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Unearthed: 17th century shopping centre that drew the bargain-hunters to Dunluce


Dunluce Castle on the north Antrim coast

Dunluce Castle on the north Antrim coast

Justin Kernoghan

Dunluce Castle on the north Antrim coast

A trove of 17th century treasure has been uncovered which sheds new light on how people once shopped in the lost town of Dunluce.

The settlement near the north coast castle’s walls was once destined to be the region’s great commercial centre — but fell into decline after the 1641 Rebellion.

Archaeologists have spent the last few summers excavating what appeared to be a peaceful field topping the rugged cliffs of Dunluce, only to uncover a settlement that was once a hub of trade and a byword for fine living.

Last summer they also discovered the remains of a medieval hall in the castle, which could well date back to the days of the Gaelic McQuillans, who were pushed out in the 1550s by the McDonalds.

The nearby town was established by Randal McDonald in 1607/8 and settled exclusively by merchants from Scotland.

Bone combs, dress fastenings, decorated thimbles, buckles and pieces from 17th century board games were found, plus part of a wine glass and coins from the days of Elizabeth I and Charles I.

Northern Ireland Environment Agency archaeologist Rhonda Robinson said: “There was even a bronze tuning pin that seems to have been used to tune harps, so it looks like musicians were coming in to amuse the people. They were living a good life.”

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More details will be revealed at a free lunchtime talk at Waterman House in Belfast at 1pm on March 4.

More information on upcoming talks can be found at www.wonderfulni.info or call 028 9054 3159.

Some artefacts will go on display at Easter when Dunluce Castle launches its Archaeology Room — details will be posted on www.ni-environment.gov.uk.


Randal McDonald had established an unofficial Plantation town at Dunluce by 1611. The foundations of a Scottish merchant’s house built in the first two decades of the 17th century were uncovered, fronting onto the very well preserved cobbled surface of a wide street.

The walls of |the house still survive to waist height, with plastered walls, an internal privy and a fireplace. Numerous finds of bone and pottery provide |valuable insights into the lives of these Plantation period people while |a 16th century Polish coin, kept as a token by the merchants, provided |an interesting reminder of earlier Scottish migrations to Poland.

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