The Cave Hill Diamond

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Belfast Waterworks Park with Cave Hill in background
Belfast Waterworks Park with Cave Hill in background

The Legend of the Cave Hill Diamond

For centuries the tale had been told of the diamond that could be seen glittering in the sunlight on the higher slopes of the Cave Hill overlooking Belfast Lough in Northern Ireland. It was said that sailors in bygone days used the glinting diamond as a beacon to help guide their sailing ships into Belfast Lough.

There are also stories of ships firing cannonballs at the diamond in the hopes of dislodging it and, with luck, perhaps a few others like it. One legend has it that the diamond actually belonged to the giant, Finn McCool, who wore it on his watch chain, but dropped it while walking up the mountain.

The Cave Hill

The Cave Hill (also known as the Cavehill) is a rocky hill overlooking the city of Belfast on the northern side of Belfast Lough. The hill is 368 metres high with basalt cliffs and caves and offers stunning views of Belfast Lough and Belfast city itself. Belfast Castle and Belfast Zoo are both situated on the side of the Cave Hill to take advantage of the glorious views with the Cave Hill Country Park offering numerous routes (some quite challenging) for hill walkers.

The profile of the Cave Hill is often said to resemble Napoleon’s facial profile with ‘Napoleon’s Nose’ particularly prominent. It is claimed in fact that Napoleon’s Nose may have been an inspiration for Jonathan Swift in writing Gulliver’s Travels. Napoleon’s nose is also known as McArt’s Fort and is a popular destination for hill walkers.

Cave Hill & Napoleon's Nose
Cave Hill & Napoleon’s Nose

Discovery of the Cave Hill Diamond

In the late 1880’s music publisher John Nicholson printed two songs called ‘The Cavehill Diamond‘ in his ballad sheets. Nicholson’s premises were Cheapside Song House located in Church Lane Belfast. Nicholson published music successfully from the 1880’s till the 1910’s.

Around the same time, musician and singer Maurice Leyden also included a song on the diamond in his publication Belfast, City of Song (1989). Leyden who was from Cookstown County Tyrone and was a passionate collector of Ulster folk-music.

The inspiration for the songs in the late 1880’s was simple – the diamond had been discovered. As described in Henry Basset’s Book of Antrim (1887):

“Last year a very good example of the Irish diamond was found at the Cave Hill by a little boy, son of Mr Hanna, belonging to Belfast. It is 11 inches in circumference and weighs about a pound”

Henry Basset’s Book of Antrim (1887)

The diamond was sold to successful businessman Mr John Erskine. Erskine ran a hat shop in Belfast at 84-86 North Street and he used the diamond for advertising purposes.

In time the diamond passed down to Mr Erskine’s grandson Jack. Following Jack’s death, his widow Ada gave it to Dean Norman Barr. He was the minister who had married the couple in 1961.

The Cave Hill Diamond
The Cave Hill Diamond

Where is it now?

The Rev Barr, a former rector of Derriaghy, realised the significance of the object. In 2009 he telephoned Belfast’s Linenhall Library stating “I have the Cavehill Diamond!”

The library was delighted to be entrusted with this “cultural icon” and it remains on display within the Linenhall Library to this day. The Linenhall Library is located in central Belfast at 17 Donegall Square North, Belfast BT1 5GB (email: info@linenhall.com)

Is it really a diamond?

After analysis it has been discovered that the Cave Hill Diamond is actually… quartz! However, there are no quartz deposits in the Cave Hill. Geologists have said the nearest place to find quartz is in the Mourne Mountains 30 miles away. It is thought unlikely that one solitary chunk of quartz could have been deposited on the slopes of the Cave Hill during the last ice-age. Perhaps Finn McCool did drop it after all?

Cave Hill Views

Click image to see larger images


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