Dunluce Castle was an accidental destination on my travels to Northern Ireland. I was on my way into Portstewart, County Antrim when I caught sight of this magnificent ruin shimmering in the last glow of sunlight. While I might have stumbled upon it, I highly recommend you put it on your list of places to visit in Northern Ireland. It is worth it!
The castle is carved into a rocky promontory, so that the cliffs around the castle drop off straight into the ocean. The sea-grass and rocks are slippery from the salt-mist and, in some places, the rocky surface has caved in and the crashing ocean is visible far beneath the surface opening. Mostly these holes are indicated by helpful signs, but it’s still a good idea to watch your footing carefully.
This dangerous setting made the castle a perfect defense against invaders, but a reckless place to carry out daily life. In the early 1600s the cliff-face supporting the castle kitchen crumbled into the ocean and plummeted all the people inside to their deaths. At least one seventeenth century wife refused to set foot in the unpredictable structure.
The castle was still inhabited until the late seventeenth century, even after the chilling kitchen disaster. The first castle on the site was built by Richard Óg de Burgh, 2nd Earl of Ulster, in the thirteenth century and it subsequently passed through the hands of several ruling families until becoming the ancestral seat of the MacDonnell clan. The castle was abandoned to ruin and decay after the MacDonnells fell out of power following the Battle of the Boyne (1690).
The views outside the castle are undoubtedly spectacular, but you really get a sense of the place from touring the inside. The main castle is accessible via a bridge from the mainland and you can explore the ruins of the courtyard, towers, and living quarters right up to the edge of the cliffs. You can also see the remains of the kitchen, as well as the area that broke off into the ocean.
This castle really captures the essence of what I experienced of Northern Ireland’s character, which is embodied in a troubled and somewhat dangerous history combined with overwhelming beauty, a captivating and free spirit, and a sense of living life on the edge (see for instance, Belfast Murals: Portrait of a City Divided and Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge.)
Dunluce Castle is about a two hour drive from Belfast and is located near the tiny seaside villages of Portstewart and Portrush on the north coast of County Antrim. It’s also not far from Bushmills where you can stop for a tour of the factory and a taste of the famous whiskey.
After you’ve visited the castle, Portstewart is a very pleasant town to have an evening walk and visit delicious homemade ice cream shops. The village also has some of the north coast’s best seafood restaurants.
Portstewart is an extremely popular place and locals from the surrounding area usually flood the village, especially on weekends. Though worth the wait, you should expect traffic delays and it’s a good idea to book ahead if you’re planning to visit one of the restaurants.
There are several places in Northern Ireland that could hold the title of most beautiful or most picturesque, but this stunning ruin easily tops any list and is a place you certainly will want to experience in person.
The castle is open every day, all year round: From April to September, 10.00am–6.00pm; and October to March, 10.00am–4.00pm. The admission charge for adults is £5.00, children/seniors £3.00, and children under 5 are free. The grounds outside the castle are free to visit ‘at your own risk’ even after closing time.
87 Dunluce Road
Tel: 028 2073 1938
Written by and photos by Erin Connelly for EuropeUpClose.com