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Cushendun is situated on the northeast coast of Ireland about eight miles south of Fair Head and five miles to the north of Garron Point. Vessels may anchor off the small village at the mouth of the river which lies at the southern end of Cushendun Bay, and shallow vessels may cross the sandbar at high water to dry out inside the River Glendun.

Cushendun is situated on the northeast coast of Ireland about eight miles south of Fair Head and five miles to the north of Garron Point. Vessels may anchor off the small village at the mouth of the river which lies at the southern end of Cushendun Bay, and shallow vessels may cross the sandbar at high water to dry out inside the River Glendun.

Cushendun is an exposed anchorage that only affords shelter in settled conditions or from westerly component conditions round to north-northwest. However in the latter case in any developed offshore winds, tidal streams may cause a vessel to lie beam on to the wind and induce an uncomfortable roll. The location is completely exposed to anything with an easterly component. Access is straightforward thanks to the absence of offshore dangers or any tidal restriction.
Please note

The direction and velocity of the tide should be the central feature of any navigation planning in this area.

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Keyfacts for Cushendun

Sweeping views of the bay

Aerial views of Glendun Viaduct and the glen

About Cushendun

Cushendun derives its name from the Irish ‘Cois Abhann Duinne’ that means ‘beside the brown river’ or ‘foot of the brown river’. This stems from the River Dun, commonly known as the Glendun River, which rises close to Trostan Mountain and which has also given its name to its glen, Glendun, one of the nine Glens of Antrim.

Cushendun represents the closest position in Ireland to mainland Britain with a sheltered landing location and safe anchorage. This has made it a major landing place since man first settled on the north coast of Ireland some 9,000 years ago. The exact origins of the site are unknown but it most likely began life as a holy place in the Iron Age. Historically there has been a continuous passage of travellers from Cushendun and Kintyre, on the opposite coast, trading black cattle and pigs for Highland ponies.

Carra Castle, or Castle Carra in Irish Caisleán Carrach standing to the north of Cushendun strand, marks the strategic importance of the area in the Middle Ages. The exact date of construction of the castle is unclear, but Mesolithic flint workings show evidence of an ancient early fortification on the site. It is thought to have been a Norman outpost at one time with a later rebuild around the 14th century. Then it was an ideal stronghold for the McDonnells and their clansmen, who would land their galleys on the beach below. The castle had a coloured history during the reign of the McDonnell clan. Most famously it was the site where the McDonnell clan dispensed with the ‘Gaelic Prince of Ulster’ Shane ‘The Proud’ O’Neill, in 1567.

The MacDonnell's, the O'Neill's, plus the Maguires and O'Donnells from across the river Bann, and the Crown all competed for power here. 16th-Century Northern Ireland was a mercurial shifting landscape of allegiances and open warfare that was, as often as not, strategically manipulated by Queen Elizabeth 1st's agents empowering one clan over another. Sorley Boy sided with the Crown against O’Neill in 1559 but the joint campaign faltered. In return O’Neill decisively defeated Sorley Boy and his clan at the Battle of Glentasie in 1565. After the battle Castle Carra and Dunluce Castle, the clan’s pride, fell into O'Neill's hands. He also took James MacDonnell and Sorley Boy as his prisoners. They were held in Dungannon Castle where James died soon afterwards but Sorley Boy remained O'Neill's captive until 1567. During this period Sorley Boy seems to have won his captor's confidence.

After an unexpected defeat of the O'Neill’s by the O'Donnells, supported by the Crown in the battle of Farsetmore, Shane turned to the MacDonnells for assistance. He attended a feast laid on by the MacDonnells at Castle Carra, bringing with him Sorley Boy out of captivity to secure an alliance with the Scots. On the third day, a pre-planned confrontation was initiated where Shane O'Neill was stabbed to death along with several of his militia. The MacDonnell’s had secured their revenge for the 1565 defeat but it is said that the English Deputy of Ireland, Sir Henry Sidney, had his hand in this deed. He had tried unsuccessfully to assassinate O'Neill several times and his assassin was within the MacDonnell party. Certainly, the killing had his approval as O'Neill’s head was sent to him in Dublin Castle immediately afterwards where it was stuck on a pole and placed on the northwest gate of the city. A cairn to the O'Neill clan was erected on the high ground overlooking Cushendun in 1908.

In the aftermath, Sorley Boy went to Scotland and returned with 600 Scottish mercenaries from the Highlands' Western Isles, determined never to be defeated or leave Ireland again. As it happens this proved to be the case nearly twenty years later at Castle Carra. In 1585 his son Donnell ‘Gorm’ MacDonnell was besieged here by the English. Sorley Bay, then in his eighties, came from Dunluce Castle and landed on the beaches near the castle. He soon drove off the besiegers.

But it was more than the McDonnells and their clansmen that landed on Cushendun beach. A regular ferry service operated between here and Dunaverty, a mere sixteen miles away on the Mull of Kintyre. This started after the ‘Plantation of Ulster’ was well established in the middle of the 1600s and ran until the Great Famine in the middle of the 19th century. At this time the harbour had its own customs house and passport office. This was closed following the ‘Act of Union’ between Britain and Ireland, as it became obsolete.

In 1830 plans were drawn up for a commercial port at Cushendun by a local businessman Nicholas Cromelin to serve the surrounding district and the industrial centre of Ballymena. The architect Sir John Rennie was commissioned for the design but the project failed when the government pulled funding from the project uncertain of Cromelin’s financial standing. Subsequently, however, several factories were built beside the south quay, including a ropewalk, a long narrow shed for spinning rope, and a starch works, to which later was added a steam-powered flax mill that was the only one in the glens.

The village we see today owes much of its character and unique architectural heritage to Ronald John McNeill who became the 1st Baron of Cushendun in 1927. He developed the village square with seven houses in 1912, and later in 1923, he built Mauds Cottages and Glenmona House. His wife was Cornish and this may have had some bearing on the design style of the houses.

In 1980 this unique architectural inheritance in a picturesque coastal setting in the heart of the Antrim Coast and Glens Area, resulted in Cushendun being designated a Conservation area of outstanding natural beauty to be preserved by the National Trust.

Today Cushendun is a quiet location with some small leisure boating and fishing. Although an exposed anchorage in settled conditions it offers another location on this beautiful coastline at the mouth of the River Dun with Glendun, one of the nine Glens of Antrim, above the town. An unusual famous character of Cushendun is Johann the goat, a sculpture of which is situated close to the mouth of the river. The goat lived in the harbour area for many years, grazing the river bank and providing a particularly good welcome to visitors bearing apples or carrots. In 2001 Johann was the last animal to be culled during the foot and mouth outbreak. His statue remains a poignant memorial to the farmers in the district who lost their livestock as a result of the terrible disease. Today, another goat carries on his tradition beneath the feet of Johann’s sculpture.

Those planning on striding out will find a beautiful and varied glen awaits them here. Glendun ascends from the shore past deciduous and evergreen woodlands to the forested and tundra-like slopes of Slieveanorra Mountain. The small Glendun Road provides an excellent pathway to explore Glendun. It follows the river and then continues for the entire length of the glen to the Bryvore Bridge where it joins with the Glenaan Road. The path passes underneath one arch, and the river under another, of the Glendun Viaduct, that carries William Bald's famous Coast Road across the valley towards Ballycastle. The bridge was completed in 1839 and designed by a young 22 years old county surveyor Charles Lanyon. Lanyon went on to become a famous architect of many fine buildings including Queens University in Belfast.

From a purely sailing point of view, Cushendun offers another stop off point for boats bound in either direction through the North Channel or indeed crossing from the Western Isles of Scotland. Access to Cushendun is straightforward as it is non-tidal and available at all times and is free of off-lying dangers. Hence it serves as an excellent tide wait location to allow mariners to take full advantage of favourable tidal streams that are a dominant feature of this area of the coast.

Other options in this area

Click the 'Next' and 'Previous' buttons to progress through neighbouring havens in a coastal 'clockwise' or 'anti-clockwise' sequence. Alternatively here are the ten nearest havens available in picture view:
Coastal clockwise:
Cushendall - 1.9 miles S
Red Bay Pier (Glenariff Pier) - 2.3 miles S
Carnlough Bay and Harbour - 5.1 miles SSE
Glenarm Bay and Harbour - 6.2 miles SSE
Ballygalley Bay - 9.2 miles SSE
Coastal anti-clockwise:
Torr Head - 2.4 miles NNW
Murlough Bay - 3.5 miles NNW
Church Bay - 7 miles NNW
Ballycastle - 5.2 miles NW
Ballintoy Harbour - 8.3 miles WNW

Navigational pictures

These additional images feature in the 'How to get in' section of our detailed view for Cushendun.

Sweeping views of the bay

Aerial views of Glendun Viaduct and the glen

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