Dunluce Castle

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Dunluce Castle

County Antrim

Dunluce Castle.jpg
Type: Castle
Grid reference: C905412
Built Late Middle Ages
and 17th century
Condition: In ruins
Owned by: (State care)

Dunluce Castle is a mediæval castle on the coast of County Antrim, which today lies in ruins. It stands on the edge of a basalt outcropping on the wild North Antrim coast, between Portballintrae and Portrush, and is accessible by way of a bridge connecting it to the mainland. The castle is surrounded by extremely steep drops on either side, which may have been an important factor to the early Christians and Vikings who were drawn to this place where an early Irish fort once stood.

Protected status

Dunluce Castle is in the townland of Dunluce. It in the care of the Department of Communities and it is designated a 'Monument in State Care'.[1] The earthworks, adjacent to Dunluce Castle, are a Scheduled Historic Monument.[2]


In the 13th century Richard de Burgh, 2nd Earl of Ulster, built the first castle at Dunluce.

It is first documented in the hands of the McQuillan family in 1513. The earliest features of the castle are two large drum towers about 30 feet in diameter on the eastern side, both relics of a stronghold built here by the McQuillans after they became lords of the Route.

In 1534, one of the child members of the McQuillan family claimed to have seen a woman in a white dress standing at the edge of the cliff, looking out at the ocean at sunset. He said he watched her fade into the wind. No one believed the child so he retrieved his eldest sibling out the next night to watch for the ghost, but it did not appear. Then in the early 1550s, many people claimed to see a woman in a white dress walking down the shore below Castle Dunluce at sunset until finally one day the McQuillan boy, now in his 30's, walked down to the shore and tried to speak with the ghost. After that, it stopped. No reports have ever been made of seeing the woman again.

The McQuillans were the Lords of Route from the late 13th century until they were displaced by the MacDonalds after losing two major battles against them during the mid and late-16th century.

Later Dunluce Castle became the home of the chief of the Clan MacDonnell of Antrim and the Clan MacDonald of Dunnyveg from the Hebrides. Chief John Mor MacDonald was the second son of Good John of Islay, Lord of the Isles, 6th chief of Clan Donald. John Mor MacDonald was born through John of Islay's second marriage to Princess Margaret Stewart, daughter of King Robert II of Scotland. In 1584, on the death of James MacDonald the 6th chief of the Clan MacDonald of Antrim and Dunnyveg, the Antrim Glens were seized by Sorley Boy MacDonnell, one of his younger brothers. Sorley Boy took the castle, keeping it for himself and improving it in the Scottish style. Sorley Boy swore allegiance to Queen Elizabeth I and his son Randal was made 1st Earl of Antrim by King James VI and I.

Four years later in 1688, the Girona, a galleass from the scattered Spanish Armada was wrecked in a storm on the rocks nearby. The cannon from the ship were installed in the gatehouses and the rest of the cargo sold, the funds being used to restore the castle. MacDonnell's granddaughter Rose was born in the castle in 1613.

At one point, part of the kitchen next to the cliff face collapsed into the sea, after which the wife of the owner refused to live in the castle any longer. According to a legend, when the kitchen fell into the sea only a kitchen boy survived, as he was sitting in the corner of the kitchen which did not collapse.

Dunluce Castle served as the seat of the Earl of Antrim until the impoverishment of the MacDonnells in 1690, following the Battle of the Boyne. Since that time, the castle has deteriorated and parts were scavenged to serve as materials for nearby buildings.

Dunluce town

In 2011, major archaeological excavations found significant remains of the "lost town of Dunluce", which was razed to the ground in the Irish uprising of 1641.[3]

Lying adjacent to Dunluce Castle, the town was built around 1608 by Randall MacDonnell, the first Earl of Antrim, and pre-dates the official Plantation of Ulster.[3] It may have contained the most revolutionary housing in Europe when it was built in the early 17th century, including indoor toilets which had only started to be introduced around Europe at the time, and a complex street network based on a grid system.[3] 95% of the town is still to be discovered.[3]

In popular culture

Dunluce Castle is thought to be the inspiration for Cair Paravel in C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia.

In 1973 the castle appeared on the inner gatefold of the multi-million selling Led Zeppelin album Houses of the Holy. It is also featured on the cover of the album Glasgow Friday by American musician Jandek. The castle appeared as Snakehead's hideout under the name 'Ravens Keep' in the 2003 movie, The Medallion, which starred Jackie Chan. This castle is also the subject of a song named "Dunluce Castle" written by George Millar and sung by the Irish Rovers. The cassette and CD versions of Gary Moore's 1989 album "After the War" feature an instrumental track titled "Dunluce" in one and two parts respectively. The castle is mentioned and appears briefly in Michael Palin's 2004 episode of Great Railway Journeys, Londonderry to Kerry.

Railway Access

The Belfast-Londonderry railway line run by Northern Ireland Railways connects to Coleraine and along the branch line to Portrush. Local Ulsterbus provide connections to the railway stations. There is a scenic walk from Portrush alongside Dunluce Castle and Giant's Causeway and Bushmills Railway in Bushmills.

See also

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Dunluce Castle)


  1. State Care Monuments
  2. Dunluce Castle - Scheduled Historic Monuments
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Belfast News Letter, page 3. Saturday, 18 June 2011