Echoes of History: Unraveling the Legends of Dunluce Castle, Northern Ireland

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I drove to Dunluce after lunch at the Bushmills Tavern and a morning at the Giants Causeway.   Dunluce Castle Giant’s Causeway is one the most beautiful ruins I have seen, to date.  It is often considered a stunning and picturesque site due to its breathtaking coastal location, perched on the edge of a steep cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.  The juxtaposition of the medieval castle ruins against the backdrop of the crashing waves and rugged coastal landscape creates a striking and dramatic scene. I was captivated by the castle’s scenic beauty and the sense of history and mystery it exudes.  

Dunluce Castle is a dramatic medieval castle situated on the north coast of County Antrim, Northern Ireland. Perched on the edge of a steep cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, the castle’s striking location has made it one of the most iconic and photographed landmarks in the region. The ruins of Dunluce Castle stand as a testament to its tumultuous history and have captured the imagination of visitors for centuries.

Key points about Dunluce Castle:

  1. History: The origins of Dunluce Castle can be traced back to the early 13th century when it was built by Richard de Burgh, 2nd Earl of Ulster. It remained in the hands of the de Burgh family until the 16th century when it passed to the MacDonnell clan through marriage.

  2. MacDonnell Clan: The MacDonnell clan, led by Sorley Boy MacDonnell, played a significant role in the castle’s history. They extended and improved the castle, making it a formidable stronghold in the region.

  3. Siege and Abandonment: In 1588, the Girona, a ship from the Spanish Armada, sank off the coast of Dunluce. The MacDonnells salvaged treasures from the wreck, including the Girona’s cannons, which they used to strengthen the castle’s defenses. However, during the Irish Rebellion of 1641, the castle was besieged and ultimately abandoned.

  4. Romantic Legends: The castle’s dramatic setting and turbulent history have given rise to numerous legends and ghost stories. One famous legend tells of the kitchen falling into the sea one stormy night, taking the kitchen staff with it, leaving only one survivor.

  5. Restoration and Preservation: In the 20th century, the castle underwent some restoration work to stabilize the ruins and make it safe for visitors. Today, the site is managed by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency and is open to the public.

  6. Tourist Attraction: Dunluce Castle is now a popular tourist attraction, drawing visitors from all over the world. The castle ruins offer breathtaking views of the surrounding coastline and provide a glimpse into Ireland’s medieval past.

  7. Game of Thrones Filming Location: Dunluce Castle gained additional fame as a filming location for the popular TV series “Game of Thrones.” It served as the inspiration for the castle of Pyke, the seat of House Greyjoy.

Dunluce Castle’s blend of history, legends, and stunning natural surroundings makes it a must-visit destination for history enthusiasts, photographers, and those captivated by the allure of ancient ruins perched on a rugged coastal cliff.

Dunluce is a World Heritage site which makes it easy to find and is well documented. We found that there is free parking on site  After a short walk, we reached the main.  There is a fee of around $10 US dollars to enter. The hours are from 10AM to 5PM daily and since we arrived around 2PM, we had enough time to enjoy the site. 

The park is well laid out.  There are facilities are to the right and the gift shop and tickets to your left. To navigate the area there are plaques, a guide available at the ticket booth and app that uses cgi to show how the castle looked in the 16th and 17th centuries. My imagination went wild as a stepped back in time.

I was enthralled by how much of the castle is left after years of abandonment, scavenging materials for the building other structures in the village, time and, the elements. At one point part of the manor fell into the waters below after some of the cliff disintegrated. There are spots that are caged off to serve as a warning as to the dangerous position of the castle. Dunluce sits high on a cliff looking over the Antrim Coast. The view is breathtaking. There is a sweeping panoramic vista of the coast line that rivals the Cliff of Moher. It is wild and untamed with ruins fading into the landscape. The pictures speak for themselves.

This is a must see if you near Bushmills and the Giants Causeway.


History (wikipedia brief)

In the 13th century, Richard Óg 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 9 metres (30 ft) in diameter on the eastern side, both relics of a stronghold built here by the McQuillans after they became lords of the Route.

The McQuillans were the Lords of Route from the late 13th century until they were displaced by the MacDonnell after losing two major battles against them during the mid- and late-16th century.The castle in the last decade of the 19th century

Later Dunluce Castle became the home of the chief of the Clan MacDonnell of Antrim and the Clan MacDonald of Dunnyveg from Scotland. Chief John Mor MacDonald was the second son of Good John of Islay, Lord of the Isles, 6th chief of Clan Donald in Scotland. John Mor MacDonald l 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 I.

Four years later, the Girona, a galleass from the Spanish Armada, was wrecked in a storm on the rocks nearby. The cannons 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.

A local legend states that 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. However, the kitchen is still intact and next to the manor house. You can still see the oven, fireplace and entry ways into it. It wasn’t until some time in the 18th century that the north wall of the residence building collapsed into the sea. The east, west and south walls still stand.

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.


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