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The History Of Dunluce Castle (Plus Handy Visitor Info)

The History Of Dunluce Castle (Plus Handy Visitor Info)

You’ll find the iconic ruins of Dunluce Castle perched on jagged cliffs along County Antrim’s magnificent coastline.

700+ years before Dunluce Castle appeared in Game of Thrones, Richard Óg de Burgh, the 2nd Earl of Ulster, established a fortress at Dunluce.

The current structure was built sometime before 1513 by the McQuillans and it stands today a rugged, romantic ruin along the Causeway Coastal Route.

In this guide, you’ll find info on the Dunluce Castle tickets, tours, it’s history, where to park and where to get a view of it from afar. Cheers!


Some quick need-to-knows about Dunluce Castle

Although a visit to Dunluce Castle in Ireland is fairly straightforward, there are a few need-to-knows that’ll make your visit that bit more enjoyable.

1. Location

You’ll find Dunluce Castle at the Portrush end of the Causeway Coastal Route, a 12-minute drive from both the Giant’s Causeway and Dunseverick Castle and a handy 6-minute drive from the Old Bushmills Distillery.

2. Parking (potential nightmare)

There’s a tiny bit of parking (and I mean tiny!) right outside the castle. If you can’t get a spot here, try nearby Magheracross Car Park (it’s a 10-minute walk to the castle).


3. Tickets

You can’t pre-book the Dunluce Castle tickets – you buy them from the ticket office. There are organised tours from Dublin and from Belfast (affiliate links). Ticket prices are as follows:

  • Adult: £6
  • Child (5 – 17): £4
  • Family of 5: £18
  • Concession: £4.50

4. Opening hours

The castle is open:

  • February to November: 09:30 – 17:00
  • December and January: 09:30 – 16:00

5. See it from afar

There are a couple of great vantage points to see the castle from afar, if you don’t fancy doing the tour. There’s a nice pathway leading to this point where you’ll get a good view of it. Just don’t be tempted to climb into the field.


The history of Dunluce Castle

Dunluce Castle from afar

Photos via Shutterstock

Much of what I know about Dunluce comes from a book that was first published in 1905 by W H Lynn – an architect from Belfast – titled ‘Notes on the Ruins of Dunluce Castle’.

Like many Irish castles, the history of Dunluce is rife with myth, legend and plenty of battles! Enjoy!

The first castle

a drawing showing one of the early structures at Dunluce

Drawing from ‘Notes on the Ruins of Dunluce Castle’ in the public domain

The first castle at Dunluce was built over 700 years ago and it is somewhat of a mystery (the drawing above is of the current castle).

In fact, one of the only things that we reliably know about it is that it was built during the 13th century. by the 2nd Earl of Ulster, Richard Óg de Burgh.

And, while he was one of the most powerful nobles in Ireland and many factual accounts of his life exist, nothing of the original Dunluce remains to this day.


The second castle

a drawing of the original castle

Drawing by Joseph Carey (in the public domain)

Around 1333, the Earldom of Ulster collapsed. We know little of what happened to Dunluce until 1513 when it was recorded as being in the hold of the McQuillan clan – the ‘builders’ of the current castle.

W H Lynn explains that ‘the real builders were the MacUillins; and this is fully borne out by all the reliable records, and now thoroughly confirmed by the present exhaustive architectural examination’.

At this time, the McQuillan’s were the Lords of the Route’ – a section of Ulster’s north-east coastline from Ballycastle to the Clogh River.

The McQuillans added a number of features to Dunluce, including the large eastern tower which is aptly named ‘MacUillin’s Tower’.


The arrival of the MacDonnells

another drawing showing dunluce in its original state

Drawing by Joseph Carey (in the public domain)

The McQuillan’s remained the inhabitants of Dunluce and the ‘Lords of the Route’ until the late 16th century. They came up against the MacDonnell in two separate battles, eventually conceding.

In the years that followed, Dunluce Castle became the seat of both the Clan MacDonnell of Antrim and of Dunnyveg from Scotland.

In 1548, the infamous Sorley Boy MacDonnell took control of the 9 Glens of Antrim and, soon after, Dunluce.

However, in 1564, Sorley Boy was defeated by Shane O’Neill – the head of the O’Neill’s – and they took control of the castle, keeping Sorley Boy captive.

The legend goes that Sorley managed to win over his captors and, in 1567, was released to help the O’Neill’s in their battle with the O’Donnell’s. It wasn’t until 1585 that Sorley Boy managed to regain control of Dunluce.

Dunluce Castle was the seat of the Earls of Antrim until the MacDonnells hit financial ruin after the Battle of the Boyne.


The Spanish Armada wreck

a drawing of the Spanish Armada ship that was wrecked near dunluce

Drawing from ‘Notes on the Ruins of Dunluce Castle’ in the public domain

In 1588, a ship from the Spanish Armada, the ‘Girona’, was caught in a storm near Dunluce Castle. The ship hit the rocks nearby and was wrecked.

According to W H Lynn, Sir James MacDonnell recovered two cannons from the shipwreck and mounted them on the castle’s gatehouses.

The rest of the ship’s cargo was sold with the proceeds going towards the castle’s restoration.


The banshee and the collapsed kitchen

dunluce castle from different vantage points

Photos via Shutterstock

As is the case with many castles in Northern Ireland, Dunluce has a fair bit of myth and legend tied to it.

The first legend tells of the banshee of Dunluce Castle. The story goes that Maeve Roe, the only daughter of Lord MacQuillan, wanted to marry a man other than the suitor her father had arranged.

Lord MacQuillan wasn’t happy so he locked her in the castle’s turrets. One night, Maeve’s lover broke her out of the castle and whisked her away on a boat.

It was during the journey to Portrush that a storm hit and both sank to the depths below. On stormy nights, locals have reported hearing screams coming from the turret that Maeve was held in.

The second myth tells of a bad storm in 1639 when the castle’s kitchen collapsed into the sea below, leaving just one corner in-tact, which is where the kitchen boy was stood.

Several paintings from the early 19th century disprove this tale by showing the side of the castle that held the kitchen still in-tact at that time.


The Dunluce Castle Game of Thrones link

Many different locations across Ireland were used during the filming of the HBO Game of Thrones series.

Dunluce Castle was used to depict the House of Greyjoy (aka ‘Pyke Castle’ and ‘Castle Greyjoy’), the ruler of the Iron Islands in the show.

Now, for any Game of Thrones fans planning a visit to Dunluce Castle, keep in mind that it won’t look exactly as it did during the series. You can thank digital reconstruction for that.


Things to do nearby

Causeway Coastal Route Drive

One of the beauties of Dunluce Castle is that it’s a short spin away from many of the best places to visit in Antrim.

Below, you’ll find a handful of things to see and do a stone’s throw from the castle:


Frequently asked questions

We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from do you need to book Dunluce Castle to what’s the Dunluce Castle Game of Thrones link.

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.

Did Game of Thrones film at Dunluce Castle?

Yes, Dunluce Castle was used to depict Pyke Castle, also known as the House of Greyjoy. Please keep in mind that what was shown in the show looks nothing like the castle ruins due to digital enhancements.

Is Dunluce Castle free to visit?

Although you can admire the exterior of the castle for free, you’ll need to buy tickets to go inside. The prices in 2024 are £6 for an adult and $4 for a child.

How long do you need at Dunluce Castle?

You’ll want to allow a minimum of 1.5 hours at Dunluce if you are taking the tour. If you are only seeing it from the outside, 30 minutes is more than enough.

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Wednesday 27th of March 2024

Keith - any recommendations for where to stay if you were going to be in the area overnight?

Keith O'Hara

Friday 29th of March 2024

Hey Tara - The Bushmills Inn is a great spot and it's only a 5 minute drive from Dunluce!

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