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50 things you probably never knew about Dunluce Castle

Dunluce Castle

Linda Stewart sifts fact from fiction as a new book tells the story of one of our most famous landmarks

1That story about the kitchens falling into the sea during a storm, taking seven cooks with it, seems a myth. Extensive paintings from the late 18th and early 19th centuries reveal that the end of the castle was intact then.

2 An annual fair was once held in Dunluce but was closed down due to excessive bawdiness and debauchery.

3 The castle was originally built in 1500 by the McQuillans, who came from Scotland in the 1200s as hired mercenaries, and built the castle around 200 years later.

4 The McQuillans held the castle for about 55 years before it was taken by the MacDonnells, who came over from Islay in 1554. They still own the castle, but now live in Glenarm.

5 Dunluce was taken by force from the McQuillans by Sorley Boy McDonnell after the Battle of Orla in 1565. It’s said the McDonnells covered a bog with rushes and stationed a few men on firm ground, fooling the McQuillans into charging into the bog.

6 Over a 100-year period, the castle was besieged on numerous occasions by the English.

7 Gary Moore's 1989 album After The War features an instrumental titled Dunluce.

8 After their expulsion, the MacDonnells frequently besieged the castle. Finally, their forces scaled the cliff, climbed into the corner towers and hanged the English captain. His ghost is said to haunt a tower.

9 The castle also has links to the Girona, the Spanish Armada ship that foundered by the Giant’s Causeway. Sorley Boy MacDonnell retrieved the cannons from the shipwreck and mounted them in the castle.

10 The castle was once owned by Winston Churchill (below). It passed into the ownership of the Churchill family as a result of inter-marriage.

11 While the Plantation of Ulster was going on, the MacDonnells were allowed to effectively carry out their own private plantation, bringing Scottish settlers over to found the trading town of Dunluce.

12 The town, designed to rival Coleraine, was a cosmopolitan one, with Scottish, Irish, English and Welsh residents, along with Continentals.

13 The settlement was doomed to failure — with no port that could be used for trading, it could not have survived for long.

14 Excavations carried out over the past five years have discovered a cobbled street stretching through the town towards the castle, with a blacksmith’s forge. Horseshoes lay by the anvil and a chisel had been left by the forge.

15 There were plenty of signs of wealth and luxury in the town remains, including coins from the days of Elizabeth I and Charles I, bone combs, dress fastenings, thimbles and gaming pieces.

16 The archaeologists also found a wine glass stem.

17 A bronze tuning pin used to tune harps was found, too, suggesting musicians were travelling there to amuse the residents.

18 The castle was visited by martial arts star Jackie Chan (right) during filming of his 2003 comedy The Medallion.

19 The dig uncovered a Scottish merchant’s house, built in the first two decades of the 17th century, fronting onto the cobbled streets. The walls survive to waist height with plastered walls, an internal privy and a fireplace.

20 A 16th century Polish coin, kept as a token by the merchants, provides a reminder of the Scottish migrations to Poland.

21 The town also held a courthouse and a dungeon.

22 An early soutterain has been discovered — a passage dating back to 1,500 years ago. It is the site’s earliest known occupation.

23 The castle had its own gallows.

24 No-one knows what the original name means. ‘Dunluce’ translates as ‘fort of the fort’, but the meaning of the earlier name ‘Dunliphis’ is a mystery.

25 The castle is perched high on sheer basalt cliffs and approached by a bridge. The spectacular Mermaid’s Cave is a huge cavern 25 metres below the castle.

26 Maeve Roe, the only daughter of Lord McQuillan of Dunluce, was imprisoned in the north-eastern tower by her father after refusing to take Rory Og as her husband. On a wild and stormy night, she and her true love, Reginald O’Cahan, fled to the Mermaid’s Cave beneath the castle and set off by rowing boat but were dashed against cliffs. Maeve’s ghost still sweeps her prison tower.

27 Sorley Boy MacDonnell’s son Randal and his countess frequented the royal court in London and filled the castle with riches including curtains from Cardinal Wolsey and chairs of State.

28 The countess is credited with establishing St Cuthbert's Church near the castle. It was originally thatched and the signs of the zodiac were painted on the ceiling plaster.

29 St Cuthbert’s was the only church in Ireland with that name and is thought to be linked to the cult in Northumbria. St Cuthbert’s in Bushmills takes its name from the Dunluce church.

30 The MacDonnells became impoverished after the 1690 Battle of the Boyne, when they had taken the side of James II. They abandoned Dunluce Castle.

31 On a clear day you can see across the sea to Islay.

32 The castle appeared on the artwork of Led Zeppelin’s 1973 LP Houses Of The Holy.

33 I t is reputed to be the inspiration behind the royal castle of Cair Paravel in Ulster-born writer CS Lewis’s Narnia stories.

34 The castle doubles as the looming reaver stronghold of Pyke on the Iron Islands in TV series Game Of Thrones

35 Dunluce also featured in the film Your Highness.

36 A medieval hall was found within the castle.

37 General Munro arrested and imprisoned the Earl in 1642 and ransacked the castle, which was reoccupied by the Earl after 1666. One of his visitors was Oliver Plunkett, Archbishop of Armagh, who was later beheaded.

38 An O’Cahan from Dunseverick came to town to attend Mass but went drinking instead. He had consumed three or four bottles when he heard the town was going to be attacked by Scottish covenanters, whereupon he ran to the castle, seized the key, locked himself in and refused to open the gates for two days.

39 The covenanters were nowhere to be seen — they were in Bushmills.

40 The castle was later attacked for real by Scottish forces in 1642, but they were unable to gain entry. Two soldiers took umbrage at this failure and burned down the village.

41 That effectively marked the end of the town of Dunluce. For years the remains lay buried under a green field until archaeologists began digging it up five years ago.

42 Scottish settlers were buried in the local graveyard and their names can still be seen inscribed there.

43 Mills operated in Dunluce in the 13th century.

44 Dunluce also boasts a waterfall to the west, which few visitors have seen recently.

45 Victims of the Girona sinking are said to have been buried in St Cuthbert’s graveyard.

46 Conservation work began in 1928, the same year the castle came under State care.

47 During World War Two, the site was occasionally used as a lookout to monitor shipping.

48 One of the first BBC outside broadcasts in Northern Ireland came from Dunluce Castle in the early 1970s.

49 Dunluce has a potato named after it. The seed potatoes were first bred by Jack Clarke in 1976. Dunluce potatoes are round to oval in shape, eyes shallow and skin and flesh white.

50 A number of poems have been written about Dunluce, including this by Edward Lear: “There was an old man of Dunluce, who went out to sea on a goose. When he’d gone out a mile, he observed with a smile, it is time to return to Dunluce.”

Dunluce Castle, History And Archaeology, by Colin Breen, is launched today by Environment Minister Alex Attwood

Belfast Telegraph