Slemish Mountain – Ballymena, Northern Ireland - Atlas Obscura

Slemish Mountain

Ballymena, Northern Ireland

A brisk climb up this solitary peak leads to the origin story of a towering figure in Irish history. 


Consisting of the remains of a long-extinct volcano, Slemish Mountain dominates the County Antrim landscape. The mountain likewise casts a long shadow in the cultural landscape of Ireland, thanks to its association with the early life of the island’s legendary patron saint.

According to his Confessiowidely accepted to have been written by the man himselfSt. Patrick was captured by pirates at the age of 16 and brought to Ireland as a slave, where he was put to work as a shepherd. Held in captivity for six years, the lonely and isolated youth turned to regular prayer as a source of comfort; this practice yielded visions that inspired him to escape his captives and return home. Legend has it that his shepherding days were spent on the slopes of Slemish Mountain. After his self-liberation and subsequent ordination, Patrick returned to Ireland as a missionary to convert the island to Christianity. A church found at nearby Skerry Churchyard is thought to be one of the first churches he established in Ireland.

Slemish has a geological history that dates back millennia. The mountain is all that remains of a volcanic plug much more durable than the surrounding rock, which has been eroded through millions of years of blustery Irish weather.

The mountain is accessible year-round. Many people partake in an annual pilgrimage on St Patrick’s Day, which draws large crowds prepared to take the climb to the top. On a clear day the summit offers breath-taking views of the surrounding countryside, the Sperrin Mountains, and even the Scottish coast. The climb itself takes under an hour.

Know Before You Go

From Ballymena take the A42 out to Broughshane. Turn right onto the B94 and from here Slemish mountain is signposted.

The 180 metre climb is steep and rocky and the path can become slippery in wet weather. Parking, picnic facilities and washrooms are available onsite.

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