Pocket Britain
Britain > N.Ireland > Co.Antrim > Dunluce Castle

One of the most formidable and atmospheric castles ever built

Listen to this article


Castle Ruins
Mermaid's Cave
Coastal Views
Dunluce Castle is like something out of a fantasy film. It sits among the rocks like it grew there, a million years ago or more. Sheer cliffs fall away on all sides, leading down to the dark waters of the Irish Sea. The only access is by a single, narrow bridge, connecting the fortress to civilisation.

Photo Kenneth Allen
In fact, the place looks so much like a film set that it became one, in 2003's "The Medallion" with Jackie Chan. The band Led Zeppelin also obviously appreciated the castle, as they put its picture inside the artwork for their multi-million selling album, Houses of the Holy.

The ruins of Dunluce Castle
Photo bea y fredi
But what about Dunluce's real stories? Its early owners were the MacQuillan clan, a band of fierce warriors. They and their successors fought countless battles, but throughout its entire history the castle has only fallen a handful of times. Its location and fortifications made it nearly impregnable, doing justice to its name. "Dunluce" means "strong fort" in the Irish language.

Photo bea y fredi
The most notable conquering was by a Scottish chief called Sorley Boy. Recognising that brute force wasn't really an option, he resorted to trickery. After sneaking an accomplice inside, armed soldiers were secretly pulled in a basket up the sheer cliff face. The new ruler, who wasn't a poor man, made many improvements to his new stronghold. Most of the remaining walls and towers were Sorley Boy's work. The building materials came from the wreckage of the Girona, a damaged ship from the Spanish Armada.

Photo Shadowgate
In the 17th century Dunluce did suffer physical damage, but it wasn't caused by attacking enemies. Instead, it was a simple mix of bad architecture and bad luck. The cliff eroded so far that allegedly the entire kitchen fell into the sea, along with all the chefs and servants. Just a single boy was left behind. He was on his way to work when there was an almighty crash, and all of a sudden he was staring at the empty air where the kitchen used to be.

The cliffs around Dunluce Castle
Photo wfbakker2
Without doubt, one of the biggest surprises of Dunluce Castle is the truly spectacular sea cave that lies beneath the fortress. Known as Mermaid’s Cave, it’s almost entirely hidden from the landside apart from a small entrance hole. Once you enter this aperture, its secrets are revealed, and you find yourself in a large magical natural hallway leading all the way to the crashing sea. As the waves echo all around you, it’s easy to imagine this place being used as a vital escape route during a siege, or by smugglers.

Mermaids Cave
Photo leateds
Dunluce's final conqueror was time. It was abandoned after the kitchen incident, as the residents were too scared to live in the building. That was in 1642, and it was three long centuries until preservation work was finally begun. After such a long time the castle is now mostly in ruins. Even so, the remaining walls have an atmosphere that few places can emulate. The site is open to the public all year round.

Did You Know?

The Giants Causeway Tramway opened in 1887 an ran electric trams between Portrush and the Giant's Causeway, past Dunluce Castle. The line did not re-open after the Second World War and the line was dismantled. In 2002 part of the line was re-opened and steam trains now run between Bushmills and the Giant's Causeway, where electric trams once ran!
Photo in the public domain
Visitor Information
Dunluce Castle is open daily, 10am to 6pm (5pm in winter). Entry costs around £2 for adults, £1 children. 87 Dunluce Road, Bushmills, County Antrim, BT57 8UY. Tel: 028 207 31938

Back ~ Top ~ Home ~ Index

Pocket Britain is optimised for use on a smartphone or tablet with internet access. All content is subject to copyright. All reasonable methods have been used to ensure information supplied is accurate at the time of publication. However, it is advisable to check information before relying on it. Privacy Policy