Dunkelisp Church and graveyard are situated a short distance from the majestic Dunluce Castle on the North Antrim Coast. The name Dunkelisp is unusual and its origin and indeed the origin of the name Dunluce is much debated as Dunkelisp is mentioned at an earlier date. The ‘Dun’ element of the name comes from the Irish word Dún (fort), old Irish language texts list the name as Dún Lios, Lios being another Irish word for fort so that seems like a duplicate name. Its also recorded as Dún Libhsi, but the origin of Libhsi is unknown and may be a forgotten historical or mythological figure. A 1307 survey of the parishes in the area describe the area as Dunkelisp, a text in 1609 refers to the church as ‘de Sancto Cuthberto Dunlups’, Cuthbert is the saint to whom the church is dedicated. Two later records from the early 17th century describe it ‘Dunluce Dunlippis’ and ‘Dunliffsia’, so its hard to fully understand from where Dunkelisp derives.
It is believed that the original site of the settlement at Dunluce would have been in and around the church, as a river runs nearby. The church is dedicated to the north English Saint Cuthbert and is listed as being in existence in 1307. It appears that this church is the only one known to be dedicated to St Cuthbert, in Ireland. Cuthbert was an important figure in bringing Irish Christian customs more in line with the rest of the Catholic Church. It does not appear that Dunkelisp was in its ascendancy for long as accounts from 1353 say its fortunes are said to have declined to two pounds, eighteen shillings and two pence. At this stage it was amalgamated with nearby Dunseverick, whom in comparison listed its accounts as eighteen pounds. The original church is described as being ‘ruinous’ in records for the ecclesiastical visitation of 1622.
The church that we can visit today at Dunluce appears to have been built in the 1630s by a William Parrat/Parrot who also built the St Columb’s Cathedral in Derry. Parrot had also built the old parish church at Clough and both designs are quite similar which leads many to believe he was its builder. It seems that the church was dismantled in the early 19th century as it is recorded that timbers from its roof were used in Dunluce Castle. The graveyard is full of very ornate gravestones and tombs which make a quick stop off at Dunkelisp Church a must if visiting Dunluce castle.
GPS: 55.20741, -6.57821