Guide to Dunluce Castle
Dunluce Castle is a medieval abandoned castle set on the top of a cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean on the Causeway Coastal Route just 2 miles east of Portrush. Dunluce has featured in the HBO series Game of Thrones, as the House of Greyjoy…..although looking slightly different thanks to CGI. The dramatic setting is surrounded by steep cliffs that drop-off on every side towards the crashing waves of the North Atlantic, meaning the castle can only be reached after crossing a bridge from the mainland.
Evidence from archaeological digs around the castle suggests that there were early Christian and Viking settlements on or near the current site. The first notable castle was built around the 13th century, by the powerful Richard Og de Burgh, 2nd Earl of Ulster.
The first documented owners of the castle were the MacQuillan family in the early 1500s but were taken over by the MacDonnells in the 1550s, after numerous battles.
After the Glens of Antrim were seized by Sorley Boy MacDonnell (Scots/Irish – Somhairle Buidhe), upon the death of his older brother of the James MacDonnell (or MacDonald) the then 6th Clan Chief of the MacDonalds of Antrim, he claimed the Castle as his base and set about developing it in the Scottish style.
This was paid for in the main through the looting of the Girona, a Gallion of the Spanish Armada, that was wrecked in a storm on the nearby rocks. The cannons of the ship were kept and can still be found in the Gatehouse today.
The Castle continued to be held by the descendants of Sorely Boy, through his fourth son, who was bestowed the title of Earl of Antrim by King James 7th/2nd, for his allegiance to Queen Elizabeth the 1st of England. The Castle itself was lived in by the Earls of Antrim until around 1690 when following the Battle of the Boyne the clan MacDonnell was impoverished due to their allegiances.
The current Earls of Antrim have their seat at nearby Glenarm Castle in Cushendall.
Dunluce Castle is still owned by the MacDonnell family, however, is now in the care of the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, as one of its monuments under state care.
Following major archaeological excavations, significant remains of the “lost town of Dunluce”, which was razed to the ground in the Irish uprising of 1641 were found.
Lying immediately next to the Castle, the town of Dunluce (or Dún Libhse in Irish) was built between 1600 and 1610 by Randall MacDonnell, the first Earl of Antrim, and as such pre-dates the official Plantation of Ulster. The town is said to have had the most revolutionary housing in Europe when it was built, this included indoor toilets which had only started to be introduced around Europe at the time and a complex street network based on a grid system. 95% of the town is still to be discovered.
Visiting the Castle
Even though there are plenty of attractions in Ireland, this is one of the most exciting ones. This castle is a great place to enjoy the history of Ireland and to take in the beautiful scenery of the land. It is a fantastic place to listen to stories from the Game of Thrones, Led Zeppelin, and C.S Lewis. It is excellent for visitors of all ages, we recently took our 5-year-old and his friend who had a blast.
You can enjoy the audiovisual presentation, friendly greetings, and a walk around the historic castle. You get the chance to learn about its fascinating history. There is a trail around the castle that takes around 40 minutes to complete, this can be done with the assistance of guides or through one of the multilingual headsets. You can now even download an app tour to your phone.
Views from and around the castle are stunning. The Ocean vista which stretches as far as your eyes can see and the cliffs are equally beautiful. On a clear day, you can see the Scottish Island of Islay (Famous for its whisky) and Inishtrahull Lighthouse, off the Donegal Coast. If you want a bird’s eye view of the castle, you can stand on an existing tower.
Under the castle, there is a hidden cave. Even though you cannot get into it, it is a sight to behold.
Some local companies offer guided tours of Dunluce, here are just some of them.
- Away A Wee Walk Walking Tours – https://www.awayaweewalk.com
- Giant Tours Ireland – https://www.gianttoursireland.com
Myths & Legends
Legend has it that at some point, part of the kitchen collapsed into the sea. It says that the wife of the castle’s owner did not want to keep living there. Apparently, only a kitchen boy survived when part of the kitchen fell into the sea. The legend does not seem to be true since the castle’s kitchen is still in place. It is possible to see the entryway fireplace and oven. The north wall of the palace collapsed and fell into the sea in the 18th century. The other walls are still intact.
In 1534, a child in the McQuillan family was said to have seen the figure of a woman in a white dress on the edge of the cliff. The woman is supposed to have been looking out at the ocean. The little boy reported that he saw the woman disappear into the wind. No one believed him primarily because he and his elder sibling went out the next night and saw nothing.
In the early 1550s, something similar happened. People claimed that they saw a woman in a white dress walking down the shore close to the castle. There were numerous claims that the castle was haunted until one time when a member of the McQuillan family walked to the beach and attempted to speak to the ghost. The woman was never seen again.
Dunluce Castle on Film and TV
If you have watched the favourite HBO series Game of Thrones, you may be interested in touring the beautiful, rugged location.
The beautiful ruins of the castle are used to show the exterior of the Iron Island stronghold which is the seat of the House of Grejoy. Some residents of the castle include; Yara Grejoy, Balon Grejoy, and Theo Grejoy. You can see it in seasons two and six.
The Castle was also mentioned by admirers of ‘The Chronicles of Narnia.’ Many viewers believe the castle to be the inspiration for Cair Paravel, the seat of the kings and queens of Narnia.
Game of Thrones has attracted visitors from all over the world more recently; however, the castle has been a tourist attraction for centuries. The landscape has always been an inspiration for creatives of romantic plotlines. As the poet Robinson Jeffers put it,
‘No spot of earth where men have so fiercely for ages of time
Fought and survived and cancelled each other,
Pict and Gael and Dane, McQuillan, Clandonnel, O’Neill,
Savages, the Scot, the Norman, the English…’
How to Get To Dunluce Castle
Dunluce Castle is only around 2.5 miles from Portrush along the Causeway Coastal Route (A2). Therefore, its quite easy to get there in many ways.
Getting there by Car.
If you are visiting the Dunluce as part of a more extended day trip, then taking the car is the easiest option. Just head east past Royal Portrush Golf Club, along the A2 (Sign posted for Bushmills/Ballycastle). There is a small car park a short walk from the Castle, next to the Wee Cottage Cafe.
Coming from Belfast or Dublin in the car you have two options, the quickest is to follow the A26 north from Belfast, turning off at Portrush Road Roundabout, in Ballymoney, onto the B62 (Ballybogey Road) signposted Portrush/Bushmills. After 9.5 miles turn right (east) at the Royal Court Hotel onto the A2/Causeway Coastal Route. Follow this road for a mile.
NOTE: do not trust your SatNav….a number of times we have been taken along singletrack back roads, where the only views are high hedges, sheep, cows and grass!
The second option is to follow the Causeway Coastal Route along the North Antrim Coast. This is one of the most excellent driving routes in the world.
By Public Transport
From Portrush, you can take the Translink 172 or 402 (Ballycastle) bus from Dunluce Avenue. It takes around 15 minutes and drives along the coast. You can find the timetable here.((insert the timetable))
If you are coming up from Belfast or Dublin, then one of the simplest ways to get to the castle is by taking a train. You can take a train from Dublin Connolly Station (The Enterprise) Changing at Belfast Lanyon Place . The train from Dublin to Belfast is around 2 hours and from Belfast to Portrush is approximately 1.5 hours.
You will then have to either get the bus from Dunluce Avenue or take one of the plenty of Taxis just outside the station.
Even though the castle is not accessible by wheelchair, the surrounding site is beautiful. The coastline and surrounding scenery are stunning. There is a car park and a visitor centre on-site.
You can, of course, walk from Portrush to Dunluce Castle. The walk takes you along the East Strand Beach, past the enormous dunes that lead up to Royal Portrush Golf Club, to Whiterocks Beach, so named after the stunning limestone cliffs. You will then emerge on the road near the Royal Court Hotel onto the A2 Causeway Coastal Route. From here walk along the footpath, stopping to take in the views of Portrush, The Skerries and Dunluce Castle from Magheracross View Point. You will be able to see the Castle a short walk further on.
You can see details of a longer walk from Portrush to Bushmills on the Walk NI website here
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