, which was the gateway of Ulaidh or Ulster and it has remained a main road even today. This borderland beside the Ring of Gullion was known as Na Doirse, the gates. It was also the edge of the Pale, the border of Norman Ireland and even now it lies on the edge separating the North and South of Ireland. Travelers were constantly passing this way and there is a rich tradition of storytelling here, many famous characters from Irish folklore have had adventures here such as the warrior Fionn Mac Cumhaill, leader of the Fianna warriors, and Cúchulainn who is said to have got his name from Slieve Gullion or Chulainn the Blacksmith’s Mountain.

The geological make up of Strangford Lough produced a sea inlet that allowed Early Christians, Vikings and Normans to explore. It was difficult to defend so the Normans built the many castles, keeps and towers that dot the coast, each tells a story of power, rebellion and conquest. The Christian monasteries here were regularly plundered by Vikings who named the area Strangfjothr, meaning strong fjord. The wooden boat building skills have survived and are now celebrated in the annual Skiffie Festival.

Christianity came to Ireland with the arrival of St Patrick in 432AD. He founded his first church in a wooden barn at Saul, in the Lecale area, the stone replacement still remains. When St Patrick died he was buried on the Hill of Down now marked with a granite Celtic cross at Down Cathedral. The same hill holds the remains of St Brigid and St Columba. The St Patrick trail is a route for pilgrims linking key sites and giving insight into Early Christian life. St Patrick converted several followers and his legacy can be seen in the many monasteries and Holy sites nearby, Struell Wells, Inch Abbey Ardtole, St John’s Point Church. There are a multitude of later Christian monasteries such as Killeavy Old Churches and Kilbroney.

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