Fair Head. County Antrim

Artist(s) : Thomas Creswick (Draughtsman), Robert William Wallis (Engraver)

View of Fair Head, Co. Antrim, looking from east to west towards the setting sun. The cliffs tower on the left-hand side of the image. Birds, both white and black, are seen flying by the cliffs and near the surface of the water. Among the rocks in the bottom left-hand corner is a small partially submerged human figure.
The small figure in the foreground is no doubt intended to represent the murdered princess who, according to legend, was washed ashore at Fair Head, thereby giving the promontory its name. The scientifically interesting rock formations receive less attention here than in earlier depictions. The emphasis is on the grandeur of nature, and its desolation, contrasted with the small human tragedy hinted at in the bottom left corner.

Inscribed in Image

  • Signature –
    T. Creswick. / R. Wallis.
  • Caption outside of boundaries of image –
    Fair Head. County Antrim.
  • Text outside of boundaries of image – London. Published for the Proprietor, by Longman & Co. Paternoster Row.

Image Details

Genre Landscape
Technique Etchings
Subject(s) Marines, Nature
Geographical Location
  • Benmore or Fair Head - Named locality - antr
  • Antrim - County
  • Ulster - Province
Keywords(s) Birds, Cliffs, People, Rock formations, Seas
Colour Monochrome
Dimensions 11.5 cm x 13.8 cm
Published / created 1838

Bibliographical Details

Travel Account Ireland Picturesque and Romantic
Print or manuscript Print
Location of image in copy Vol. II, facing p. 92
Source copy National Library of Ireland Ir 9141 r 15
Alternative source

This is a link to a digital copy hosted by an external website.

Rights Courtesy of the National Library of Ireland

Related text from travel account

Travellers usually take a guide from Ballycastle to Fairhead; but, when fully aware of what is to be seen, I prefer exploring for myself. I accordingly set out to walk to this celebrated promontory by the bay. The Bay of Ballycastle is small, but it certainly is the most remarkable in character I had yet seen in Ireland. At both points it is bounded by a wall of perpendicular cliffs, and in front lies the island of Rathlin, built, as one might suppose, on a regular mass of white rocks. Fairhead, however, a precipice about six hundred feet high, was the grand attraction; and thither I directed my steps. Mr. Inglis unwillingly admits, if he admits at all, the sublimity of this object. He is not disposed to confess that // any admixture of awe is produced by an elevation of not more than six hundred feet. This is a great mistake, and arises from a very prosaic calculation, depending more upon the foot-rule than upon the instinctive laws of taste and nature. It must be in the experience of every observer, that when an object reaches the altitude of a few hundred feet, its pretensions to the character of sublimity depend entirely upon its form and aspect. If Fairhead were in the shape of a rounded hill, it might be beautiful but could be nothing more; but as it is, a naked precipice, rising from a chaos of shapeless rocks, it is sublime. Why do we so often give the name of mountains to elevations that scarcely de serve that of hills? We do so, unconsciously, from the impressions produced by their form and aspect. On the opposite page the reader will see the promontory of Fairhead as it exists in reality; and, if he will only rear it, in imagination, on the iron-bound coast I am attempting to describe, surrounded by the various adjuncts of mountains, wilds, and tumbling waters, he will easily conceive that such an object must partake largely of the sublime. The traveller, however, expects to see in Fairhead something more than the sublime. He expects to see this colossal wall built in the form of a regular colonnade, the pillars close even to touching, and two hundred feet in length. This he will not see. Let him examine the annexed view attentively, and disengage his mind from the impressions // derived from guide-books, and the reports of travellers who make a point of seeing everything therein set down, — and he will then be able to visit Fairhead without risk of disappointment. The columns, it is true, which are very irregular, and therefore unsightly, polygons, may be detected on close examination; and a portion of the summit, bare of turf, presents the appearance of a pavement formed by the heads of the shafts; but this is not apparent to the eye when the object is viewed as a whole; and it, of course, has nothing to do with the effect produced. [Vol. II, p. 91-93]
Fair Head. County Antrim