The iconic ruins of Dunluce Castle are poised on the edge of a rocky outcrop overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, not far from the Giant’s Causeway. Through heavy computer generated imagery (CGI), Dunluce Castle became the House of Greyjoy’s Castle of Pyke in “Game of Thrones”, and is also said to be the inspiration for the great castle Cair Paravel in CS Lewis’ “The Chronicles of Narnia”. The castle certainly has a magical air.
Visiting Dunluce Castle
- Parking: there is a small free car parking area
- Opening Times: February to November – 9:30am – 5pm; December to January – 9:30am to 4pm. Note that the gate to explore the lower shore area underneath the castle closes about one hour before the official closing time.
- Entry charge: Adults – £6, children (aged 5-17) – £4, families – £18.00. Other concessions. Buy tickets at the castle. Entry to the lower area is free.
Most people drive to the castle, stop in the car park to get their photo of the iconic castle before driving on. However, it really is worth taking the time out to explore the castle – it won’t take more than an hour and entry at £6 (adult) won’t break the bank.
There is no need to prebook, you can show up and purchase your ticket on entry. The small ticket office also serves as a gift shop and has some display boards explaining some of the history of Dunluce which will help set the scene and bring the ruins alive. In addition, there is a short looping video show in a separate building and again, it is really worth watching the video before beginning your exploration of the castle.
After watching the video you can take a walk around the upper castle area which includes what was a sumptuous lodging area for guests. Head down the lawn towards the bridge, originally a drawbridge, to the main house and castle. Information boards help you navigate the area.
Visiting the lower grounds (free)
If you have time and can cope with climbing lots of stairs and rough terrain you could explore the area below the castle. Entry is through a gate outside the castle and this area is in fact free to visit. A small cave beneath the castle leads to the huge Mermaid’s Cavern but entry is forbidden because it is dangerous with falling rocks, etc. We can presume that this is how Maeve met her lover and escaped her father – see point 5 below.
Dunluce history & legends
- Dunluce appears in the records some 800 years ago as‘Dundelipsi’
- While the castle is relatively ‘modern’, there were people living on this site 1,500 years ago.
- The castle ruins we see today were largely built in phases between the 15th and 17th centuries. The MacQuillans built their castle in the 1470s. Subsequently, the MacDonnells who had worked for the MacQuillans as mercenaries, took power from the MacQuillans and in due course added the grander elements such as the manor house.
- The story of the struggles, betrayals and alliances between the rival clans of Ulster – the McQuillans, the O’Neills, the McDonnells, the O’Donnells and the O’Cahans – is more dramatic than Game of Thrones, but without the dragons. As you visit sites along the Causeway Coast you will see these names mentioned again and again.
- A sad tale related to the MacQuillans’ time tells of Maeve, ‘the sweeper of Dunluce, and the Banshee of the Macquillains’. The short version of the story goes that in the 15th century the Lord MacQuillan’s daughter Maeve was forbidden to marry the man she loved and was locked away in the North East tower. However one stormy night she escaped to meet her lover in the Mermaid Cave beneath the castle. The couple sailed away but perished at sea within sight of the castle, and her father. It is said that she haunts the castle still. You can read the more detailed version of the story here.
- In 1584 the castle was captured from the MacDonnells by English forces but the then resident MacDonnell, Sorley Boy, retreated to Scotland and returned with reinforcements to successfully retake the castle by climbing the cliffs.
- The MacDonnells also built the neighboring ‘lost’ plantation town of Dunluce in 1608 to bring in Scottish settlers of their own and exploit the sea trade between Ulster and Scotland. The town was burnt to the ground in the Irish Uprising of 1641 and while it was used for country fairs for a few centuries, it eventually became lost and was only recently rediscovered in 2011.
- Although in the care of the Environment Agency of Northern Ireland, Dunluce is still owned by the MacDonnells, the family of the Earl of Antrim, now based in Glenarm.
- The MacDonnells also built or acquired the nearby Kinbane and Dunseverick castles, as well the Red Bay Castle near Cushendall.
- A local story claims that part of the kitchen collapsed into the sea with only the kitchen boy surviving as he was sitting in a corner of the kitchen which did not collapse. However, although the kitchen is in ruins, there is no part of it that has collapsed into the sea.