There are few castles in Ireland that offer a view as fine as Carlingford Castle.
Built in 1190, Carlingford Castle is a well-maintained ruin and local landmark overlooking Carlingford Lough.
A visit here is one of the more popular things to do in Carlingford and it’s a great way to kick-start your adventure around the town.
Discover why it’s also called King John’s Castle and other interesting facts when you join an informative guided tour!
Some quick need-to-knows about King John’s Castle in Carlingford
Although a visit to King John’s Castle in Carlingford is fairly straightforward, there are a few need-to-knows that’ll make your visit that bit more enjoyable.
King John’s Castle is located are a rocky outcrop overlooking Carlingford Lough and the historic town of Carlingford in Louth. Located on the southern shore of the sea inlet, it is close to the harbour and the start/end of the Carlingford Greenway.
2. Opening hours
Entrance to Carlingford Castle is only permitted as part of a guided tour. Castle tours take place daily from May to October at 3pm and depart from the Station House/Tourist Office. You can book a place by phoning 042 93 73 650, book online, or just turn up and buy a ticket.
Tours of King John’s Castle in Carlingford are very reasonable, with ticket prices as follows:
- Adults, seniors and students: €5
- Children: €2
- Family (max. 4 people): €12
4. Home to a fine bit of history
Standing proudly above Carlingford Lough and town, Carlingford Castle is a historic landmark dating back to the 12th century. Built by Hugh de Lacy, this impressive castle hosted King John of England in 1210AD. He later seized it for himself, hence its alternative name – King John’s Castle.
A brief history of Carlingford Castle
Carlingford Castle was constructed around 1190 by Hugh de Lacy, a powerful Norman Baron. It was built to defend the sea lough and land to the north leading to Ulster. Initially King John of England favoured Hugh, but later feared he was a threat to his power.
The king visited for three days in 1210 and shortly after, he seized it for himself. Hugh reclaimed the castle 12 years later. However, it was known thereafter as King John’s Castle.
Early days and construction
The site was occupied earlier by the Irish Lord, Murchadh O’Carroll. Archaeologists have noted evidence of a ditch which was incorporated into the Norman Castle.
The early construction of Carlingford Castle included a defensive wall facing east and a curved wall to the west, probably following the earlier ditch. The walls were up to 3.3m thick in places. There were arrow slits in the curtain wall along with a gatehouse and square tower.
The enclosure would have protected wooden buildings used to accommodate soldiers, horses and supplies.
Later years at the castle
The castle was extended over time. In the 1260s, the eastern section was rebuilt to include a two-storey hall. In the 1400s, living quarters for the Constable of the Castle were added in the southeast corner.
The Anglo-Norman stronghold was frequently attacked by the Irish and fell into a bad state by 1549. Nicholas Bagnel took charge of it and organised repairs. It was held by the Irish during the Confederate Wars, taken by Sir Henry Tichborne (1642) and passed to Charles Coote, 1st Earl of Mountrath in 1650.
The castle was damaged by Jacobites during the Williamite War (1689) and used as a hospital for wounded soldiers by William of Orange following the Battle of the Boyne (1690). By the 1700s the castle was abandoned.
After recent renovations by the Office of Public Works, Carlingford Castle has found new purpose hosting events and being used for guided tours. It is now a National Monument.
Things to do in and around King John’s Castle
So, there’s a handful of things to do in and around King John’s Castle in Carlingford, for those of you that want to see evidence of Carlingford’s past.
Below, you’ll find info on the tour and some of the nearby medieval features that the town is well known for.
1. Head off on the tour
History lovers and those who want to enjoy stunning lough views will enjoy a fascinating guided tour of Carlingford Castle. Full details are listed above.
But why stop there? Carlingford Heritage Centre also offers informative Town Tours. They depart on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays for the Station House/Tourist Office at 11am. Book ahead (phone 042 93 73 650) or just turn up.
These tours costs €8 for adults, seniors and students; €3 for children and €20 for families of 4 people. One hour boat tours are also offered from Carlingford Harbour aboard the historic restored tug boat, Brienne.
2. Then walk into town to see The Thosel
The Thosel is the Old Town Gate, and it’s well worth admiring and snapping a selfie. It’s one of the last surviving gates into the town of Carlingford and one of the best examples in Ireland. Dating back to the late mediaeval period, it would originally have been a three-storey structure with an arched carriage gateway and a room for town council meetings.
As well as restricting access after dark, the gateway was where taxes were collected on goods entering the town. Note the “murder holes” within the walls and the gaol cell on the east ground floor!
3. Followed up with a visit to Taaffe’s Castle
Another castle – Taaffe’s Castle is located just inland on Newry Street. It was built as a fortified townhouse and trading warehouse for the Taeffe family in 1520. The village was a vital port for trade and received five royal charters.
Naturally the business meant that the town prospered from the 14th to the 16th century and wealthy traders were eager to construct grand buildings to cement their social status. The Taaffe family became the Earls of Carlingford in 1661.
Today the building houses one of the liveliest pubs in Carlingford and sports bar complete with mediaeval features and two courtyards.
Things to do in Carlingford after the castle tour
One of the beauties of King John’s Castle in Carlingford is that it’s a short spin away from many of the best things to do on the Cooley Peninsula.
Below, you’ll find a handful of things to see and do a stone’s throw from Carlingford Castle (plus places to eat and where to grab a post-adventure pint!).
1. Food (or drinks) in the town
2. Climb Slieve Foye
There are several routes up Slieve Foye with superb lough views. The Slieve Foye Loop starts from the centre of the town and it’s a steep 3km trail (each way). This steep out-and-back walk is accessible all year round and takes 2-3 hours to complete.
3. Take the Carlingford Ferry
The Carlingford Lough Ferry is well worth taking. The crossing takes about 20 minutes and ferries depart every hour, on the hour, from Greencastle, in Down, returning on the half hour from Greenore, in Louth.
4. Visit the Carlingford Adventure Center
The Carlingford Adventure Centre has a great choice of watersports including Canadian canoeing, kayaking tours and stand-up paddleboarding. Rent equipment or join a group session which includes wetsuit, equipment and tuition. It also has a water trampoline and swimming pontoon. Bring a towel and dive in!
FAQs about visiting King John’s Castle in Carlingford
We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from ‘Can you go inside?’ to ‘How much are tickets?’.
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 Carlingford Castle worth visiting?
Yes. If you get on the tour, you’ll be immersed in the towns medieval past while being treated to stunning views of the lough.
How much is the tour of King John’s Castle in Carlingford?
Adults, seniors and students: €5. Children: €2. Family (max. 4 people): €12.
Gillian Birch is a travel writer and published author. She has travelled the world and uses her personal journals and memories to write about her many travel experiences, particularly those that involved adventures in Ireland.