The mighty Carrickfergus Castle is arguably one of the best known castles in Ireland.
Most recently thanks to it featuring in several Irish songs along with a tune from Ed Sheeran which has racked up millions of listens online.
The Normans built us some fantastic castles in Northern Ireland, and Carrickfergus Castle is one of the most impressive.
Unlike many scattered around the country in various states of ruin, this one is a working, well-preserved testament to our past. You’ll find everything you need to know below.
Some quick need-to-knows about Carrickfergus Castle
Although a visit to Carrickfergus Castle is fairly straightforward, there are a few need-to-knows that’ll make your visit that bit more enjoyable.
I wish I was in Carrickfergus – the opening line to one of the more popular Irish songs. The castle is located, unsurprisingly enough, in Carrickfergus, a 15-minute drive from The Gobbins and 25 minutes from both Belfast Castle and Cavehill Country Park.
2. Opening hours
The castle is open to the public daily for half-hour tours. From Easter to September, it opens at 10 am and closes at 6pm. It opens at 10 am with last entry at 3.30 pm and closes at 4 pm from October to Easter.
3. Ticket prices
A range of admission prices makes visiting affordable for everyone. Starting at £5.50 for adults, children and seniors pay £3.50, as do students and benefit claimants. Children under 4 go free.
4. Game of Thrones
We get messages constantly asking ‘Is Carrickfergus Castle in Game of Thrones?’ Nope, it wasn’t, however, it’s a short drive from some of the most popular Game of Thrones filming locations in Ireland.
Carrickfergus Castle history
John de Courcy built Carrickfergus Castle in the late 12th Century and held it until 1204 when he lost it in battle with Hugh de Lacy, who in turn lost it to King John in 1210.
The castle was protected from the sea by a polygonal curtain wall built to a great height, but since King John’s soldiers could scale the castle at low tide from the eastern side, another higher wall was built in 1217.
Battles, battles and more battles
A portcullis (a forbidding gate usually spiked and dropped to block a gateway) was also added in 1250. The castle was held by the English until 1928, when it passed to the Local Government to be used as a historical site.
In the intervening centuries, it was attacked at various times by the French, locals and Scots. Notably, King William of Orange landed there on his way to the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.
During the Napoleonic wars, it was used as a prison, and WW1 saw it used as an armory and garrison, while it was an air-raid shelter during the Second World War.
Of course, no Irish castle would be complete without a ghost, and Carrickfergus Castle has a tragic miscarriage of justice behind its haunting. A love triangle between a solder called Robert Rainey, a girl, called Betsy Baird and the castle constable’s brother.
Robert Rainey attacked his rival and left him for dead, but the man was able to tell who attacked him. Unfortunately, he gave the wrong name, and another soldier, Timothy Lavery, was charged with murder and hanged.
Before he was executed, he swore he would haunt the castle forever. It’s said his ghost is often to be seen in the basement, his favourite place.
The Carrickfergus Castle tour
The castle is laid out to captivate children’s imagination. The scene is set from the outside with models looking out the windows or keeping guard.
Guided tours conducted by knowledgeable local guides are available to pre-book, or you can take your time and use the information boards to explore the castle at your leisure. Information booklets and maps are available at the Visitor Centre.
Murder most foul
The fun begins at the gateway, where you see the ‘murder hole’ in the ceiling. Inhabitants and soldiers would pour boiling oil or scalding water, fire arrows, throw rocks or hot sand down on intruders. The children can climb the cannon scattered around the castle and see what a medieval dining room looked like – the banqueting hall.
If you’re visiting during school holidays, there may be craft workshops in the Keep where the children can make a crown or a keyring. Once they’re crowned, they can climb to the top of the castle to oversee their Kingdom. On a clear day, the views are wonderful.
3D Immersive experience
The best bit about the tour is the immersive D3 experience. Using an App, visitors can point it at a cannon and watch as it fires on a vessel out at sea. In the Keep, you can point the app, and the bricks crumble away, revealing life during various periods of the castle’s history. The final attraction is outside the castle. Walk along a wooden pier that’s no longer there as you see the transformation of the castle through the centuries.
Things to do near Carrickfergus Castle
One of the beauties of Carrickfergus Castle is that it’s a short spin away from many of the best things to do in Belfast.
Below, you’ll find a handful of things to see and do a stone’s throw from Carrickfergus (plus places to eat and where to grab a post-adventure pint!).
1. Woodburn Forest (10-minute drive)
Woodburn Forest is a reservoir catchment containing a descending chain of Victorian reservoirs and an ancient roadway that ran through the Knockagh Escarpment to Carrickfergus. It’s located in the hills above Carrickfergus and has many trails to explore with great views. The longest walk takes about 4 hours.
2. Jordanstown Loughshore Park (10-minute drive)
If you’re taking a trip along the Antrim Coast, your first stop will be at Jordanstown Loughshore Park on the shores of Belfast Lough. The Park attracts visitors from all over Ireland, and the bandstand with its wonderful sculptures is a firm favourite. A playground for the children and a gym for you will keep, or get, you fit.
3. The Gobbins Cliff Path (15-minute drive)
Still on the Coastal Causeway, the Gobbins Cliff Path tour is not for the faint-hearted. Crossing high above the Irish Sea, you will get to view some unforgettable scenery. Allow 4 hours and swap stories over coffee at the café later.
4. Belfast City (25-minute drive)
FAQs about the various Carrickfergus Castle facts
We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from how much are the Carrickfergus Castle ticket prices to when does it open.
In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.
Is Carrickfergus Castle in Game of Thrones?
No, it wasn’t. For some reason, though, many people believe it was. It is, however, close to several locations that were used during filming (see above).
What is Carrickfergus Castle famous for?
The 800+ year-old Carrickfergus Castle boasts a wealth of history. It was the scene of many battles and, aside from its historical significant, it’s arguably most famous for its ghost.
Norah is a writer and self-publisher of fiction and non-fiction. She adores the excitement of unknown places and together with several locations in Ireland, has, over 21 years, made her home in London, The Hague and New Zealand, returning to Ireland with her Kiwi rescue dog Barney, in tow.