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History of Carnmoney Hill

The hill’s name suggests it could have the location of a cairn, or stone pile, dating back to the Bronze Age. A number of archaeological features can be seen on the site today.

Dunanney Rath, a round earth mound overlooking Carnmoney cemetery on the southern face of the hill, suggests early human habitation. It probably dates from around 500 BC. There are also two souterrains (underground stone-lined tunnels) on the hill. These were probably used as escape routes from Vikings and other raiders.

Remains of Dunanney lime kiln, one of two at Carnmoney Hill. (Photo: WTML)

There are the remains of two lime kilns, Alnacreevy and Dunanney, which processed the hill’s quarried limestone to produce lime. This was used as a grassland fertiliser and in building mortar. Such kilns were a common feature of the Irish landscape during the 18th and early 19th centuries and it’s thought that there were originally 10 kilns on the hill.

In February 1910, Carnmoney Hill was the setting for the first flight of a biplane designed and built by Lilian Bland, the first woman to build and fly her own aeroplane. It was constructed in the workshop and stables of her home, the nearby Tobercorran House. She called the plane ‘Mayfly’, because ‘it may fly, it may not’.

Carnmoney Hill was declared a Local Nature Reserve in 1996, and a pond and scrapes (shallow areas) were created to increase the biodiversity of the site in 2003. In 2015, Dunnaney Farm, a Victorian farmstead, the associated lime kiln, and a well thought to date from this period, were restored with the help of Belfast Hills Landscape Partnership Scheme and Queen’s University. An orienteering trail was also installed in 2015.

Works, including recent path improvements, have been made possible thanks to support from Newtownabbey Borough Council, Northern Ireland Environment Agency and Biffaward.

Origin of name

The name ‘Carnmoney’, or ‘Carn Monaidh’ in Gaelic, means ‘cairn of the bog’.

‘Dunanney’, comes from ‘Dun Áine’ or Áine’s fort, Áine being the Celtic sun goddess associated with the fertility of the land.


Mary Butters (1807–1839), the ‘Carnmoney Witch’ was put on trial for murder in March 1818. She was a well-known ‘wise-woman’ and had been hired by a local farmer to lift a curse he believed had been placed on one of his cows. The farmer’s wife, son and another woman died after Butters cast her spell, but she was discharged from court when it was decided that the deaths were due to accidental suffocation caused by the sulphurous brew she had created.

It's said that Mary Bodle, the sweetheart of the rebel commander, Henry Joy McCracken, hid here after he was tried for treason and hanged in Cornmarket in 1798, and that her ghostly cries can be heard on the hill.

Well at Carnmoney Hill, before and after restoration. (Photo: WTML)