Dún na mBó, County Mayo – Untamed Nature, Celtic Heritage and Public Art

Sculpture overlooking the blowhole at Dún na mBó

photography by: Andreas F. Borchert/ Wikimedia Commons

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Located on the blustery west coast of Ireland and part of the aptly named “Wild Atlantic Way”, the high cliffs of Erris, County Mayo, drop dramatically into the ocean below, offering visitors stunning maritime vistas on clear days and enigmatic rolling mists on the more frequent cloudy days. Along these cliffs, intriguing natural phenomena can be found, including the blowhole at Dún na mBó, a testament to the erosive power of the Atlantic Ocean. This tidal water spout has been the home of a poignant sculpture since 2002 but its human connection dates back to the Iron Age, when a circular promontory fort made the most of the rugged landscape to offer temporary refuge in times of attack.

Formation and History

Battered by huge waves on a daily basis over millennia, the date of origin of the Dún na mBó blowhole is unknown but geologists are clear on its formation. As the ocean forces its way through the underlying rock, sea caves form and start to move landwards and upwards. Eventually, the intense pressure of the water creates a hole all the way to the surface, allowing the sea to explode out of the top during high tide. This effect is particularly spectacular during stormy weather.


With the high cliffs on the seaward side, ancient civilisations saw the natural advantages such locations provided and built promontory forts using ramparts of earth or stone surrounded by ditches. Over 350 of these forts have been identified on the Irish coast but only nine of these, including Dún na mBó, have been excavated.


Even with archaeological investigations, it is difficult to determine the exact age and function of this particular fortification and it may date back even further than the Iron Age. Exploration of similar forts suggests that it could have served multiple purposes over the years, not only as protection from attackers but also to house livestock as the English translation of its name, “the cattle fort”, suggests. With typical Irish humour, locals like to link the name to the more unsavoury practice of disposing of dead cows by throwing the carcasses into the blowhole.

Blowhole Sculpture

In 2002, to commemorate all souls lost at sea and reflecting the style of the fort towers that once sat along the clifftop, a sculpture was installed at the edge of the gaping natural crater. Taking the form of a narrow corridor between high walls, the sculpture offers a spectacular view of the blowhole just a short distance from the cliff edge, which is surrounded by a circular wall and surmounted by metal rods.


It is the work of American architect and artist Travis Price in conjunction with students of the Catholic University of America in Washington DC and it forms part of the Tír Sáile trail, a series of 11 public artworks along the North Mayo coast.


The Dún na mBó sculpture is part of a pair known as “Thin Places”, a designation that comes from early Celtic times and represents unique places where a person can experience a very thin divide between past, present and future.


A plaque at Dún na mBó expounds on this as “places where a person is somehow able, possibly only for a moment to encounter a more ancient reality within present time; or places where perhaps only in a glance we are somehow transported into the future.”

Getting There

From the village of Belmullet, Dún na mBó is about a 10-minute drive northwest through the villages of Carn, Corclogh and Gladree. Directions can be confusing because Doonamo Point, the anglicised form of Dún na mBó, is located north of the sculpture. However, it is just a 5-minute walk between the two points, though the winds on the clifftop can make this challenging.  While in the area, unmissable views of the lighthouse at Eagle Island, the second of the Thin Places sculptures at Anagh Head and the plethora of endangered birds gathering at Termoncarragh freshwater lake are just a short drive away.