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Irish: Cairlinn
County Louth
Carlingford Town.JPG
Carlingford Town from above
Grid reference: J185115
Location: 54°2’35"N, 6°11’10"W
Population: 1,045  (2011)
Post town: Carlingford
Postcode: A91
Local Government
Council: Dundalk-Carlingford

Carlingford is a coastal town in the north of County Louth. It stands on the southern shore of Carlingford Lough with Slieve Foy, the county's highest mountain, as a backdrop: Slieve Foy is sometimes known as Carlingford Mountain.

This is the main town on the Cooley Peninsula. It is where the R176 and R173 roads meet, between Greenore and Omeath village, some 17 miles (by road) north-east of Dundalk and 56 miles north of Dublin. The border with the United Kingdom, in County Down, is the eponymous sea lough on which Carlingford stands.

The name of the town is from the Old Norse Kerlingfjǫrðr, meaning "sea-inlet of the hag", which refers to the lough.[1] In Gaelic it is rendered as Cairlinn.

Carlingford still retains its mediæval layout noticeable by the narrow lanes and small streets. Tholsel Street is where the last of the mediæval walled town's gates can still be seen, called "The Tholsel" which apparently was also used as a gaol, on Tholsel Street itself there is still a 16th-century Town House known as The Mint.


Early years

Carlingford was occupied in the 12th century by the Norman knight Hugh de Lacy after he had laid the foundation stone for a castle on a strategic outcrop of rock. A settlement sprang up close to this fortress. The castle is known by the name of King John's Castle following a visit by the King in the year 1210. The castle is an extensive ruin seated on a solid rock - the sides of which are enclosed by the sea. Mountains rise on the inland side, at the foot of which is a narrow pass which was formerly commanded by the fortress.

Carlingford's strategic position on the east coast of Ireland (along with Carrickfergus and Drogheda) made it an important trading port. This trade led to its relative prosperity during the 14th, 15th and early 16th centuries. Carlingford's early prosperity faltered when, in 1388, the town was burnt to the ground, by a Scottish force under the command of Sir William Douglas of Nithsdale. This was a punitive raid, following Irish attacks on Galloway, the Lord of which was Nithsdale's father, Archibald the Grim.

Carlingford received five charters in total; the first in 1326 by King Edward II and the last in 1619 under King James I. The increased trade encouraged a mercantile class to build in the area, the results of which can be seen today in the remains of the Mint and Taaffe's Castle.

In 1637, the Surveyor General of Customs issued a report compiled from accounts of customs due from each port and their "subsidiary creeks". Of the Ulster ports on the list, Carrickfergus was first, followed by Bangor, Donaghadee, and Strangford. Carlingford and Coleraine each had £244 customs due and had equal ranking.[2]

Carlingford was regarded for its green finned oysters which remained its main source of employment alongside herring fishing. The oysters were renowned throughout Britain and Europe while also gaining responses when mentioned in related texts.[3]

Modern era

The Irish Rebellion of 1641, the Cromwellian Conquest of 1649, and the subsequent Williamite War of the 1690s all took their toll on the local economy. As recorded in the Journal of Isaac Butler, Carlingford the town was in a "state of ruin" by 1744. However, the final nail in the coffin was that by the early 18th century the herring shoals that had filled the lough deserted it for open water.

Carlingford's inability to develop a heavy industry allowed its mediæval layout and archaeological artefacts to remain relatively intact. The area was opened up to tourism in the 1870s by the Dundalk, Newry and Greenore railway, which passed through Carlingford. This line closed in 1951. These transport links led to tourism being a key source of employment. Fishing was also important economically; particularly oysters and crabs from the nearby harbour.

In 1918 on the day of the general election, the Camlough Company of the Irish Volunteers travelled by train from Newry to Carlingford to force the result of the poll. On arrival, they found large numbers of Carlingford inhabitants wearing Union Jacks. The Volunteers ordered all the Royal Irish Constabulary men they saw on duty on the streets or at the polling booths to return to their barracks and to remain in them whilst the Volunteers were in Carlingford. A series of attacks were made on the Volunteers from by mobs on the streets. The Volunteers took control of the town and its polling booths until the close of the poll. Seamus Lyang from Dundalk was polling clerk in Carlingford and when the booths closed the Volunteers had to take Lyang under their protection and escort him out of the Carlingford. All the pubs and shops in Carlingford were hostile to the Volunteers and refused to serve them. After the closing of the poll, the Volunteers marched back to Camlough.


The town hosts the annual Carlingford Oyster Festival usually held in August.

A passenger ferry operates daily out of the village of Omeath, three miles away, during the summer months.

Cultural references

The Irish singer-songwriter Tommy Makem wrote a melancholy song about the town, "Farewell to Carlingford", covered by The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem and The Dubliners. In the Dublin Penny Journal they advised that in AD 432 St Patrick's second landing in Ireland was according to some authorities effected here.

Places of interest

The Tholsel
  • King John's Castle. Despite the western part being commissioned by Hugh de Lacy before 1186, the castle owes its name to King John who visited Carlingford in 1210. The eastern part was constructed in the mid 13th century with alterations and additions occurring in the 15th and 16th centuries. In the 1950s the Office of Public Works (OPW) undertook conservation work to stabilise the structure. A view of the north pier and lough can be had from the viewing area on the eastern side of the castle, though the castle itself is closed to the general public for safety reasons.
  • Taaffe's Castle / Merchant House. A fortified town house that according to local tradition belonged to the rich mercantile Taaffe family who became Earls of Carlingford in 1661. However, there is no evidence to suggest that it was built or in fact owned by the Taaffes. Early topographical maps provide evidence that it was in existence before the Taaffe family were provided with their Earl of Carlingford title, The Taaffes mainly resided in Sligo. The castles close proximity to the harbour would suggest a trading depot on the ground floor with the upper floors reserved for residence. The construction suggests two phases—the main tower built in the early 16th century while the extension to the side occurred later.
  • The Tholsel. The Tholsel or "town-gate" is the only remaining example of its nature in Carlingford and one of the few left in Ireland. Originally it was three stories high—the present appearance due to alteration made in the 19th century. The original function was to levy taxes on goods entering the town, though the murder-holes on the side of the walls are testaments to a more violent age. The Tholsel was used by the Corporation of Carlingford for meeting in 1834 and the Irish Parliament is said to have used met here on occasion, when Carlingford was part of The Pale. The Tholsel was also used as a town gaol in the 18th century.
  • The Mint. A fortified three-storey townhouse belonging to a wealthy merchant family in the centre of Carlingford. While the right to mint coinage was not granted to Carlingford until 1467, it is unlikely that it was actually used as a mint. The most notable feature is the five highly decorated limestone windows. The patterns and motifs are an example of the influence of the Celtic Renaissance on art during the 16th century.
  • Carlingford Abbey. The Dominicans were established in Carlingford in 1305 primarily because of their patron Richard Óg de Burgh, 2nd Earl of Ulster, with the friary itself being dedicated to St. Malachy. Dissolved in 1540 by King Henry VIII, it became the centre of a repossession struggle between the Dominicans and Franciscans in the 1670s.@ It was resolved in favour of the Dominicans by Oliver Plunkett. However, the friary itself was subsequently abandoned in the 18th century by the Dominicans to their present location of Dundalk. The remains today consist of a nave and chancel divided by a tower. Also, there are possible remains of some domestic buildings to the south like a mill, mill race and mill pond.
  • Town Wall. Established by charter in 1326 by Edward II to the Bailiffs of Carlingford it allowed them to levy murage for its building. Not much remains however but the little that does has some externally splayed musket loops. It is likely that the wall had an external ditch to strengthen its defences. Its purpose was to serve as a barrier to ensure that goods entering the town had to pass through a town gate (and hence could be taxed) but it also had the effect of marking the effective boundary between the Gaels of Ulster and the English of the Pale.
  • Ghan House. A Georgian House built by William Stannus in 1727 it is surrounded by castellated walls and a guard tower. The first floor contains the drawing room which has a decorative ceiling of rococo plasterwork of flower garlands and medallion busts reputed to be of Stannus ladies. The basement contains two underground passageways (now blocked) that led to the Heritage Centre and the bakers (now chemist). The latter tunnel was reportedly used by a silent order of monks who once lived on the site and apparently supplied the local bakery but wished to avoid contact with townspeople. Today Ghan House is used as a guest house (with wine bar), ballroom, meeting room and cookery school. The current chefs of Ghan House are Stephane Le Sourne and Allan Maynard.
  • The Spout. Well, built c. 1830. Segmental-headed opening, random coursed limestone walling, iron and concrete reinforcements to arch, circular cast-iron pipe, cast triangular concrete funnel, a moss-covered pillar supporting funnel, cast-iron grate to the base. Set in painted stone wall to west side of road. Heritage trail plaque in wall. This unusual piece of street furniture, fed from a natural spring, is one of a number of features within the historic town of Carlingford. The plaque reads; "This trough and the spring which feeds it, is a rare survival from the days when public water utilities were an important part of urban life. Its water once slaked the thirst of both man and beast as well as providing water for household tasks."
  • Church of the Holy Trinity. Donated by the Church of Ireland to Carlingford this restored mediæval church is also known as the Holy Trinity Heritage Centre. Exhibits inside display the history of Carlingford from Viking times to the present period. The video and stained glass window are popular with visitors. Musical recitals are common. The grounds outside contain a graveyard.
  • De Gaulle. Carlingford has a pseudo historical, comical head affectionately known as "De Gaulle". This feature is situated on the south facing gable on a building on Newry Street. Someone placed a piece of slate for the cap and the attraction was born.
  • Market Square. Now the main street of Carlingford, this was the area where a weekly market was held with records of its layout going back to 1358. It is now the intersection of Dundalk Street and the beginning of River Lane.


The former railway station

Carlingford railway station opened on 1 August 1876, but finally closed on 1 January 1952 In 1948 the film 'Saints and Sinners' used various locations around Carlingford including a scene at the beginning at the station of a DN&GR train arriving.

Carlingford also has a marina.

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Carlingford)


  1. Carlingford: Placenames Database of Ireland
  2. O'Sullivan, Aidan; Breen, Colin (2007). Maritime Ireland. An Archaeology of Coastal Communities. Stroud: Tempus. p. 212. ISBN 978-0-7524-2509-2. 
  3. Philip Dixon Hardy (1832). The Dublin penny journal . Volume 1, Issue 1. Carlingford: JS Folds. p. 25.