Northern Ireland, despite the changeable weather, is a fantastic place to explore. The area’s biggest attractions are the famous Northern Ireland castles. Today’s blog introduces you to some of my favourites including Carrickfergus Castle, Belfast Castle and Dunluce Castle.
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The Best Northern Ireland Castles
Carrickfergus castle is in the town of Carrickfergus in County Antrim at the mouth of the River Farset. It was built by John de Courcy around 1200 AD and has also been known as John’s Castle, Chateau de la Roche, and Henrician Castle.
The remains were scheduled in 1968 and it is now managed by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency.
It is open to the public all year round but only on one day a year when a medieval banquet is held. The two towers are 20 meters high with walls 3 meters thick. The walls have 18 gun-loops for archers to use.
The structure also has a great hall or banqueting hall. There is a rock cut ditch that was also part of the defenses. The castle was built with 3 walls. It is believed that King John stayed at the castle between May and September 1210.
Belfast Castle is in Belfast in County Antrim and was built by John de Courcy and completed by King Henry III of England in 1237 after he defeated John de Courcy at the Battle of Connor in County Antrim. King Edward Bruce burned the castle in 1315 but it was repaired soon after.
The castle was captured by Jacobite forces during the Battle of Antrim in 1689. Although an Anglican bishop resided there, it was surrendered to parliamentarian forces in 1690. After being largely destroyed by a great storm in 1715, it was rebuilt using stone from other castles by William Brancker who had served as governor of the castle since 1703.
The castle is open to public access 365 days a year and is a major tourist destination. It is now managed by Historic Houses Association (Northern Ireland).
Belfast Castle has 4 towers: two corner towers – one at each end of the curtain wall; and two near to the water gate – therefore giving it a quadrangular form. There are three main gateways, one of them is in excellent condition. The castle is also attached to the star shaped gardens.
The curtain walls contain 12 gun-loops. There is a double moat of 15 meters wide and 4 meters deep which separates the castle from the river Lagan. In 1790 the old keep was converted into a courthouse and in 1868 it was incorporated into the new courthouse.
There are 3 stairways within the building – 2 inside and one outside, leading to an upper court yard which contains a building known as the round tower that served as an armoury storeroom for many centuries.
The castle has suffered much damage throughout its history but has always been repaired. It is now one of the main tourist attractions in Northern Ireland and one of the most popular Northern Ireland Castles.
Dundrum castle is a Norman castle built by John de Courcy around 1180 AD. It is located on high ground near Kilmegan, Newry and Dundrum townlands are not named after the castle but the opposite, the name of the townland was changed from Dún Dubhda to Dundrum due to its location close to the castle.
It was damaged during English invasions in 1315 and rebuilt shortly after that date. A1641 survey recorded it as having 3 storeys with 1 projecting round tower and a stone vaulted hall containing 2 fireplaces.
The castle had been occupied until the 17th or 18th century by the Magennises who were in turn succeeded by William Dowdall. The ruins stood until the 1820s when they were blown up to make way for a hunting lodge built to the designs of William Baker.
The remains are now managed by the National Monuments Service and open to public access from sunrise till sunset everyday except Christmas Day. There are ruins of towers, curtain wall, and staircase with 2 chambers; there is also a fine example of a dovecot. In 2010 it was announced that a new archaeological survey would be carried out in order to try to find out more about the extent of surviving structures on site and their history. The castle is said to be haunted.
Ballylough Castle is in the townlands of Ballylough and Ballylig and it was built by the Magennis family in about 1100 AD. It was probably a motte-and-bailey fortification until c. 1315 when it was rebuilt. A 1750 map records the tower as having 2 storeys, towered 4 meters high, and a vaulted basement with 2 windows, all with 5 corbel brackets at the top of each side. The castle is now managed by Historic Houses Association (Northern Ireland).
The curtain wall features 18 gun-loops with holes for archers to use when defending against attack. There is a double moat about 15 meters wide.
The castle was built on the site of an early Christian settlement that was previously known as Domnach Lochy. It has been a protected structure since the 19th century when it became known as Ballylough Castle and House.
Ballylough Castle has 2 towers: one at each end of the curtain wall. The curtain wall also features 16 gun-loops for archers to use when defending against attack. There is a double moat, 15 meters wide and 4 meters deep surrounding the castle that separates it from the river Boyne.
Killyleagh Castle Towers
Killyleagh Castle was built by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1596. Originally built as a hunting lodge, it is now open to public sightings all year round. The site is managed by Historic Houses Association (Northern Ireland).
It is situated on the shores of the River Blackwater about 3 miles outside Killyleagh on the Ballynahinch Road. The walls of the castle are about 16 feet thick and 9 feet high. It has two square round towers: one at each end of a curtain wall that has gun-loops for defending against attack. The round towers have open, octagonal roofs. The castle is now managed by The National Trust.
Kilwaughter Castle is in the townland of Kilwaughter and it was built by Sir Edward Hamilton in 1605. It was declared a building of national importance in 1923 and is now managed by the National Trust along with Carrickfergus Castle. However, neither castle is open to public access after dark at present.
The ruins are situated on a site that has been a royal residence since 1086 and were previously known as Ballymacwardan or Domnagh-wardan meaning “God’s ward”. This refers to a chapel that had been erected by Saint Ciarán at the time of the Vikings and was built on the site of an earlier Christian settlement.
The construction of a new castle, on this site, commenced in 1605 and Sir Edward Hamilton named it Kilwaughter after his wife Elizabeth.
Killyleagh Castle is constructed on a steep hill overlooking Killyleagh Bay. The curtain wall has 18 gun-loops for archers to use when defending against attack. There is a double moat about 15 meters wide and 4 meters deep surrounding the castle that separates it from the river Boyne.
It has one gate tower with two square towers on each side of the gate tower. There is a great hall and a tower at each end of the curtain wall.
Quintin Castle is in the townlands of Garranbane, Drumadagarve, Annaghnoe and Garranbane in County Down and it was built by Sir John Bermingham in about 1342. It is now managed by the National Trust along with Kilwaughter Castle and Carrickfergus Castle. However, none of these castles are open to public access after dark and they are closed to the public for several days a year.
Quintin is a great rectangular block of stone standing on a steep rock looking out over the Lagan. The ruins are situated in a very remote area and are used as a training ground by the National Police Service Reserves.
It is located about 6 miles inland from Dundrum about 1 mile north of the coast and is an unusual feature in an otherwise plain landscape.
The castle is built in the shape of a square of about 40 by 35 meters with walls about 4 meters thick. There are 2 towers on each corner and 3 smaller towers spaced between.
The west wall has 2 gates, one at each end. There is also a secret way out through a postern gate on the east side of the castle. It’s one of the less well known Northern Ireland Castles.
Dunluce Castle is in the townland of Glenarm Upper, County Antrim and is managed by the National Trust along with Kilwaughter Castle and Carrickfergus Castle, although none are open to public access after dark.
Dunluce Castle was built by the Magennis clan in about 1170 AD. It is also known as The Ring of Dunluce. It is located in a remote area on a small peninsula about 4 miles northwest of Belfast and 3 miles southeast of Carrickfergus.
Dunluce Castle was built between 1170 and 1180 AD. It is described as a strong fortress with great stone walls, 12 meter thick. An early 12th century invasion attempt by Richard de Bruce saw the destruction of the castle by sea through its position on an island surrounded by marshes.
The original castle was rebuilt during the first half of the 13th century and had a quadrangular form with two towers at each corner. The castle is now managed by Historic Houses Association (Northern Ireland).
Dunluce Castle has one main gate tower with two towers on each side of this. It has one round tower in the centre of the curtain wall and also 3 square turrets on its corners. The walls are about 9 metres thick. The castle is now managed by Historic Houses Association (Northern Ireland).
Another one of the most famous Northern Ireland Castles is Kinbane Castle – a ruined Norman keep and it was built about 1100 AD. The site has been a royal residence since 1086 at which time it was known as Ballymacwardan or Domnagh-wardan meaning “God’s ward”. This refers to a chapel that had been erected by Saint Ciarán at the time of the Vikings and was built on the site of an earlier Christian settlement.
Kinbane Castle is situated in Portglenone, County Antrim which is on the east coast of Ireland, about 6 miles north of Belfast city centre. It was built as a stronghold by the Magennis clan in about 1100 AD.
The castle was captured in a week-long siege by the forces of Henry VIII in 1539. It was originally called Ballymacwarden after the chapel that had been built on the site by the Vikings. It has a double walled enclosure, about 20 by 15 meters, with three towers and one gate.
I hope that you have enjoyed todays blog on the best Northern Ireland Castles. If you feel we have missed any please feel free to comment below!
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