Sitting on the headland of the North Antrim coast keeping silent watch over the sea is the imposing romantic ruin of Dunluce Castle. Once a stronghold of Anglo-Norman knights it became the power base of competing Ulster Scots clans. Home to a Plantation town it witnessed the ravages of the 1641 Rebellion and held the secret of Spanish Armada gold for centuries.

History of Dunluce Castle

The first castle at Dunluce was built in the 13th century by Richard de Burgh, 2nd Earl of Ulster. However, the ruins left today are from the 16th and 17th centuries, when Dunluce became the seat of Clan McDonnell, who overthrew their rivals, the McQuillans, who were Lords of Route.

Around 1608, Randal McDonnell, 1st Earl of Antrim, built the town of Dunluce next to the castle. It was rediscovered in 2011, having been razed to the ground in 1641, and archaeological discoveries suggest a sophisticated piece of town planning around a grid system, as well as evidence of indoor toilets, which were extremely rare at the time.

The castle has its fair share of legends, including part of the kitchen collapsing into the sea, and a resident banshee, Maeve Roe, who tried to elope with her true love but drowned in the stormy seas lurking below.

Dunluce served as the seat of the Earls of Antrim until the family’s fortunes changed following the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. As money dwindled, the castle was left to ruin – parts of it fell into the sea, whilst other stones were scavenged as building materials. Nevertheless, the site was passed down over the centuries, until it came into the part ownership of Winston Churchill through his marriage to Clementine Hozier. He gave his share of the castle to the Northern Irish government in 1928.

Since then, Dunluce has been maintained by the state. It shot to fame as the seat of House Greyjoy, the castle of Pyke, in Game of Thrones.

Dunluce is a romantic ruin today. Sitting atop the craggy rocks, with the blue sea crashing below, it truly does feel like something straight out of a film set. On a grey or stormy day, you’ll be surprised that the castle has survived this long in such a precarious position. Allow an hour or two to fully explore the ruins and soak up some of the magic.

It’s worth trying to arrive early or late – Dunluce has become increasingly popular with tour groups, and when a coachload of people arrive, something of the atmosphere is lost. It’s particularly lovely in the late afternoon: try arriving 45 minutes before closing time to soak up the last of the dregs of sun and hit golden hour.

Getting to Dunluce Castle

Dunluce is just off the A2, about 4 miles east of Portrush. There’s somewhat limited parking nearby (blame the Game of Thrones tourism boom), so if you’re feeling keen, you can walk from Portrush itself – it’s about an hour along glorious coastal paths.

Useful Links

Link 1
Link 2
Link 3