County Antrim

Carrickfergus Castle, County Antrim

Carrickfergus is one of the best Castles in Ireland and is generally considered to be the oldest stone Castle in the land.  It certainly ranks amongst the best Castles in the British Isles and has a long and distinguished history and can in many ways be considered the Edinburgh or Dover of Ireland.

The great keep and inner ward were constructed by John de Courcy, an Anglo-Norman who conquered most of Ulster in 1177 and ruled as a kind of King until 1204 when he was ousted by Hugh de Lacy. The keep was most likely built during the 1180s to a fairly standard keep design with a forebuilding entrance.  It is very solidly built and is by far the best example of a Norman keep in Ireland.

King John arrived at Carrickfergus in 1210 and took the Castle over making it the seat of the English administration in Ulster, which it remained for more than 700 years. A second phase of building happened at this stage with the construction of the middle ward (now partially vanished) and an enlargement of the keep. In 1227 Hugh de Lacy was back at Carrickfergus where he remained until his death in 1242.  It is likely that de Lacy finished off the Castle adding the outer ward and the gatehouse with its drum towers.

During the Scottish invasion of 1315-16, Edward Bruce (the brother of Robert) laid siege to Carrickfergus Castle and town.  The town, which had walls (a fragment of which still remains) feel quickly, but the siege of the Castle lasted for a lot longer, the inhabitants of the Castle resorting to eating some Scottish prisoners.

Sorley Boy MacDonnell also ran amuck in Carrickfergus in revenge for the massacre of his family.  The O'Neills laid siege to the Castle in the 1380s.

Carrickfergus played a pivotal role in the Williamite wars which culminated in the Battle of the Boyne and thus influenced the rest of Irish history to the current date.  William landed at Carrickfergus and one of his general's, Schomberg, took the Castle in 1690.  William stayed at the Castle shortly before riding for the Boyne and the fateful meeting with James II which decided the future of the British Isles and in particular Ireland.

In 1760 the Castle was captured for the final time, by the French under Thurot.  After this the Castle began to fulfill the not unusual role of town gaol.  In 1928 it became the property of the Department of Works and today is one of their top attractions in Northern Ireland and is more than worth a day trip out from Belfast or a diversion before you head around the Antrim coast.

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