Dunlus Castle, history of ruins and detailed description

History of Dunlus Castle

The history of the Strong Fortress (Dunlus Castle in Irish) goes back to the 13th century when a fortified castle was built on the basalt rock on the orders of Richard de Bourgh, Earl of Ulster. Nature herself gave the castle reliable protection: powerful cold sea waves had washed deep precipices on the sides of the rock over many millennia; the small arched passage connected the rock to the land, and only the most desperate adversary could risk to attack the castle from the sea. A complex system of underground tunnels and caves at the base of the cliff testifies that shelters and forts existed on the site of Dunlus Castle in the era of early Irish history. Under one of the towers of the castle researchers found an underground passage dating back to the 6th-7th centuries.

Unfortunately, the early medieval buildings and the castle, built under Richard de Bourgh, have not survived. The main part of the castle complex, or rather the ruins that remain of it, are constructions of the 16th-17th centuries when the castle was one of the residences of the clan MacDonnell, descended from the famous Scottish clan MacDonald. The earliest surviving structures of Dunlus Castle are thought to be the two towers at the eastern end of the castle grounds, which were erected in the late 14th or early 15th century, when the castle was in the hands of the McQuillan clan. This powerful clan owned the castle for several centuries, its representatives were the lords of Ruth, the northern part of County Antrim, and loyal vassals to the Earls of Ulster. The first written mention that Dunlus Castle belonged to the McQuillan family dates from 1513.

In 1544, the daughter of the head of the McQuillan clan, Evelyn married Colla of the McDonnell clan, starting a new page in the history of Dunlus Castle. After the death of Colla MacDonnell, the McQuillan clan set out to regain their former possession, especially since the castle was an important defensive site for the county of Antrim. But Colla’s younger brother, Sorley Boy MacDonnell, intervened and seized Dunlus Castle, where for several years he had scored a crushing victory over the MacQuillans and successfully defended against the English. Several times the castle was seized by the enemy, but Sorley Boy still recaptured it.

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Another confrontation unfolded at the castle walls in 1584, when Dunlus, on the orders of Queen Elizabeth I, was taken by storm by English troops under the command of the Lord Governor of Southern Ireland, John Perrot. But ironically, a secret ally of Sorley Boy’s was put in charge of hiring soldiers to garrison the castle, so soon Dunlus Castle was returned effortlessly to the MacDonnells. A couple of years later, Sorley Boy eventually swore allegiance to the Queen of England at Dublin Castle, was formally appointed commandant of Dunlus Castle, and was given hereditary rights to the lands in the Ruth region, between the rivers Bunn and Bush. The battle-worn castle was in need of repair, which Sorley Boy undertook after his return from Dublin.

The rebuilding of the castle in the Scottish baronial style lasted several years and was completed under Sorley Boy’s son, Randall MacDonnell. After King Jacob VI of Scotland came to power, in 1603 Randall was granted the title of Earl of Antrim, to which the vast northern part of Ulster was subordinated. During this period, the settlement of Ulster by English and Scottish settlers began apace to prevent possible rebellion on the part of the Irish. Randall MacDonnell also became the founder of a new town for the Scots near his Dunlus Castle. In 1645 Randall’s heir, also named Randall MacDonnell, received the title of the first Marquis of Antrim. Under this member of the clan, remodeling was again begun at the castle to create luxurious and comfortable accommodations for the marquis’s wife, Catherine Manners, who had been married to the Duke of Buckingham prior to that marriage.

During the Glorious Revolution, the McDonnell clan sided with King James II, and after his overthrow was deprived of many of its powers and land holdings. At the end of the 17th century, Dunlus Castle was abandoned by its owners, who were on the verge of impoverishment and could no longer provide the ancient structure with proper care. For several centuries the walls of the once majestic castle were destroyed by bad weather and the locals dismantled it stone by stone for construction needs. Only in 1928 the ruined castle received the status of a historical monument and was taken under protection of the state. The castle became world famous in 1973 when its photo was chosen for the inside cover of the Led Zeppelin album which sold out in millions.

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Dunlus Castle

Dunlus Castle is a treasure of Ireland, located in County Antrim, this landmark (ruins) attracts connoisseurs of ancient architecture and legends.

Dunlus Castle had an advantageous location. It was surrounded on all sides by steep cliffs. To get here from the mainland was possible by lifting bridge. Today you can judge about the former greatness of the fortress by its ruins. Archaeologists have an exact idea of what Danlus was more than four centuries ago thanks to the materials found.

Today the fortress has been under the care of the local Environmental Protection Agency since the beginning of the 20th century.

It is worth remembering “The Chronicles of Narnia” – Cair Paravel Castle has a lot in common with Danlus. Poems (it is mentioned in the poetic works of Edward Lear) and songs (by the Irish Rovers folk singers) have been composed about the castle. The fact that Led Zeppelin posted a photo inside their million-selling CD also contributed to the growing popularity of Dunluce among tourists. Images of the picturesque ruins can be seen in one of Jackie Chan’s movies, and the Pike Fortress in the Game of Thrones series was based on the architectural features of Dunlus.

The castle is not far from the famous Giant’s Trail. Even today, the ruins of the castle that once terrified the enemy look imposing. The two round towers are best preserved, and you can try to imagine what the castle itself looked like from the fragments that time and vandals failed to destroy.

Engraving by William Miller

History of Dunluce

An underground passage was discovered under the rocky bedrock on which Danlus is located. According to experts, it is at least a thousand and a half years old. This fact suggests that the local defensive fortifications existed here long before the “Strong Fortress” (as the name of the castle is translated from Irish).

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Dunlus was built under the Earl of Ulster – Richard de Bourgh in the 13th century. Ruins built in the 16th-17th centuries have survived, although two round towers belong to an earlier period.

Among the families who owned these lands at different times, the McQuill’s and McDonnell’s left the most significant mark. The history of the relationship between their heirs was ambiguous: they feuded, united to fight the impending threat (English attacks) and betrayed each other. The walls of the fortress have withstood many sieges during feuds.

When the land was owned by the Scottish Earl of Sorley Boy, the castle’s interior aroused the envy of the owners of neighboring lands. But Sorley Boy left his mark in the centuries not only as a lover of luxury, but also as a cruel man. The fortress was seized several times, but he regained his lands with artillery. Incidentally, the lord was honored as constable of the castle, and his son was the first earl of Antrim.

The tragic demise befell not only the nobles who once lived here. In the first half of the 17th century the kitchen collapsed into the sea. It was not without victims – several servants died. According to the locals, from time to time books are out of place and radios suddenly turn on by themselves. Who knows, perhaps it is the restless souls of the kitchen staff.

The legend of unhappy lovers is not without its twists and turns. The heiress of the McQuillan family flatly refused to marry her father’s chosen groom. Maeve Roe (that was the girl’s name) was already taken, and she did not want to live the rest of her life with an unloved, albeit rich, man. For disobeying her father’s will, the lord imprisoned her in a tower. This was no obstacle to true feelings – the lovers managed to escape. But, unfortunately, the boat in which they were sailing through the cave beneath the castle rock capsized because of a raging storm. Now the moans of Maeve’s ghost, who never became happy in life, are heard from time to time from that ill-fated tower.

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Next to the castle complex are the ruins of a church – it was here, in the mid-19th century, a ship on its way from Quebec crashed on the rocks. This tragedy took the lives of more than 200 people.

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