Guide to Dunluce Castle

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Guide to Dunluce Castle

Dunluce Castle is the iconic ruin of a medieval abandoned castle set on the top of a cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean on the Causeway Coast Route just 2 miles east along the coast road Portrush, close to both the Giant’s Causeway and Old Bushmills Distillery. 

Dunluce Castle has featured in the HBO series Game of Thrones, as the House Greyjoy…..although looking slightly different thanks to CGI. The dramatic setting is surrounded by steep cliffs that drop-off on every side towards the crashing waves of the North Atlantic, meaning the only way to visit Dunluce Castle is by crossing a bridge from the mainland.

Dunluce Castle as used in Game of Thrones

Dunluce Castle History

Evidence from archaeological digs around the castle that’s Dunluce Castle has had a long and tumultuous history. From an early Irish fort or stronghold built for nearby Christian and Viking settlements on or near the current site to the backdrop of many modern TV and film productions. 

The earliest written record suggests the first Castle at Dunluce was built around the 13th century, by the powerful Richard óg de Burgh, 2nd Earl of Ulster. Richard de burgh was a close friend of Edward the 1st of England, however, his daughter was married to Robert the Bruce King of Scotland making him Maternal Grandfather to David King of Scotland.

The earliest ruins left standing today are from around the early 1500s, when Dunluce Castle served as the seat of the MacQuillans. The castle was the centre of power for their Gaelic Lordship, the area of North county antrim known as The Route. this area extended from the banks of the Bann, near present day Coleraine to the River Bush, near Bushmills.

Dunluce Castle from the Car Park

The first documented owners of the castle were the MacQuillan family in the early 1500s but were taken over by the MacDonnells in the 1550s, a Scottish settlers descended from the Scottish Clan MacDonald, after numerous battles.

The ambitious MacDonnell clan soon became the dominant family across the North Antrim, from the Antrim Glens to what is now Belfast. Although thought this time Dunluce Castle bears witness to the many conflicts they had with the surrounding families and clans.

After the Glens of Antrim were seized by famous warrior chieftain Sorley Boy MacDonnell (Scots/Irish – Somhairle Buidhe), upon the death of his older brother of the James MacDonnell (or MacDonald) the then 6th Clan Chief of the MacDonalds of Antrim, he claimed the Castle as his base and set about developing it in the Scottish style.

This was paid for in the main through the looting of the Girona, a Gallion of the Spanish Armada, that was wrecked in a storm on the nearby rocks. The cannons of the ship were kept and can still be found in the Gatehouse today (although when we visited in Feb 2023 they were being refurbished)

Dunluce Castle Bridge and Gatehouse

The Earls came into conflict with not only the surrounds in families both the feuding mcquillan clan and others, but also the crowns of Scotland and England, who concerned about the growing power of the macdonnell clan, sent Sir John Perrot, the then Lord Deputy of Ireland, to deal with the threat. He Successfully besieged Dunluce Castle and took the Town of Dunluce

However, Dunluce Castle continued to be held by the descendants of Sorely Boy, through his fourth son, who was bestowed the title of Earl of Antrim by King James 7th/2nd, due to Sorley Boy swore allegiance to Queen Elizabeth the 1st of England. 

During the Cromwellian period, Dunluce castle and its surrounding lands were granted to soldiers who had fought for Cromwell in his Irish campaigns. Like many Irish castles of this time, the new occupiers could not afford the upkeep of such a large building and the ruined castle fell in to disrepair and was pillaged for stones for buildings elsewhere.

Later Dunluce Castle and its surrounding lands were regained by Randall MacDonnell following the restoration of Charles 2nd to the English throne in 1660, and Dunluce Castle was reoccupied. However, its time as the main residence of the Clan MacDonnell was coming t can end.

The Castle itself was lived in by the Earls of Antrim until around 1690 when following the Battle of the Boyne the clan MacDonnell was impoverished due to their allegiances.

The current Earls of Antrim have their seat at nearby Glenarm Castle in Cushendall.

Glenarm Castle home to the earls of antrim
Glenarm Castle, Cushendall

Dunluce Castle is still owned by the MacDonnell family, however, is now in the care of the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, as one of its monuments under state care since 1928

History of Dunluce Town

The rich history of Dunluce castle is only one element of your visit to the area. Following major archaeological excavations, significant remains of the “lost town of Dunluce”, which was razed to the ground in the Irish uprising of 1641 were found.

Artists impression of Dunluce Castle and old Dunluce Town
Artist’s Impression of Old Dunluce Town and Dunluce Castle

Lying immediately next to the Castle, the long abandoned Dunluce town (or Dún Libhse in Irish) was built between 1600 and 1610 by Randall MacDonnell, the first Earl of Antrim, and as such pre-dates the official Plantation of Ulster. The small town is said to have had the most revolutionary housing in Europe when it was built, this included indoor toilets which had only started to be introduced around Europe at the time, cobbled streets and a complex street network based on a grid system. 95% of the town is still to be discovered.

Visit Dunluce Castle

The Visitor Centre

Even though there are plenty of attractions in Northern Ireland, this is one of our favourite destinations. Dunluce is a great place to enjoy the history of Ireland and to take in the beautiful scenery of the land. 

Opening Times

February to November: Daily 9.30am to 5pm. 

December & January: Daily 9.30am to 4pm. 

Last admission 30 minutes before closing.

Dunluce Castle Tickets

Adult (18+ years) £6.00 per ticket

Child (5 – 17 years) £4.00 per ticket

Children Under 5 Free

Concession*£4.50 per ticketFamily*£18.00 per ticket

Group rate available for 15 adults (+1 tour guide free) £4.50pp

Annual rates are also available; Adult – £12, Child 5 -17- £8.00, Concession* – £9.00 & Family Pack* – £36.00 

*Concession – 65+, Students (18+with official student card), disabled, unemployed citizens
*Family – Up to 5 people (including up to 3 adults)

It should be noted that as this is under the protectorate of the NI Government National Trust cards are not accepted.

It is a fantastic place to listen to stories from the Game of Thrones, Led Zeppelin, and C.S Lewis. It is excellent for visitors of all ages, we recently took our 5-year-old and his friend who had a blast….although be wary of taking them down to the Mermaids cave, its a lot of steps to carry a 5 year old back up.

Inside the Visitor Centre

You can enjoy the audiovisual presentation, friendly greetings, and a walk around the dramatic history of the castle. You get the chance to learn about its fascinating history. 

There is a trail that takes around 40 minutes to complete, this can be done with the assistance of guides or through one of the multilingual headsets. You can now even download an app tour to your phone.

The Dunluce Castle Tour Guide

Views from and around the castle are stunning. The Ocean vista which stretches as far as your eyes can see and the cliffs are equally beautiful. On a clear day, you can see the Scottish Island of Islay (Famous for its whisky) and Inishtrahull Lighthouse, off the Donegal Coast. If you want a bird’s eye view, you can stand on an existing tower.

Tour of the Castle

The Stables & Lodgings

Dunluce Castle Lodgings

Built to house the lords horses, visitors and staff, this building appears to have been divided into various rooms of different sizes., each containing a window and fireplace. The inner wall has collapsed giving you a view into the ground floor. The north end was gallery rom with a balcony overlooking what would have been the castles private gardens and bowling green. These are still visible through the windows. This area also home t the stone merchants houses

The Bridge

The Bridge at Dunluce Castle From The Gatehouse

While the present castle is accesses via a wooden bridge, which sits onto of the masonry arch built in the 17th century, there was originally a wooden drawbridge. When you cross you can get amazing views of the dramatic coastal cliffs and on the eastern side can be seen natural sea cave that boats could enter on calm days. This is the only natural harbour.

The Gatehouse

The Gatehouse at Dunluce Castle from the bRIDGE
The Gatehouse

The imposing gatehouse was originally built by the MacQuillans, then modified substantially by the MacDonnells in the mid 1500s in the Scottish Baronial Style with two large drum towers. You can see an etching on a stone of a medieval Scottish galley (ship), which serves as a reminder of the sea connection with Scotland and Ulster.

The Manor House

The Manor House Dunluce

The Manor is the main residence of the Lords entire family. The remains at Dunluce are an excellent example of a Jacobean mansion that was built by Randal MacDonnell in around 1620. There is staircase that would have lead to first floor and the MacDonnells private quarters would have been. From excavations it is believed that this grand house was built on the site of an earlier building probably used by the MacQuillans.

The View From The Manor House Main Window

Two Towers

From every angle the castle is dominated by the two towers on the eastern side of the building. Both towers were built at the same time by the MacQuillans. They were built in the Irish style with a ground floor roof vault. You can still see the imprint of the wicker thatch that was used during the construction of the vault. Both towers were upgraded throughout the years to reflect their purpose, defending the castle, with the MacDonnells adding gun loops.

The Kitchen and Inner Ward

Under the castle, there is a hidden cave. Even though you cannot get into it, it is a sight to behold.

Some local companies offer guided tours of Dunluce, here are just some of them.

Myths & Legends

Legend has it that at some point, part of the castle kitchens fell into the sea one stormy night. It says that the wife of the castle’s owner did not want to keep living there after this and only a boy survived from the kitchen staff. The legend does not seem to be true since the castle’s kitchen is still in place. It is possible to see the entryway fireplace and oven. The north wall of the palace collapsed and fell into the sea in the 18th century. The other walls are still intact.

The Kitchens

In 1534, a child in the McQuillan family was said to have seen the figure of a woman in a white dress on the edge of the cliff. The woman is supposed to have been looking out at the ocean. The little boy reported that he saw the woman disappear into the wind. No one believed him primarily because he and his elder sibling went out the next night and saw nothing.

In the early 1550s, something similar happened. People claimed that they saw a woman in a white dress walking down the to shore close to the castle. There were numerous claims that the castle was haunted until one time when a member of the McQuillan family walked to the beach and attempted to speak to the ghost. The woman was never seen again.

Dunluce Castle on Film and TV

If you have watched the favourite HBO series Game of Thrones, you may be interested in touring the beautiful, rugged location on the causeway coast.

The beautiful ruins of the castle appeared as the exterior of the Iron Island stronghold which is the seat of the House of Grejoy. Some residents of the castle include; Yara Grejoy, Balon Grejoy, and Theo Grejoy. You can see it in seasons two and six.

The Castle was also mentioned by admirers of ‘The Chronicles of Narnia.’ Many viewers believe the castle to be the inspiration for Cair Paravel, the seat of the kings and queens of Narnia.

The HBO Series has attracted visitors from all over the world more recently; however, the castle has been a tourist attraction for centuries. The landscape has always been an inspiration for creatives of romantic plotlines. As the poet Robinson Jeffers put it,

‘No spot of earth where men have so fiercely for ages of time

Fought and survived and cancelled each other,

Pict and Gael and Dane, McQuillan, Clandonnel, O’Neill,

Savages, the Scot, the Norman, the English…’

How to Get To Dunluce Castle

Dunluce Castle is only around 2.5 miles from Portrush along the Causeway Coastal Route (A2). Therefore, its quite easy to get there in many ways.

Getting there by Car.

If you are visiting the Dunluce as part of a more extended day trip, then taking the car is the easiest option. Just head east past Royal Portrush Golf Club, along the A2 (Sign posted for Bushmills/Ballycastle). There is a small car park a short walk from the Castle, next to the Wee Cottage Cafe.

Coming from Belfast or Dublin in the car you have two options, the quickest is to follow the A26 north from Belfast, turning off at Portrush Road Roundabout, in Ballymoney, onto the B62 (Ballybogey Road) signposted Portrush/Bushmills. After 9.5 miles turn right (east) at the Royal Court Hotel onto the A2/Causeway Coastal Route. Follow this road for a mile.

NOTE: do not trust your SatNav….a number of times we have been taken along singletrack back roads, where the only views are high hedges, sheep, cows and grass!

The second option is to follow the Causeway Coastal Route along the North Antrim Coast. This is one of the most excellent driving routes in the world.

The address is

87 dunluce road


County Antrim

BT57 8UY

Northern ireland United Kingdom

By Public Transport

From Portrush, you can take the Translink 172 or 402 (Ballycastle) bus from Dunluce Avenue. It takes around 15 minutes and drives along the coast. You can find the timetable here.((insert the timetable))

If you are coming up from Belfast or Dublin, then one of the simplest ways to get to the castle is by taking a train. You can take a train from Dublin Connolly Station (The EnterpriseChanging at Belfast Lanyon Place . The train from Dublin to Belfast is around 2 hours and from Belfast to Portrush is approximately 1.5 hours.

You will then have to either get the bus from Dunluce Avenue or take one of the plenty of Taxis just outside the station.

Even though the castle is not accessible by wheelchair, the surrounding site is beautiful. The coastline and surrounding scenery are stunning. There is a car park and a visitor centre on-site.

On Foot

You can, of course, walk from Portrush to Dunluce Castle. The walk takes you along the East Strand Beach, past the enormous dunes that lead up to Royal Portrush Golf Club, to Whiterocks Beach, so named after the stunning limestone cliffs. You will then emerge on the road near the Royal Court Hotel onto the A2 Causeway Coastal Route. From here walk along the footpath, stopping to take in the views of Portrush, The Skerries and Dunluce Castle from Magheracross View Point. You will be able to see the Castle a short walk further on.

You can see details of a longer walk from Portrush to Bushmills on the Walk NI website here

Let us know what you think of this guide, have you been and know of something that could be added, or are you going and want to know more?

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