The Sunken Towns of Ireland

For years now, I’ve been fascinated by accounts of ‘sunken cities’ of the Irish coast. I’ve found four so far… is there more?

Through sunken cities, blameless
Strangers now but trust renewed
Silence decades long, retreating
We’ll laugh as though each joke was new
in the ruins finding treasures
Lost when life was rent in two

Sunken Cities by the Fatima Mansions

In Lahinch, Co. Clare, there’s a popular legend concerning the sunken town of Cillstifiann, which if seen through clear water, will bring death to the witness. The story comes from the Annals of the Four Masters, which states that ‘an earthquake occurred in West Clare almost 1,000 years ago, splitting the land between the Cliffs of Moher on the north and Baltard Cliffs on the south… The subsequent tidal wave engulfed the whole district between these two headlands’. One of the hamlets said to be buried was that of Cillstifiann.

More about the underwater town of Cillstifiann, including strange deaths connected to it: »

Honourary Blatherskite Jean Kavanagh of Lahinch tells me:
The name of the island is Cillstifiann, and it was sunk by an earthquake on St Patrick’s eve about a thousand years ago, and an island off Milltown Malbay was split into three, the largest of which is now called Mutton Island. Of course legend has it that if you see the ruins of the town beneath the waves, you die within seven years. There are still rocks out there which waves always break over called the Cillstifiann rocks.

Legend also has it that if the town ever rises out of the water again Lahinch will sink.

Rosslare Fort
As a teenager, while fishing along the coast of Wexford Harbour, or visiting the North Slobs, I used to see strange objects protruding from the distant citadel, where the fort had slipped beneath the waves.

This 750 acre fort was at the end of one of the two headlands where Wexford Harbour meets the sea – the other being The Raven Point. Nature formed the headland over the years… only to take it away again later.

The headland is first mentioned on a map dating from 1599, and it seems that a fort was first established there in 1642. On Cromwell’s arrival in Ireland in 1649, he ordered that the fort be seized. After a protracted siege, the garrison retreated in a small frigate, while their wives and children was massacred by Cromwell’s troops, led by Lieutenant General Michael Jones. The killing was carried out in a cavern which became known as ‘Cromwell’s Murder Hole’.

After a few years of dereliction, in 1654, the fort was restored as a fort, Marine Revenue Station and Custom House, and was repopulated. It seems to have been in steady use until the 1870s, when the last schoolteacher left.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the fort was threatened by its very creator: the sea. Accelerated by drainage work in Wexford Harbour, a storm in the winter of 1924-25 caused a breach of the peninsula, reducing it to a mere ridge of sand. The fort was evacuated, and the sea reclaimed its own…
Rosslare Fort pictures and story »

The Buried City of Bannow
This was another story I grew up with, but I can find very little real information about. There’s a ruined church in Bannow, at legend has it that this is the only remaining building from a town which at some time or other sank below the sea, leaving only the chimney of the town hall above the water.
More as I find out a about it.

Sunken Towns Under Blessington Lakes
Between 1938 and 1940,, 76 houses were demolished, and the bridges at Humphreystown, Baltyboys and Burgage blown up, in anticipation of the flooding of the valley for the Poulaphouca hydroelectric powerstation.
More »

Maybe it’s the use of pooka in the place name – literally the ‘hole of the ghost/spirit/fairy etc.’ (and nothing to with Joyce’s urine/Poulaphouca connection in Ulysses, but I’ve heard tell of claims of ‘bells tolling beneath the waters of Blessington’. As if. It usually comes from someone who doesn’t know the area, and doesn’t know that there wasn’t a church down there. It’s one of those classic recurring motifs… Neil Jordan used the flooded village motif in his movie In Dreams. Again, more on this, as I research further…

Found this article:

      My in-laws are from the Aran Islands in the far west of Ireland, Inis Mor to be more exact.

Now all three Islands are pretty famous for their prehistoric forts, the most famous of them being Dun Aengus. The story goes that half of it fell off, when the cliff on which it is situated broke off and fell into the Atlantic. Several islanders I spoke to in recent years claim that they have seen the sunken half rising out of the sea on misty evenings around the winter solstice – complete with inhabitants, stone huts, live stock etc. They all swore solemn oaths as to the veracity.

I know also about the sunken villages in the Poulnaphouka Lake Reservoir and it’s said one can hear the church bells ringing from “under the wathers” some time….

More »:

Update: 21/4/04
Music from the sunken towns of Spain by Alejandra & Aeron » (thanks to Barry for this)

Chief Bottle Washer at Blather
Writer, photographer, environmental campaigner and "known troublemaker" Dave Walsh is the founder of, described both as "possibly the most arrogant and depraved website to be found either side of the majestic Shannon River", and "the nicest website circulating in Ireland". Half Irishman, half-bicycle. He lives in southern Irish city of Barcelona.


  1. I love this stuff daev, I’ll look forward to hearing more about Barrow or whatever. Your diving might come in handy here.
    I went to college in Amherst Massachussetts, not far from the Quabin Resevoir that serves Boston. 4 thriving farm towns were flooded in the 1920’s in the making of the reservoir. They named some of the dorms at the school after them. The reservoir itself and the landscape around it was a weird place, in the classical meaning of the word. It was a popular spot among those interested in such things for the consumption of mind enhancing substances specifically for the purpose of better experiencing the unusual feel of the place.
    On another tack, it would be interesting to see an article on the real sunken towns (I asume there were such places) that inspired some of the stories of MR James, Ramsey Campbell, and Brian Lumley (Fruiting Bodies). I also seem to remember that Lovecraft had one set in Ireland, some lake being drained and a fairy city being brought to light, or the like.

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