Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Northern Ireland Advenutures: Dunluce Castle

Dunluce Castle, a hidden Northern Irish gem.

Driving along the Northern Irish north coast between Portrush and Portballintrae it's hard to not notice the looming ruins of a castle seeming to rise from the sea. Hanging on from the basalt cliff face it's although the castle is a part natural part human made structure. This is Dunluce Castle.

The History: 

View to the East when standing in the castle. I stood here watching the birdlife for several minutes totally absorbed in the atmosphere of the place.
In the 13th century when Richard Og de Burgh, the second Earl of the kingdom of Ulster, built the formidable structure rising up from the cliffs. However there is no documented ownership of the property until 1513 when the McQuillan family built two large drum towers (30ft diameter). The McQuillans had used Dunluce to build a stronghold while they were Lords of the local territory; known as 'the Route'. The McQuillans were the holders of Dunluce and 'The Route' until the mid-late 16th century when they were displaced by the MacDonalds.

View out one of the windows towards Portrush.

On the death of James MacDonald the Antrim Glens and the Route were taken by a younger brother, Sorley Boy MacDonnell. Sorley Boy improved the castle into a more traditional Scottish style and swore allegiance to Queen Elizabeth I. The Route was important to the British Crown as it's part of the main trading routes between Scotland and Ireland, it also secured British rule with the MacDonnell's swearing their allegiance. Due to Sorley Boy's decisions his son Randal was made the 1st Earl of Antrim by King James I. 

Jonathan looking taller than the castle!

More improvements and changes were made to the castle during this time. when the Girona, a galleass from the Spanish Armada was wrecked nearby the cannon from the ship was installed into one of the gatehouses and the rest of the cargo sold to make money for more restoration work. During the 17th century part of the kitchen collapsed into the sea due to the castle being built on the cliff edge. After this the castle was abandoned over time. with the impoverishment of the MacDonnell's during the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 the castle has deteriorated and parts taken for other buildings nearby. 

Dunluce Town: 

When Randal MacDonnell was in charge of Dunluce he began working on a town around the castle's grounds. Started around 1608 the town was eventually destroyed in 1641 during the Irish Uprising. In 2011 a major archaeological project has begun to find significant remains of the lost town. Finding's include the discovery of a complex street network built on a revolutionary grid system and indoor toilets in homes. To this date it's believed that 95% of the town is still to be discovered. 

Yay, tourist adventures!


Visiting now brings you to a small vistior centre with a modest visitor fee. Due to the small amount of funding and relience of volunteers the centre is small but well informed. The walls include a detailed history of the castle and an interactive video playing every few minutes gives a more visual history. Also provided to a visitor is audio guide which you can take with you as you explore the ruins. Dunluce was a small stronghold and access is by walking over a bridge. 

Access bridge, not for the faint hearted! I had a little panic as I'm scared of heights. ^^;

The actual castle has little in the way of information bar the audio guide, which I found informative and gave you the castle from the perspective of one of the past owners, workers or visitors. Included is a separate guide for children. The views from the castle are stunning, however disabled people will probably have trouble with the steps and uneven flooring. Luckily I visited on a quiet Friday afternoon and my boyfriend and I were some of the only visitors which made the experience more enjoyable for us, as we dislike crowds. I felt I was able to absorb the atmosphere more acutely and I will be following for more information of the archaeological finds from the lost town of Dunluce in the future. From someone who has studied heritage I was impressed with the castle, I understood they are working on a very limited budget and what they have achieved they should be pleased with, though there's always room for improvements! I'd like to see more to enchant children as I could imagine most typical children under 10 getting very bored very fast. But overall a very enjoyable experience of somewhere I knew nothing about. One of Northern Ireland's little gems.  

I honestly think ruins and anything that is touched by the passage of time are some of my favourite places. 


This is the first part of an ongoing series logging my adventures in Northern Ireland, where my boyfriend, Jonathan, lives. I'll put snippets of where we visit and share my thoughts of the place along with any local history or culture. 


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