Brooding, intriguing, and romantic are some of the words used to describe Dunluce Castle along the Antrim coast of Northern Ireland. Perched atop a rocky crag overlooking the North Atlantic, it is an iconic site known more for ghosts and folklore, than for its place in history as a stronghold of the middle ages. Once occupied by early Christians and Vikings, the castle was built in the 13th century and then rebuilt between the 14th and 16th centuries. Archeological excavations reveal it was once adjoined by a thriving town, one that boasted state-of-the-art innovations such as indoor plumbing and a grid-based street plan. These achievements proved to be short-lived however, when the town was leveled by warfare and fire in 1641.
Stories associated with Dunluce Castle seem to maintain the theme of tragedy and—as is often the case in the Emerald Isle—history and folklore are captured in equal measure. They tell of lost treasure hidden in caves below the castle; of a lost soldier taken into the sea and drowned by a beautiful mermaid; of executions by hanging from the Southeast tower; and of a nobleman’s daughter locked away in the Northeast tower, then rescued by her true love, only to perish when her mode of escape, a boat, smashed against the cliffs. (Of this latter legend, some say the woman, referred to as the Banshee of Dunluce Castle, can be heard crying in the ruins at night.)
Other notes of interest:
* Irish-born C.S. Lewis was so inspired by Dunluce Castle that he fashioned his Narnia kingdom Cair Paravel after it—this, the mythical land from which four siblings Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy Pevensie ruled.
* Game of Thrones fans will have glimpsed a castle strikingly similar to that of Dunlace—in the form of “The House of Greyjoy, ruler of the Iron Islands”.
* Soldiers and noblemen of the ill-fated Spanish Armada met their demise when the ship Gerona wrecked off the coast near Dunluce. Many of these Spaniards were buried in nearby St. Cuthbert’s Church—just as the canons from their ship were confiscated and installed in the castle.
* During World War II, neutral Ireland monitored ship traffic to and from Great Britain from a lookout at Dunluce Castle.
Perhaps the most famous story of all is the one tied to the castle’s ruin… In the winter of 1639, harsh weather battered the castle walls as regal inhabitants entertained guests with a large banquet. Amid the flurry of activity and the fury of the wind, the entire sea-facing kitchen collapsed, sending all but one of the household servants to a watery grave. All domestic living in the castle ceased from that day forward.
Visitors: A stop at Dunluce is best combined with exploration of other sites along Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coastal Route, which includes the spectacular Giant’s Causeway to the east. (See my separate post on Giant’s Causeway).