Dunluce Castle

Photo by Tom Thomson

Dunluce Castle, a medieval and 17th century castle, is located in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, perched on basalt cliffs 100 feet above the ocean. In addition to the beauty of its location, it is situated in an important spot for defense, which is no surprise since it’s a castle.

Like most all of Ireland’s ancient ruins, this one was occupied even earlier. There is evidence that an Irish fort once stood there. Like all good castles, this one is reached by a stone bridge that connects it to the mainland. Under the bridge is Mermaid’s Cave. The name Dunluce really just means fortified residence, not too romantic-sounding. But true to Irish form, this castle has a history filled with warfare, romance, and tragedy—better than a good novel!

Warfare, Romance, and Tragedy at Dunluce

In the 13th century the Normans built the oldest part of the castle, possibly by the order of Richard de Burgh. The first recorded occupation of the castle is 1513 when the MacQuillins lived there. The MacDonnells were at war with the MacQuillins and a Scottish chieftain by the intriguing name of Sorley Boy MacDonnell took the castle about 1565, despite the fact that his brother was married to a MacQuillin.

Sorley Boy then had control over the entire Antrim coast, which did not please the Queen of England. English troops seized the castle and Sorley Boy fled. However, some of those left to guard the castle were loyal to Sorley Boy (unbeknownst to the English officer Sir John Perrott) and as soon as Perrott departed, Sorley Boy returned, smuggled into the castle in a basket hauled up the side of the castle by one of his men. Eventually, however, Sorley Boy did pledge loyalty to the Queen.

Apparently, Sorley Boy made some improvements and fortifications to the castle from booty he found from the Spanish Armada that sunk near Giant’s Causeway.

His son Randal, the first Earl of Antrim, founded the town that sprung up around the castle with Scottish residents.

Photo by Tom Thomson

It was his son, also named Randal, however, who remodeled the most, turning the castle into a lush residence. He was the second Earl of Antrim. This was when the castle was filled with fine tapestry and upholstered furniture. He built a new manor house with arched windows for his wife along with a kitchen out on the rock closest to the ocean.

In 1639 the couple was hosting a dinner party when half of the kitchen fell into the ocean, taking with it all of the cooks. As you can imagine, the countess refused to live there after that and they moved their residence inland.

There were many more battles after that, and the town was burned and destroyed. After the mid 1700s the castle fell into ruins.

There is much more history than I’ve covered here. I hope you’ll look into yourself and visit when you can.

A 360° View of Dunluce

If you’d like to take a Virtual Visit to Dunluce Castle, Virtual Visit – Nothern Ireland has two interactive panoramas of the site for you to explore.
Dunluce Castle Panorama

Cindy Thomson is the author of Celtic Wisdom and Brigid of Ireland. She enjoys exploring Irish history, especially the Early Christian period. She has written numerous articles on Irish genealogy. Visit her blog Celtic Voices and her web site where you can sign up for her monthly newsletter.

Author: Cindy

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  1. Just saw this Castle for the 1st time in April..

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  2. On our first visit to Ireland in 1997 we traveled the north coast from Derry to the Giant’s Causeway and had the opportunity to stop at Dunluce Castle. Reading the history and brochure while there I soon realized that this was the “Lettershanbo Castle” of Leon Uris’ great historical novel “Trinity”. Tunnels and a cave giving escape access to Lough Foyle and a retreat by water was all Conor Larkin needed in the last chapter of that great epic, Irish adventure. Although the story was fiction it was mixed into much of the factual history of that period in Ireland-a great adventure and exciting to visit the very real places where the story was staged.

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    • Thanks for mentioning the novel, Jim. I love historical fiction and will check it out.

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  3. Just discovered this is the ancestral home of Richard’s family! We are visiting in a couple weeks. Am digging into “who do you think you are” sort of research now! Lovely post! xx

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  1. If I Had To Pick My Top 5 Northern Ireland Tourist Destinations, I Would Choose… | Got Ireland - [...] see you pass beautiful sites such as: The Giant’s Causeway, The Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge, Dunluce Castle, Glenariff Forest Park…

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