It was a cold and windy day, in the end of September, when we went to see Dunluce Castle. We did not plan to spend more than an hour there because there are so many interesting things to see on the Antrim coast in Northern Ireland. The weather was very changeable all day: from cold and heavy rain to bright sun. The Rambler bus ride from Portrush to Dunluce Castle was fast and exciting. The bus driver accelerated on every curve of the scenic road winding along the coast.
As soon as we got off the bus the rain started, like cats and dogs, and we found shelter in the tourist’s information center. In fact, this information center is more like a museum with lots of history of the area and the Castle displayed on the walls, a very informative video and artifacts. Friendly personnel provided us with audio guides and guide cards, which they have in different languages. The history of Dunluce Castle was so captivating that, contrary to our plans, we spent four hours there instead of one.
As soon as it stopped raining we started our journey around the castle, equipped with the audio guides highlighting different parts of the castle and the surrounding area.
Dunluce Castle has changed hands numerous times and mostly in violent ways. The first documented builders and inhabitants of the castle were the MacQuillans. Later, the MacDonnells ousted the MacQuillans from the castle and made additions and alterations to it.
The Castle’s walls, made of rocks, had witnessed so much during the past 500 years: love and betrayal, murders and births, blood and lavish feasts. The MacDonnell’s loved to hold big parties and invited their kinsmen and friends from the local gentry. There was a brew house, where a huge cauldron with a brew mixture for future ale was boiled and fermented. There were stables, where guests could put their horses and each horse had an individual stall.
Next to the stables there are the remains of lodgings for guests. Each small room had a fireplace and a window with an excellent view of the sea.
The castle is built on a high cliff jutting into the sea. When the castle was in use it could be reached only by crossing a drawbridge. The castle served also as a fortress. Later the drawbridge was replaced by a wooden bridge built on the top of a masonry arch. Ninety feet down below the bridge, there is Mermaid Cave. Boats can land there only when the sea is calm.
After crossing the bridge, visitors enter a gatehouse. It was originally built by the MacQuillans. Two corner turrets were later added to the gatehouse by the MacDonnells in 1560 and the castle began to look like a Scottish fortress.
Next to the gatehouse there is a stone on which a medieval Scottish galley was etched. The unknown artist wanted to emphasize the importance of the ties between inhabitants of the castle and the Scottish Isles.
After passing through the gatehouse visitors can see Curtain Wall. The wall was built by the MacQuillans to protect the castle from attackers from the mainland. In 1590, the MacDonnels fortified the wall and added two openings to accommodate cannons.
Protected by the Curtain Wall there is a Loggia (a covered walkway), decorated by Roman style columns, which were brought from southern Europe.
There are two corner towers in the Castle. The south- east tower is a part of the Curtain Wall and has a number of gun slits. The north-east has a spiral staircase and, according to legend, served as a prison for Lord MacQuillan’s only daughter, young and beautiful Maeve. She was in love with a man from the O’Cahans clan, who were enemies of MacQuillans at that time. Next to the tower there is an underground passage, cut out of the rock. The passage dates back to the first millennium A.D., before the castle was built.
The manor house was the center of life in the castle. This fine mansion was completed by Randal MacDonnell in 1620. A staircase led to the second floor, which contained the main hall and the private quarters used by the MacDonnells. In the main hall, the MacDonnells and their guests from local gentry enjoyed lavish feasts.
Close to the manor house, there is a kitchen with ovens and a fireplace, where all the cooking for the manor house was done. Close to the kitchen there is a storage room for beer, wine and food.
There is a spacious Inner Ward in the Castle, where the guests could cool off during banquets. According to legend, the outer wall of the Inner Ward collapsed into the sea during a stormy night in 1639, taking some of the kitchen servants. After this incident the owner supposedly left the castle. However, there are 19th century paintings of the castle, on which all walls are depicted intact. The wall must be fallen down later in the 19th century.
Dunluce Castle is in ruins, though what is left is carefully preserved. It is authentic. There is no fine china, restored tapestries and carpets, or elegant furniture. But its walls witnessed so much. The stories told about events, which occurred over the past 500 years, is so dramatic and thrilling that it left everlasting memories on us.