If your notion of a castle brings to mind an impenetrable fortress balanced high on a precipice above the sea, with churning waves crashing against its walls and seagulls circling overhead, then Northern Ireland’s Dunluce Castle may be the castle for you.
While living in Country Antrim several years ago, I visited Dunluce Castle and remain awestruck to this day by its aura and beauty. Located almost equidistant between Portrush and Portballintrae, the castle ruin is a protected historic site with a visitor center and is accessible daily via a footbridge connecting it to the mainland. Dramatically perched on a high basalt cliff above the Atlantic Ocean, the castle remains impressive even its ruined state.
Like most castles, its architectural structures reflect its history. Some portions of Dunluce date to the 1500s, when the castle was in the hands of the McQuillan family. Other parts of the castle recall its heyday during the 17th century, when it served as the seat of the MacDonnells, whose descendants became Earl of Antrim.
One outstanding portion, the Manor-House, was built in 1636 to provide a stylish and modern residence for the second Earl of Antrim and his wife, Lady Catherine. Its reconstructed stone-carved bay window frames struck me during my visit, making it easy to imagine how appealing the castle must have been just a few centuries ago when it was filled with life and activity.
Interestingly, Lady Catherine insisted on leaving Dunluce Castle in 1639, just three years after her lovely Manor-House was built within its walls. She reportedly loathed the constant noise of the ocean, and her worst fears were realized when part of the kitchen court fell into the sea, killing several servants. Afterwards, she refused to live on the rock and a new house was built for her on the mainland.
Based on its location, it is not surprising that Dunluce Castle’s history is also linked to the Spanish Armada’s failed invasion of England in 1588. Damaged during the conflict and repaired, the Spanish ship Girona wrecked on the Irish coast near Dunluce while attempting to sail back to Spain.
James MacDonnell in Dunluce Castle and his father, Sorley Boy MacDonnell, at Duineany Castle in Ballycastle gave shelter to the ship’s survivors, hiding them from the English and assisting them back to Spain. In return, two salvaged chests of treasure and three cannons were claimed by the MacDonnells to strengthen the castle at Dunluce.
While the striking beauty and fascinating history of Dunluce Castle would make a worthwhile stop in anyone’s Northern Ireland travel itinerary, the castle is also located near other interesting destinations. Not far east of Dunluce lies the Giant’s Causeway, the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in Northern Ireland, and an unusual geological treat.
The hexagonal columns of basalt rock that form the naturally made structure resulted from a volcanic eruption 60 million years ago and make for a photo op of unusual natural beauty. Also, in between Dunluce and the Giant’s Causeway, travellers can stop in at The Old Bushmills Distillery and tour the buildings where one of Ireland’s most famous whiskeys has been brewed for over four hundred years.
Christy Carlyle is a writer, graphic/web designer, and avid Britophile. She has been lucky enough to live in both England and Ireland and to marry a Scotsman. She writes historical romance and mysteries and blogs about Victorian Britain at Romancing the Victorians.