There has been a castle at Dunluce on the North Antrim coastline since the 13th Century when the 2nd Earl of Ulster, Richard Og de Burgh, had the first keep on the site constructed.
Dunluce then passed to the McQuillan family some time before 1513 when the castle is first documented as being in their possession but later in the 16th Century the McQuillans were routed by the MacDonald clan after several military defeats.
The MacDonalds of Co Antrim and Scotland took control of the Dunluce Castle but they too lost the fortress to Sorley Boy McDonnell, who improved the castle in Scots style and pledged allegiance to Queen Elizabeth I of England. In turn Randal, Sorley Boy’s son, was appointed first Earl of Antrim by James I.
In 1588, four years after the McDonnell’s came into possession of Dunluce, the Spanish Armada’s largest galleass, la Girona, sank on rocks just offshore and ship’s cannons were installed on the castle’s gatehouses but la Girona, and the gold hoard it carried, wouldn’t be recovered until the 1960s.
Today, you can see some of the most precious artefacts from la Girona in Belfast’s Ulster Museum.
Dunluce, built as it is right on the sea, suffered from the effects of erosion and weather and it’s said that the kitchens fell into the North Atlantic during the McDonnell’s stewardship of the castle. It is said that only a boy helping in the kitchen was to survive as he was sitting in the only corner of the room not to plunge into the sea below.
The castle remained in the McDonnell’s possession until 1690 when the family lost its power and privilege by fighting in the Battle of the Boyne and ending up on the losing side (the largest ever land battle in Ireland or Britain which was fought between the Catholic King James and the Protestant King William). Since then, Dunluce has fallen into ruin.
2011 excavations unearthed the nearby Dunluce town which is one of the most fascinating urban areas dating from the first half of the 17th Century. The settlement was one of Europe’s most advanced towns during the period with building arranged in grid street pattern and indoor toilets. Built in 1608, Dunluce town was destroyed during the Irish uprising of 1641 and 95 per cent of the settlement remains undiscovered.
Dunluce has also made a profound impact on popular culture, appearing or being mentioned in movies and music. Led Zeppelin 1973 Houses of the Holy album featured the castle on the inner gatefold and Dunluce appeared on American musician Jandek’s Glasgow Friday album. The Irish Rovers also sing ‘Dunluce Castle’. It’s also believed to be the inspiration of CairParavel in C.S. Lewis’ Narnia novels and was Snakehead’s hideout in the Jackie Chan movie The Medallion in which it was named ‘Ravens Keep’.
Due to its historic nature, the Dunluce Castle is a Scheduled Monument meaning it’s protected under UK law as a nationally important location.