The recent fine weather inspired a trip to Donegal to visit the fine upstanding remains of a salt works at Ray. Two salt houses are present along the shore, of which the older, more southerly site is the best preserved. Marked ‘Ruins of Salt Pans’ on the 1830s OS maps, it features three main rooms with an annex featuring a fireplace (likely accommodation for the salt master). The seaward room most likely held a tank for water and pumping apparatus – an aperture in the wall revealing where it was transferred to the adjacent pans room. Also notable was a small landing place to the rear and various surface finds including ceramics, boat nails, and the remnants of iron cooking vessels.
To the north, the 1st edition OS map marks ‘Salt Pans’ near an L-shaped building. This has evidently been amended from its original form, as the northern component of the structure latterly functioned as a two-storey dwelling house with cellar. Like the southern example, it has a landing place comprising a cobbled slipway.
A number of sites along the Swilly await to be explored – Hugh Boyd claimed that, in the 1720s, Ballycastle was the only salt works between Lough Swilly and Drogheda – implying that some of these sites date to at least the early 18th century. In the absence of rock salt imports they must have been boiling sea water – rock salt was imported to nearby Rathmullan by 1745.