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Notes from Northern Ireland - Dunluce Castle

Dunluce Castle sits large in my imagination. The castle on the coast from my childhood. The castle whose kitchens fell into the sea. Abandoned and in ruins, it's the castle that I feel I know the best and always want to return to.

This visit, Mum and I took my cousin's son Lucas with us and what a joy it was to see the castle through his eyes.

Sitting on the edge of the cliff, half way between Portballintrae and Portrush, Dunluce Castle juts out into the sea, connected to the mainland with a bridge over a stone staircase that leads to the shore.

Notes from Northern Ireland - Dunluce Castle photo by Sarah Agnew

In use as a home and fortress over 400 years ago by the McDonnells, it was a pretty big establishment with towers, guest rooms and main hall.

As we walked down the hill to cross the bridge, the castle with its fortified entrance rose up to meet us and I noticed for the first time how decorative the stone work actually was.

Inside the main section of the castle, Lucas became interested in all the graffiti cut into the stone walls and wondered how old it was.

We moved through what was left of the kitchens to a tower that you could climb up and see the view it commanded. Once inside the upper chamber and looking out at the North Sea it was clear how useful it would have been for keeping a watch against attacks. 

Notes from Northern Ireland - Dunluce Castle photo by Sarah Agnew

Just outside this tower we found a feature that I didn't remember from previous visits, the entrance to a souterrain. As explained on the plaque, this was an underground hideaway that early Christians used to protect themselves from Viking raids over a thousand years ago.

At this point, we were joined by one of the Dunluce team who told us that these early Christians would set light to a wooden structure above ground that could be seen from sea, while they remained hidden underground. Raiders would then think the settlement had already been attacked and sail on, leaving them safe. 

After marvelling at what that threat must have been like, our guide took us around the site to show Lucas some of the oldest graffiti that had been identified. We found names and dates from the Victorian era, including one that looked like a J Robinson in 1840.

Notes from Northern Ireland - Dunluce Castle photo by Sarah Agnew

Before leaving, we also discovered that the builders of Dunluce Castle, had used rock that had likely come from the Giant's Causeway with its distinctive hexagonal shape. Patches of orange on their surface came from the iron ore content in the rock that had rusted over time. 

I'm sorry I didn't get the man's name who took the time to share his knowledge but I'm grateful for all the info he gave us about Dunluce Castle and I think the castle gained a new fan in Lucas.

Follow me on Instagram for more travel stories @sarahagnew and thanks for reading.

Notes from Northern Ireland - Dunluce Castle photo by Sarah Agnew

Visit Dunluce Castle, 87 Dunluce Rd, Bushmills BT57 8UY

Photo credit: Lucas

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