Castles in Northern Ireland reflect a rich history. Much of their architecture reflects Norman and Gaelic influence, while recent history has incorporated English influence. Many of these vehemoths are situated on Northern Ireland’s stunning coastline, a symbol of protection throughout the centuries. Several of these icons of Irish history are in crumbling ruins, while some are being meticulously maintained. A trip to Northern Ireland wouldn’t be complete without visiting its castles.
In 1177, Carrickfergus Castle was built on the northern shore of Belfast Lough, formerly known as Carrickfergus Bay. The castle was continuously garrisoned for 750 years, protecting the nearby town of Carrickfergus. During that time, it served as a prison, a magazine, and an armory. In 1928, the British Army turned this historic Norman monument over to the Northern Ireland Environment Agency. Today, visitors can browse? Historical displays, including a collection of cannons from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. The castle used to be almost entirely surrounded by the sea, but a land reclamation project in the town of Carrickfergus resulted in only one-third of its walls bordered by water today. Carrickfergus Castle is considered one of the most popular castles in Northern Ireland.
The first buildings of Dunluce Castle were built in the early 13th century on a basalt outcropping in County Antrim. While its walls stand in ruins today, its strategic coastal position with strategically placed steep drops on both sides proved valuable during its history. Dunluce Castle served as the seat of the Earl of Antrim until the late 17th century. Legend says part of the castle’s kitchen simply fell away when part of the outcropping collapsed into the sea. Since then, it has been abandoned, parts looted for building materials. Recent archeological excavations around the castle have uncovered remnants of the town of Dunluce, destroyed in in 1641. These findings suggest Dunluce contained a highly developed grid system, including streets and a sewer system. The castle is located not far from the Giant's Causeway.
Perhaps the best views of Belfast and Belfast Lough are from Belfast Castle, situated 400 feet above sea level on the slopes of Cavehill Country Park. Today’s existing Belfast Castle is not the original, however. The first Belfast Castle was situated in Belfast’s city center, serving as the residence of Sir Arthur Chichester. When this structure burned to the ground in 1708, the Chichester family decided to rebuild outside the city limits. After a great deal of time and financial difficulty, Belfast Castle was finally completed in Scottish Baronial style and presented to the city in 1934. The castle was refurbished and reopened in late twentieth century. Today, the castle offers a visitor’s center where you can view and purchase items reflecting the country's rich history, an antiques shop, a restaurant, and private rental space.
Harry Avery’s Castle
Harry Avery’s Castle Image: Kenneth Allen (wikipedia)
Harry Avery’s Castle, located half a mile southwest of Newtownstewart in County Tyrone, is known for its Gaelic architecture. Built in the 14th century, Harry Avery’s Castle was once a two-story rectangle structure fronted by two prominent D-shaped towers. This castle is believed to be named after Henry Aimbreidh O’Neill, a local chief of the clan thought to have built this structure. After capture by the English in 1609, the castle was looted for building materials. While Harry Avery’s Castle is now considered a State Care Historic Monument, it is one of the many castles in Northern Ireland that sits in ruins. Today, only the two towers remain in the middle of a field, freely accessible to visitors. The area also offers stunning views of the surrounding countryside.