Millin Bay Cairn and a trip to the Ards Peninsula

Looking through my archives, I noticed that it was about this time of year, a few years ago, that we visited the site of Millin Bay Cairn. I hadn’t written a post on it because, quite frankly, there isn’t much to see. However, it was still a grand day out and the cairn itself is very interesting because of its unusual design and the discoveries made when it was excavated in 1953.

Driving up to the Ards Peninsula from South Down we had to take the ferry across Strangford Lough, but before we did that we took a little detour over to Audleystown Court Tomb. I’ve written about it in a previous post as it’s one of my favourites and a lovely example of a dual court tomb (a long double-ended tomb).

Audleystown Court Tomb with Strangford Lough just visible on the right

The ferry goes from the pretty village of Strangford across to Portaferry on the Ards Peninsula. Although it was a bright sunny day the water was quite choppy with a brisk wind blowing down the lough.


We drove across to Millin Bay on the east side of the Ards Peninsula and soon saw the sign for the cairn.

Unfortunately, all that can be seen are a few upright stones which look as if they could be part of a stone circle. These are all that remain visible above the ground after the tomb was back filled following the 1953 excavation. What was found under the ground was much more interesting!

The tomb was constructed in the late Neolithic and is quite unique in that it doesn’t fall into any of the usual categories of tomb found in Ireland.

A long stone cist was built alongside an earlier stone boundary wall and the wall and cist surrounded by an oval of upright stones. These were then incorporated into a larger mound surrounded by large upright stones and these are the stones still visible today.

The layout is best seen on the information board at the site.

The information board also has this fascinating photo from the excavation, where the boundary wall and oval of upright stones can clearly be seen.

The cist contained the skeletal remains of at least 15 people and the cremated remains of another. Rather being individual skeletons, the bones had been sorted and carefully arranged in groups of skulls, long bones, etc. The bones could also have been used in ancestor worship and rituals before they were placed in the tomb as it is thought that they had been kept somewhere else for a considerable time before they were placed in the tomb.

The bones as they were found in the cist.

8 small cists, thought to be later burials, were also found within the cairn material.

The cairn is close to the shore, with views out to sea, and the Isle of Man visible on a clear day – not this day though. Despite the sunshine, it was very cold on the coast and my thoughts were more about keeping warm than lingering in the field.

What better to place to warm up on a cold day, than a tropical butterfly house. On the way back we stopped at Seaforde Demesne gardens and butterfly house and got nice and warm in the butterfly house and had a bite to eat in the Garden House cafe.

13 thoughts on “Millin Bay Cairn and a trip to the Ards Peninsula

  1. You have touched a “nerve” with this post! I love the landscape surrounding Strangford Lough, wish I could live there! In a normal year, we would visit the area maybe 3, 4 or half a dozen times but this year of the Great Pandemic looks like we might have to wait until the autumn at least. Great post!


  2. Glad you enjoyed the post, Ashley. I particularly like the setting of Audleystown Cairn and the view down to Strangford Lough. It’s strange not knowing when it will be safe to go back to all the places I love and all the places I still want to see.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve been “locked-in” since mid-December due to a bad back then “getting out” at the end of February then the Pandemic! I will make sure we visit this cairn when the restrictions allow. For the moment I’m a grateful gardener! Maybe I should put some of my photos from last year onto my blog!


      1. No harm in retrospective posts (most of mine are!) and it’s always good to look back at the things you enjoyed seeing or experiencing in the past, particularly if you haven’t been able to get out and about for so long.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for this post. The area has a special meaning for me as it’s where my Great Grandmother was from. I was planning a visit to it later this year – time will tell. Yesterday’s announcement about Bur na Boinne and mention of Millin Bay prompted me to revisit the post ❤


      1. Thank you for the link. That’s fascinating and particularly interesting to see a familial relationship between the burial at Bru na Broinne and sites on the other side of the country.


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