Dunluce Castle is one of the most extensive ruins of a medieval castle in Northern Ireland. This late-medieval and 17th-century castle lies between Portballintrae and Portrush and is located in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. It is 100 feet above the ocean on a panicle of basalt rock, and isolated from the coast by a 20-foot chasm.
This spectacular castle-crowned crag on the famous north Antrim coast was shaped when the sea cut deep into the land and eroded away the softer rock. The castle, which is dramatically surrounded by the terrifyingly steep drops on both sides, would have been a very attractive looking home for the early Christians and Vikings who were drawn to this place. It is even claimed that an early Irish fort once stood.
For its crowning glory, however, the crag had to await the coming of those master-builders, the Normans. They had a habit of consolidating their victories by building castles, and they knew a good site when they saw one.
Dunluce Castle must have looked very formidable to its attackers. Some of the Castle remains at Dunluce may date back to the 1200s’ AD but much of the Castle was built after that time.
At the end of the 1500s’ and through the 1600s’, extensive additions were made to its fortifications and residential quarters. The whole plot is accessible only via a bridge connecting it to the mainland. The bridge is an arched walkway and underneath it lies the ‘Mermaid’s Cave’.
The interpretation of the name, which is conjectural, derives from dun-lois. It is a combination of dun, meaning ‘fort’, used adjectively and lois, the word normally translated as ‘ring-fort’. Perhaps the best rendering would be ‘fortified residence’.
The basalt crag could have first been discovered by nomadic boatmen – Ireland’s first inhabitants – who crossed from south-west Scotland in about 7,000 BC and left their flinty axes all along this rugged coast. They must have seen the crag from the sea and may have ventured their flimsy coracles into the huge cave that runs through the rock to the land. You can still visit it by boat today.
It is believed that the castle was built In the 1200s or (possibly) rebuilt by Richard de Burgh, Earl of Ulster, or one of his chief followers during the Anglo Norman period in Ireland. The site certainly was occupied as a fort before this time, as disrupted terrain and other archeological features exist on the outcrop under one of the towers. It creates an exciting image of danger and adventure backed up by its history.
It is first documented in the hands of the MacQuillin family in 1513. The earliest features of the castle are two large drum towers about 9 metres in diameter on the eastern side, both relics of a stronghold built here by the MacQuillins after they became lords of the district. The chieftan of which was known as Lord of the Route, in the late fourteenth century.
The most colourful occupier of Dunluce Castle was Sorley Boy MacDonnell, a Scottish chieftain whose clan established their dominance along the north coast in the mid 1500s. Sorley Boy or Somhairle Buidhe MacDonnell had a brother who was married to the daughter of MacQuillin. The Castle was taken in battle around 1565 by Sorley Boy who was some times referred to in the Irish record as ‘Yellow Charlie’.
Sorley Boy MacDonnell, from Dunluce Castle, controlled the northeastern coast of Ireland. Apparently, the English were none too happy with this particular Scottish incursion into Northern Ireland and in 1584 Queen Elizabeth sent Sir John Perrottt here to bring Sorley to task and to take the castle. After intensive battle the castle falls, and Sorley Boy flees.
In a little bit of irony, Perrott appoints (unknown to him) a confederate of Sorley Boy to select troops to garrison the castle. As soon as Perrott leaves, Sorley Boy retakes the castle when one of his men, who was employed in the castle, hauled him and his comrades up the cliff in a basket. In the end, Sorley Boy bows to Elizabeth in 1586 and swears his allegiance to the English Kingdom. He was subsequently made Constable of the Castle.
During his time at the castle in 1588, Sorley Boy came into some booty (some of which can be seen in the Ulster Museum in Belfast) when the Spanish Armada treasure ship Girona was wrecked by a storm off the Giant’s Causeway. He was also able to salvage some cannons from the Girona for use at Dunluce. Most of the money was used to modernise the castle, particularly the Italian-style loggia, prior to his death in 1589. His sons, James and Randal, added to the fortifications, probably building the Scottish-style gatehouse around 1600.
Randal, who became Viscount Dunluce, and 1st Earl of Antrim, founded a town, west of the castle, in 1620 and brought settlers from Scotland to live there.
In 1635 the 2nd Earl, also Randal, married Catherine Manners, widow of George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham. The Earl built the Manor House, with its bay windows, for her and a new kitchen court on the rock. Despite this, the Duchess never liked Dunluce and when part of the kitchen court fell into the sea, during a storm in 1639, she insisted that the family abandon the castle and build a house inland. 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 for the Earl of Antrim until the impoverishment of the MacDonnells in 1690, following the Battle of the Boyne. In the mid 1700s the seat of the Earl’s of Antrim moved to the present location of Glenarm Castle.
Since that time, the castle has deteriorated and parts were scavenged to serve as materials for nearby buildings. It is now in the care of the Environment and Heritage Service.
Dunluce Castle has been a site of many historic battles, a movie (Jackie Chan’s – The Medallion) and a tragic fable. In 1973 the castle appeared on the inner cover of the multi-million selling Led Zeppelin album Houses of the Holy.Despite all this, the magnificent views alone are enough reason to make Dunluce a stop on your visit.
Facilities, Opening Hours and Prices
- Guided tours available
- Visitor Centre and Shop
- Limited wheelchair Access
- Toilets/Disabled Toilets
- Picnic Area
- Parking outside castle
Opening Hours and Prices
Ring office for current opening hours and prices. Last admission 30 minutes before closing time. In special circumstances the site may be opened on request outside of these hours. Please contact the numbers below to discuss your requirements. Booking and queries: For information on visits to Dunluce Castle, please contact EHS on 028 20 73 1938. **Access Path To The Cave Temporarily Closed**
There is an entrance gate from the car-park into the sloping mainland court which is linked to the main buildings on the rock by a narrow footbridge. There are some modern surfaces but there are also areas of original paving and cobbles, which will make access to parts of the site difficult for wheelchair-users.
Dunluce Castle, Bushmills, County Antrim, BT57 8 (UK)
Dunluce Castle is spectacularly sited beside the coast road (A2) between Bushmills and Portrush. Public transport not easily available.
If you are travelling by car from Belfast follow the scenic Causeway Coastal Route A2 or if you are near Bushmills, follow the B146 for 2 miles from there.
The drive time from Belfast is approx. 1.15 hours.
For car hire information, checkout, Getting Around.
If you would like an accurate map reference location for Dunluce Castle, County Antrim, use Google Maps
If you would driving directions to Dunluce Castle from anywhere in Northern Ireland, use Route Planner
Return from Dunluce Castle to Northern Ireland Attractions
Return from Dunluce Castle to Northern Ireland Travel
Copyright © 2008 Northern Ireland Travel