Dunluce Castle – A Fine Connection to the Past (History & Travel Tips)

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Dunluce Castle is located in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. It is situated on the very steep and rocky clifftops of Bushmills and Portrush, connected to the mainland via a bridge. From the summit of some of the steepest cliffs in the country, Dunluce Castle provides a breath-taking sight of the deep blue waters. Not only that, the castle has been a popular destination for tourists due to its appearance in the famous television series, Game of Thrones.

The fact that it is surrounded by such high drops is what attracted the Vikings to this location initially. Belonging to the medieval era, the castle itself now stands in ruins. The Northern Ireland Environment Agency oversees Dunluce Castle and it is the seat of MacDonnell of Antrim.

If you are interested in knowing more about this medieval Irish ruin, look no further. We have provided you an in-depth historical overview of Dunluce Castle in addition to highlighting the best tips and tricks to make your visit to Dunluce worthwhile. 

Jackie Chan, a famous martial artist, visited the castle in 2003 to shoot his comedy film, The Medallion.

The side view of Dunluce Castle.
The side view of Dunluce Castle. Dunluce Castle flickr photo by Anosmia shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license
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Frequently Asked Questions

FOR HISTORY | BEAUTIFUL IMAGES | INTERESTING FACTS | TRAVEL TIPS

Early History

Construction of Dunluce Castle (13th Century)

One of the oldest castles in Ireland, Dunluce Castle is first believed to be constructed in the thirteenth century by Richard Og de Burgh, 2nd Earl of Ulster.

The castle was documented and mentioned in records by the McQuillan family. The oldest parts of the castle are two enormous drum towers on the eastern side that are roughly nine meters (9.8 yards) in diameter and are remnants of a fortification that the McQuillans constructed here when they were made rulers of the Route.

The Castle Under Clan MacDonnell of Antrim (16th Century)

The McQuillans ruled the castle from the 13th century up until the 16th century when the MacDonnells succeeded them as Lords of Route. The ordeal happened when the McQuillans suffered two critical defeats from the MacDonnells.

In 1584, Sir John Perrott assumed control of the fortress on orders of Queen Elizabeth I. After that, he lived there for around a year before leaving. MacDonnell’s family promptly retook the castle once Perrott had fled the castle. 

An old photo of Dunluce Castle.
An old photo of Dunluce Castle. See page for author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Overthrow of the MacDonnells of Antrim (17th Century)

Dunluce Castle was the Earl of Antrim’s home until the MacDonnells were overthrown in 1690 as a result of the Battle of the Boyne. 

The castle later came under siege by the Irish army during the Irish Rebellion in 1641, and the neighborhood was set on fire. 

Oliver Cromwell and his army came in the 1650s and generally wreaked havoc. Unfortunately, the castle was left to decay after being abandoned. In the second part of the century, it was temporarily occupied again. However, as it was no longer the center of the McDonnell estate, it and the nearby village fell back into ruin.  

After surviving many wars and battles the castle has lost its structure. It is said that a part of the kitchen of the Castle also fell from the cliff. Since then, the castle has deteriorated, with parts being repurposed, used to build nearby structures. Today, The Northern Ireland Environment Agency oversees Dunluce Castle.

The Manor House at Dunluce Castle.
The Manor House at Dunluce Castle. Dunluce Castle flickr photo by NH53 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Current Times

Dunluce Castle is now a ruined medieval castle that made an appearance as Castle Greyjoy in the renowned television series Game of Thrones. Since then, it has gained even greater popularity. The castle is only accessible by a bridge since it is situated on isolated cliffs. The neighborhood of the castle is no longer there. What little is left has only been partially explored by archaeologists, and much of it is hidden.

Dunluce Castle is the only “scheduled monument” along the Causeway Coastland. It is worth the drive to see such a beautifully preserved ruined castle. Even though the castle is now in ruins, its grandeur is still present. The fact that the castle has been standing for this long in such a vulnerable position will amaze you. 

Scottish, Norman, and some Gothic architectural elements can be discovered inside the castle. Moreover, a spectacular sunset can be witnessed from the site. The castle is also divided into two sections: the outside structures on the mainland and the castle core on the cliff.

A scenic sunset at Dunluce Castle.
A scenic sunset at Dunluce Castle. Tony Hisgett from Birmingham, UK, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Ghost Story of Dunluce

If you are into horror myths and legends, learn about the tale of Maeve Roe, daughter of Lord McQuillan, who refused to wed Rory Og. She was imprisoned in the north-eastern tower of Dunlace Castle.

She is claimed to have fled from the Mermaid’s Cave with her lover, Reginald O’Cahan, on a stormy night. When their boats crashed into the rocks while they were trying to flee, they drowned. According to a legend, Maeve’s ghost is the Banshee of Dunluce Castle, and her restless spirit sifts the waters in pursuit of her long-lost love.

The entrance to to dunluce Castle.
The entrance to Dunluce Castle. Dunluce Castle flickr photo by NH53 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Interesting Dunluce Castle Facts

Dunluce Castle has a number of intriguing facts that will leave you awestruck. Here are a few of them:

  • Jackie Chan, a famous martial artist, visited the castle in 2003 to shoot his comedy film, The Medallion.
  • When it is not cloudy, Islay is visible across the sea from Dunluce.
  • The local graveyard of the castle where Scottish settlers were buried still bears the inscriptions of their names.
  • The work on the conservation of the castle first commenced in 1928, when it was placed under governmental control.
  • The castle’s site was periodically utilized as a lookout to keep tabs on warships during the Second World War.
  • According to a myth, the kitchen near the cliff reportedly fell on a violently stormy night in 1639, falling from the cliff into the frigid waters below. 
  • C.S. Lewis is known to have taken inspiration from Dunluce Castle for the Chronicles of Narnia’s Royal Castle of Cair Paravel.

Visiting Dunluce Castle – Tips and Tricks

Your journey will be made highly interesting by the castle’s richness of historical information. Moreover, Dunluce Castle is renowned for its isolated area, and it is amazing to think of how resilient it is to remain perched atop a cliff in such a fragile state. It makes the castle even more remarkable because it is separate from the rest of the landmass and is connected via a bridge. 

If you’re eager to visit this castle, you can make your trip comfortable by using the tips and tricks made below:

The amazingly scenic view of Dunluce CAstle from afar.
The amazingly scenic view of Dunluce CAstle from afar. Dunluce Castle flickr photo by Paul Bowman shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

How to get to Dunluce Castle?

Take the Translink 172 or 402 (Ballycastle) bus from Dunluce Avenue to Portrush. Driving down the shore takes around 15 minutes. On-site, amenities include a tourist center and a parking lot.

Taking a train is one of the easiest methods to get to the castle if you are traveling from Belfast or Dublin. From Dublin Connolly Station, board a train and change in Belfast Lanyon Place. The train takes around two hours from Dublin to Belfast and about one and a half hours from Belfast to Portrush.

If you are taking a car, from Belfast to Dunluce Castle, it will take you 1 hour and will cost you around €25 ($25 USD).

If you are taking the bus from Belfast to the castle, it will take you 1 hour 30 minutes and the bus ticket will cost you €17 ($17 USD).

Ticket Prices, Visiting Hours & Travel Tips

The ticket price for an adult is €6 ($7 USD) and for children it is €4 ($5 USD). If you are going with your family, then you will get discounted tickets at €18 ($21 USD) for 5 family members. 

The castle is open to visitors from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm (November to February) and 10:00 am to 6:00 pm (March to September). 

A beautiful shot of Dunluce Castle ruins.
A beautiful shot of Dunluce Castle ruins. Dunluce Castle flickr photo by Jo Jakeman shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Things To Do at Dunluce Castle

There are various ways to enjoy yourself at Dunluce Castle. Some of such endeavors include:

  • The Castle has exhibitions of historic pieces with valuable information. As you walk the main grounds of the castle, you can pause to study plaques containing historical information in addition to the handout that will serve as your tour guide.
  • It still holds its medieval look, and the ruins are known to be a photographer’s delight.
  • You can look at the beautiful Northern Irish coasts from the castle.
  • You can also explore the cave below the castle. It is called the Mermaid Cave.
  • For a visual experience, you can also download a free app of the castle that depicts how the castle might have appeared in the 16th and 17th centuries using computer-generated imagery (CGI).

How Long Will It Take to Tour Around?

The castle tour might take you up to an hour. Remember to bring warm clothing with you because it can be rather windy there.

Some words of advice and tips: 

  • All dogs are prohibited, except for service and guide dogs.
  • You can pick up your admission tickets to Dunluce Castle in a small office after entering the gates.
  • Follow Covid guidelines and requirements.
  • Consider bringing along a backpack with an umbrella and warm clothing because it gets very windy on top of the cliff.
  • The last entrance to the castle is allowed by 4:30 pm. 
  • There is limited disabled access for wheelchair users.
  • All children must be accompanied by an adult. 

Quick Video Tour of The Main Dunluce Castle Areas

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Kainat Khalid
Kainat Khalid
Kainat is an English literature graduate with a profound interest in historical architecture. She has studied and explored the dusted pages of history for years which has ignited her passion to explore the existing remnants of our past glory and revisit them from a revised perspective. “There is no present without the past” is what she believes in and what drove her to begin cataloging these timeless historical monuments.

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