The iconic and amazing ruin of Dunluce Castle bears witness to a long and tumultuous history. First built on the dramatic coastal cliffs of north County Antrim by the MacQuillan family around 1500, the earliest written record of the castle was in 1513.
In the 16th Century when Sorley Boy McDonnell came over from Scotland to consolidate McDonnell territories in both Ireland and Scotland, his main base became Dunluce Castle. Dunluce Castle is one of the most iconic monuments in Northern Ireland situated as it is rather precariously on the craggy and treacherous Antrim coast and it provides a very important chapter in the history of the McDonnells of Antrim and North East Ulster.
Dunluce Castle still belongs to the McDonnell family, however, it is currently managed under a deed of guardianship by the Northern Irish Environment Agency.
It was seized by the ambitious MacDonnell clan in the 1550s, who set about stamping their mark on the castle under the leadership of the famous warrior chieftain Sorely Boy MacDonnell during an era of violence, intrigue, and rebellion.
In the 17th century, Dunluce was the seat of the earls of County Antrim and saw the establishment of a small town in 1608. Visitors can explore the findings of archaeological digs within the cobbled streets and stone merchants’ houses of the long-abandoned Dunluce Town.
It was Sorley Boy’s grandson, the 2nd Earl of Antrim, and his wife who finally decided to abandon Dunluce. In 1639 as they were waiting for dinner one evening the kitchen, along with kitchen staff, fell into the sea. This is thought to have been the final straw. Although the 1st Earl of Antrim had already built a fine house at Glenarm, this was burnt down in the 1640s by a Scots Covenanter army, so even though they still visited a wing of the house, the Antrim family based itself at a house near Dunluce called Ballymagarry until Glenarm Castle was rebuilt by the 5th Earl in 1756.
The dramatic history of Dunluce is matched by tales of a banshee and how the castle kitchens fell into the sea one stormy night in 1639.