Dunluce Castle is an important historical marker perched high on a cliff along the causeway coast of County Antrim. It is a long-abandoned ancient Irish castle that is considered an iconic part of Ireland’s architectural culture and history.
Not only was it important in the past, it's still a popular location to visit for Irish folks, visitors to Northern Ireland, and historians alike.
Ireland is home to many amazing castles, and Dunluce is one of the most spectacular.
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Dunluce Castle is close to the town of Bushmills and lies on the northern coast of Ireland between the towns of Portrush and Portballintra. The archaeological remains of a town of Dunluce have been disovered next to the castle. This town was razed to the ground by the native Irish during an uprising of 1641.
Situated precariously on top of a craggy outcrop of rock, it overlooks the North Channel of the Atlantic Ocean.
It's close to the Giant’s Causeway, a World Heritage site, the Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge, and the Bushmills Distillery, making it easy to include all four famous sites in the same outing.
The scenery in this part of County Antrim is simply spectacular, and Dunluce may be the most photographed castle on the island of Ireland.
But don't be fooled by romantic pictures of this castle's picturesque setting. Shimmering seas refelct majestic sunsets ,and waves crashing against black and gray rocks hide tales of ghosts, hauntings and tragedies.
This castle has a long and tumultuous history, well worth exploring. It's one of the most haunted castles on the island of Ireland.
A Castle Built of Basalt Rock
Basalt rock forms the coastline of this part of Ulster, and this castle was mainly built out of local basalt stone, known for its strength and durability.
The castle stands mostly in ruins today, but the walls and remains of some of the buildings can still be seen. It's foundation on basalt rock probably contributed to its survival, and ability to withstand the never ending pounding of Atlantic waves and winds.
This castle, in some form or another, has been present for nearly two thousand years of Irish history. It's no wonder it has been worn down over time.
History Of Dunluce Castle
An early Irish fort stood on this site since the first century. Early Christians and the Vikings were drawn to this majestic spot, surrounded by extremely steep cliffs.
Some of the castle, that lies in ruins today, was originally built by Richard Óg de Burgh, the 2nd Earl of Ulster.
It was created in the 13th century. It was home to multiple prominent clans, and it has long stood as a prominent feature on the northern coast.
Most of the ruins that we see today date back to the 16th and 17th centuries.
Dunluce Castle is known for being the former home of several clans that lived in and ruled parts of Ulster. It boasts a rich history.
The first castle at this site in Dunluce was built in the 13th century by a Norman lord Richard de Burgh. However, the ruins we see today are from a later date in the 16th century when the McQuillands ruled this corner of Ireland.
Members of the McQuillan clan or MacQuillan family, were the inhabitants from the 1400's. They were previously from Scotland, and migrated to Ireland in the 1200’s. They were mercenaries, and extended the original castle and settled in on top of the cliff.
The castle was later home to the MacDonnells, another Ulster clan. They defeated the McQuillans in two battles in 1580. The MacDonnells were led by Sorley Boy MacDonell and he seized the properties of the Macquillans including their impressive castle.
The MacDonnells are technically still in possession of the castle even to this day. However, because of its historical significance, the castle is in the care of the Northern Ireland Environment Agency.
A Resident Banshee
A banshee or woman ghost is part of the legends of Dunluce. Maeve Roe was the daughter of Lord McQuillan of Dunluce. He chose a husband for the headstrong Maeve, but she refused to marry Rory Óg. Her true love awaited her, Reginald O'Cahan.
Maeve's father imprisoned her in a castle tower, but she escaped with her true love to the Mermaid's Cave below the castle. A rowing boat awaited and the two lovers set off on a stormy night, trying to row their way to freedom.
But the Atlantic Ocean was no friend to the escaping pair. Their little boat was dashed against the rocks and both were lost. Maeve Roe's ghost still haunts the castle tower and has been seen sweeping the floor of the tower where she was imprisoned.
Links to the Spanish Armada
In 1556 the castle passed into the ownership of Sorley Boy MacDonnell - don't you just love that name. However, his castle was confiscated by Queen Elizabet I in 1584 and given to Lord Deputy Sir John Perrot.
Sir John did not last long living high on top of the cliff. Good Queen Bess returned it to Sorley Boy just 2 years later. And just two years after that, Sorley Boy came into an unexpected fortune.
In 1588 the Spanish sent ships to Ireland with an army of men to help the Irish fight for their freedom against the English. A terrible storm caused the Spanish fleet to wreck all along the northern and western Irish seaboard.
The Girona, a shipe belonging to the Spanish Armada, crashed against the rocks beside the Giant's Causeway. Sorley Boy MacDonnell, the owner of Dunluce Castle at the time, retrieved some Spanish cannons from the shipwreck. He installed the cannons in the castle gatehouse, and they can still be seen at the site today.
He also came into a little money at this time. since he confiscated all of the treasure from the ship.
Sorley Boy spent some of the Spanish money on his castle, but unfortunately he skimped on the kitchen renovation and did not reinforce the flooring.
In 1639, on another stormy night, part of the kitchen fell down the steep cliff into the raging Atlantic. The cooks and all their cooking pots were carried away by the waves of the Atlantic.
Sorley Boy's son, Randall MacDonnell, oversaw the establishment of a small town near the castle in 1608 which was aptly called Dunluce Town. In 2003 an archaeological dig discovered the remains of this old town, with cobbled streets, a blacksmith's forge, and a stone merchants’ house.
Evidence from the dig shows that this town was built around a grid system, and there even are signs that the inhabitants had indoor toilets. Not too shabby, for way back in 1608.
Protected Historical Status
This important piece of Irish culture is now under a protected status. The Northern Ireland Environment Agency maintains and takes care of the property.
This ensures that no one desecrates or changes the castle in a way that would erase its history.
Mentions in American Books, Movies, and Music
Dunluce Castle has a fairly rich history of appearing in various media that you will likely recognize. Here are a few examples:
● If you’ve ever read or watched C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, you might remember a ruined castle overlooking the sea named Cair Paravel where the Pevensies get crowned. Dunluce castle is believed to be the inspiration for this castle.
● If you’ve watched the worldwide hit Game of Thrones, you will also recognize this castle, because the show was taped there. It is the castle on the Iron Islands, or seat of the House Greyjoy, the great castle of Pyke.
● You may also be familiar with Led Zeppelin’s LP, Houses of the Holy. Dunluce Castle was featured on the cover of this album, which was released in 1973.
● Jackie Chan also filmed a comedy movie called Medallion at this castle in 2003.
How to Visit Dunluce
If you are visiting Ireland, trying to teach your family about your heritage, or are a local who has never been, you might be wondering how you could see this historical landmark for yourself.
I’ve compiled a few quick tips for how to practically arrange a visit for you and whoever you may be traveling with.
Tours of Dunluce Castle are open to the public. They do take walk-ins, but it’s best to book your tickets online in advance if possible.
You also get the choice of selecting either individual tickets or a family pass for your entire family. It is usually open from 9:30am to 4:00pm with staggered entrance times, but this can change seasonally, so make sure you check in advance. The latest you can visit is 3:30pm, so it’s important to make sure you arrive on time.
It is not free to visit Dunluce Castle, but the tickets are not over priced. They're fairly inexpensive, with adults’ tickets around 6 pounds and children’s tickets around 4 pounds. If you’d like to get a family pass, it will only cost you 18 pounds. Remember this castle is in Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, so the currency used is the Great British Pound.
The views outside and around the castle are simply amazing. However, if you really want to get a sense of this incredible piece of history, then I highly recommend taking a tour inside the castle.
If you're wondering how much time to set aside for a visit to this intriguing site, I recommend allowing at least one hour. If the weather is cooperative, you may need some extra time to take some amazing photographs.
The main castle is accessed via a bridge from the mainland. It amazes me how this castle was built on a rocky outcrop with such steep cliffs. Visitors can explore the ruined remains of the courtyard, the towers, and the living quarters. You can get very close to the edge of the cliffs, so don't look over if you're afraid of heights.
The remains of the kitchen can be seen, and where a portion plunged down the side of the cliff into the sea.
If you want to do more than just visit the castle itself, there are plenty of other ways you can sightsee around the area.
You can travel on a coach around the countryside surrounding Dunluce Castle, visit the seaside, or check out other local attractions like the Old Bushmills Distillery.
The natural wonder and volcanic activity of the Giant's Causeway of the north Antrim coast, is a must see in my book. It is the highlight of the coast of Northern Ireland, together with Dunluce Castle.
If the weather is nice, you can even hike some local trails to look at the castle from afar if you don’t prioritize going inside.
I’d love to hear from you: Have you ever visited Dunluce? If you have additional thoughts and tips, drop them in the comments so others can plan their optimal trip.
Slán agus beannacht,
(Goodbye and blessings)
Mairéad -Irish American Mom
Pronunciation - slawn ah-gus ban-ock-th
Mairéad - rhymes with parade