Dunluce Castle, Antrim, Ireland

Dunluce Castle, on the North Antrim Coast, is probably one of the most photographed castles on the island of Ireland and its very easy to see why. Picturesquely located on the edge of a basalt outcrop, accessed via a bridge, the castle is surrounded by extremely steep drops on all sides showing its defensive importance. The ruins that still stand at Dunluce date from the 16th and 17th centuries but there is evidence of habitation at this site as far back as the first millenium. Its plain to see why its believed a fort was established at Dunluce prior to the 13th century when Richard Óg de Burgh, 2nd Earl of Ulster built the first castle.

By 1513 the castle had passed into the hands of the McQuillan family, who built two large drum towers, 9 metres in diameter on the castles eastern side. The McQuillans were the Lords of Route, a medieval territory stretching from Coleraine and Ballycastle, from the 13th century until the mid 16th century when they were displaced by the MacDonnell family. The castle became the home of the chief of the Clan MacDonnell of Antrim and the Clan MacDonald of Dunnyveg from Scotland. In 1585 shortly after the death of James MacDonald the 6th chief of the Clan MacDonald of Antrim and Dunnyveg, Sorely Boy MacDonnell seized the castle. In 1588 the Girona, a ship of the Spanish Armada was wrecked on the rocks nearby, Sorley Boy installed its cannon into the gatehouses and sold the rest of the cargo to help restore and improve the castle. His son Randal was made 1st Early of Antrim by King James I.

Around 1608 Randal built a town adjacent to the castle, it is believed that the town was built on a complex grid system, with sanitation and indoor toilets, unheard of in the early 17th century. This town is now ‘lost’, razed to the ground in the Irish Rebellion of 1641, 95% of the towns foundation are is still to be excavated. Dunluce served as the seat of the MacDonnells until they were impoverished in 1690 following the Battle of the Boyne. The castle deteriorated rapidly in the 18th century with the north wall of the residence falling into the sea.

Dunluce is a must see for anyone visiting the North Antrim coast and its place in popular culture is cemented by its featuring in Game of Thrones as the House of Greyjoy in the Iron Islands. Closer to my own heart it is believed that Dunluce was the inspiration for the castle of ‘Cair Paravel’ from the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S Lewis.

GPS: 55.2114, -6.57892

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