“Was Game of Thrones filmed there?” asked an American tourist as our bus passed Dunluce Castle. “Yep” replied the driver. Mind you, he did seem to confirm that just about everywhere along the Antrim Coast appeared in Game of Thrones. Never having seen the show, it made me think I must be missing a dimension to our journey through Northern Ireland.
Perched on a cliff edge on the north coast of Ireland, Dunluce couldn’t have a more dramatic setting. It was built in the 15th century by the MacQuillans who were Lords of the local area. The castle and its lands were later taken over by the MacDonnell clan, who had originally been brought over from Islay in Scotland to fight for the MacQuillans. A village was built to encourage Scottish and Irish subjects to come and serve the Lord in the castle. Houses in the village were pretty high spec for the day. The most amazing fact in my opinion is that they contained indoor toilets, hundreds of years before they became commonplace and believed to be the first in Ireland. They must have been desperate to attract people to live there.
We arrived by bus, straight from the Giant’s Causeway. It was a warm summer day (by Irish standards) and first on the agenda was to call at the cafe for liquid refreshment. After that, my daughter and I walked down a path below the castle to explore a haunted cave. It is believed to contain the banshee of Lord MacQuillan’s daughter who was drowned there while trying to leave in a boat. We peered into the cave and saw the waves lapping on the rocks inside. Unfortunately, we were not allowed in to avoid any risk of us becoming banshees ourselves. We did, however, see a man rescuing a wounded seagull, or at least throwing it over a fence where he assured us it would be safer. Just an everyday occurrence, I suppose.
Climbing back up, we entered the castle across a bridge. We walked into a Jacobean Manor House, the centrepiece of the fortress added by Randall MacDonnell in 1620. This is flanked by 2 towers, on the north east and south east sides of the castle. F had fun doing her damsel in distress act, peering out of a window in the north east tower. Come to think of it, it’s rumoured the banshee does exactly the same when she’s not haunting the cave. The pic below though is most definitely F. For my part, I explored the ruins and admired the coastal views.
At some point, we came across S who had been exploring and photographing this captivating place on her own. We all retired to an exhibition space where there were hands on activities for children. An invasion by a hoard of scouts cut short this part of our visit and we decided to call it a day as a bus was due soon.
There are various theories as to why the site was abandoned. Coastal erosion is said to have sent part of the kitchen into the sea, but this account has been recently disputed by archaeologists. The village was certainly ransacked at least once as there was regular conflict with rival families. It ceased to be the main residence of the MacDonnells at the end of the 17th century. The family moved on to Glenarm Castle, where they still live today.
Despite being abandoned, an annual fair was held at Dunluce right up until the 19th century. Of course, the castle has been in regular use again recently. Those Game of Thrones fans know it as the House of Greyjoy.
Dunluce Castle is on the North Antrim Coast of Northern Ireland, about 3 miles east of Portrush
The castle is on the A2 coast road that runs between Londonderry (aka Derry) and Belfast. The nearest train station is Portrush, which has mainline connections at Coleraine. The 402 Causeway Rambler bus connects Dunluce with Coleraine, Portrush, Giant’s Causeway and Ballycastle. For airport information, please refer to my blog on Portrush
Accommodation and Food
There is a cafe just outside the castle entrance. There are plenty of accommodation options at nearby Portrush and Bushmills. For further information on accommodation in the area, click here
Click the link for further information on Dunluce Castle