2009 Castles of Northern Ireland

2009 Castles of Northern Ireland

Take a closer look here at the ten selected castles depicted on the Northern Ireland Smilers sheet.

Monea Castle


Monea Castle is in Monea, County Fermanagh with three stories, rectangular in shape and two semi-cylindrical towers. It was built in 1618 by Malcolm Hamilton who became the Archbishop of Cashel in 1623. Gustavus Hamilton, the Governor of Enniskillen lived there until he died in 1691 with his wife and children who stayed after his death. They had to subsequently sell the estate and after a fire the castle was abandoned.

Belfast Castle


Belfast Castle overlooks the city having been completed in 1870 by the Donegall family (formerly Chichester). The third Marquis of Donegall wanted to build a new castle on the slopes of Cave Hill so the architect firm Lanyon, Lynn and Lanyon together with John Lanyon planned and constructed it in the Scottish Baronial style. In 1884 the third Marquis died and the seventh Earl of Shaftesbury died the year after. Lord Ashley and his wife Harriet Augusta inherited the Shaftesbury title and the castle. As philanthropists the Shaftesbury family supported many charities and in 1934 they donated the castle and estate to the City of Belfast.

Carrickfergus Castle


Carrickfergus is a Norman castle which was besieged by the Scots, Irish, English and French and which is one of the best preserved medieval structures in Ireland. It was built by John de Courcy in 1177 and he used it as his headquarters until 1204 when he was ousted by Hugh de Lacy. At that time the castle had several buildings including the great hall and strategically placed on a rocky promontory and almost surrounded by sea it stood high above the land of the town which developed underneath.

In 1210 it first appeared in English records when it was taken over by King John and then in 1217 De Serlane, a new constable appointed to command the castle built a new curtain wall so the approach along the rock could be protected. Once the Earldom of Ulster collapsed in 1333 the castle remained the Crown’s principal residential and administrative centre in the north.

A number of improvements were carried out in the 16th and 17th centuries to make space for artillery though the castle was attacked several times in spite of this. In 1690 General Schomberg attacked and captured the castle and his leader, King William III first set foot there in Ireland in June 1690.

The castle was garrisoned for about 750 years until 1928 when it was transferred to the government for preservation as an ancient monument and it is now open to the public.

Dunluce Castle


Dunluce Castle is located on the edge of a basalt outcropping in County Antrim and is one of the most extensive ruins of a medieval castle in Northern Ireland. Richard de Burgh, Earl of Ulster built the first castle at Dunluce. In 1513 it is first documented in the hands of the MacQuillin family who built two large drum towers on the eastern side. It later became the home of the chief of the Clan MacDonnell of Antrim and the Clan MacDonald Dunnyveg from Scotland. In 1584 after the death of James MacDonald, the 6th chief of the Clan MacDonald of Antrim and Dunnyveg, the Antrim Glens were seized by one of his younger brothers called Sorley Buy. He took the castle and improved it in the Scottish style. His son Ranald was then made Randal MacDonnell, 1st Earl of Antrim by Queen Elizabeth. Dunluce Castle continued to be the seat for the Earl of Antrim until the MacDonnells became poor after the Battle of the Boyne. Since then the castle fell into ruins with parts being scavenged to serve as materials for other buildings and it is now under the care of the Northern Ireland Environment Agency.

Enniskillen Castle


Enniskillen Castle is situated in Enniskillen in County Fermanagh. Hugh Maguire built the first castle on this site in the 16th century. It is made up of two sections, a central keep and a curtain wall and it was the main defence for the west end of the town. Captain William Cole remodelled and refurbished it back in 1607 when the riverside tower at the south, known as the Watergate, was added. In the 18th century the castle was remodelled as the Castle Barracks and it now houses the Regimental Museum of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.

Dungiven Castle


Dungiven Castle is situated in 22 acres of parkland in the small town of Dungiven in County Londonderry overlooking the Sperrin Mountains. It was the ancestral home of the O’Cahan clan who ruled between the 12th and 17th century and they built the castle in the days of James I. It has now been transformed into a luxurious hotel.

Killyleagh Castle


Killyleagh Castle can be found in the village of Killyleagh, County Down and is believed to be the oldest inhabited castle in the country. It is in the style of a Loire Valley chateau and was designed by architect Sir Charles Lanyon. In the early 19th century after his return from exile in America Archibald Hamilton Rowan lived there. Gawn Rowan Hamilton and his young family currently live there and it has been the Hamilton family home since the Plantation of Ulster in the 17th century. It came under attack by the Irish Republican Army during the troubles of the 1920s. It now hosts occasional concerts and the gate lodges contain self-catering holdiday accommodation.

Narrow Water Castle


Narrow Water Castle is a tower house near Warrenpoint located on the County Down bank of the Clanrye River. It was given to the State in 1956 and is one of the finest 16th century buildings in Ireland. A castle has been on this site since 1212 and was originally built by Hugh de Lacy to prevent attacks on Newry via the river. The original was destroyed in the 1641 Rebellion. The present Narrow Water Castle built for military purposes during the 1560s is typical of the tower houses erected in Ireland from the 14th to the 17th century. On 27th August 1979 18 British Army sodiers were killed by a Provisional IRA ambush at Narrow Water Castle. Nowadays cruise boats sail past the castle regularly throughout the summer.

Killymoon Castle


Killymoon Castle is situated about one mile south east of Cookstown, County Tyrone on the north bank of the Ballinderry River. The original castle was built by James Stewart whose ancestors had come over from Scotland during the plantation to settle in Cookstown. Unfortunately the original castle was burnt down in 1801. The following year Colonel William Stewart rebuilt the castle and employed architect John Nash to design it. The second Killymoon Castle is a two storey structure  with the entrance on the east front. The Killymoon estate remained the property of the Stewart family for six generations until the family fell on hard times during the years of the Great Famine. Colonel Williams’s great-grandson Henry T. Clements sold it in 1852 for nearly £100,000. The Cooper family bought the castle in 1857 and then a Colonel Bolton bought it in 1865. Mervyn Stuart Thomas Moutray became the owner ten years later and remained so until 1916 when in 1922 John Coulter bought the castle and grounds for £100 and it remains the Coulter family home.

Gosford Castle

Gosford Castle is in Gosford, County Armagh close to the border with County Down. It was commissioned by Archibald Acheson, 2nd Earl of Gosford and construction began in 1819 with Thomas Hopper as its chief architect. The Ministry of Agriculture bought the estate in 1958, establishing Gosford Forest Park and in January 2006 the largest Grade A listed building in Northern Ireland was bought by a development company. The 4th Earl of Gosford was forced to sell the contents of the castle in 1921. During the Second World War it was commandeered and used as a prisoner-of-war camp. The Gosfords sold the estate after the war and it was eventually purchased by the Forestry Commission. A large Irish Scout Jamboree took place in the park of the castle back in 1989.

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