Dunluce Castle

From Sketches of Olden Days in Northern Ireland by Rev. Hugh Forde

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It appears by old writings that this ancient castle of Dunluce -Dun Lois (strong fort)-was an ancient Celtic stronghold previous to Norman times. It stands on an isolated rock about 100 feet above the sea, exposed to the fierce Atlantic gales for hundreds of years. It is perhaps the most picturesque ruin in Ireland. It was occupied by the O'Flinns as early as 668 a.d., and held by them for centuries. The castle was attacked in the 12th century by John de Courcy, an Anglo-Norman earl, who, having taken Dunseverick Castle, besieged Dunluce and gained a temporary victory over O'Flinn. Shortly after, O'Flinn completely defeated De Courcy, who is said to have returned to Dublin covered with wounds, and with only eleven followers. In the 18th century Dunluce was besieged by Thomas de Galloway at the head of an English army, and the O'Flinns were driven out. In the 14th century the old Irish MacQuillins took possession of the fort and rebuilt the great castle, the ruins of which still remain. In the year 1583 a dispute arose between Sorley Boy MacDonnell and the MacQuillins, and a battle was fought on a plain near Bun-na-mairgie old church, about half a mile east of Ballycastle.

Sorley Boy's brother Angus went off to the Highlands to collect forces, as they had been expecting trouble with the MacQuillins for some time previous. MacQuillin appealed to the O'Neills of Lower Claneboy, or Shane's Castle, and to the MacAuleys and MacPhoils of the middle glens of Antrim. These two small clans were long of coming to the aid of MacQuillin, but he and O'Neill attacked the MacDonnells before aid came from the Highlands. The battle lasted two days, neither gaining much on the other, but both losing a great number of men. At length, on the third morning, Ballycastle bay was covered with Highland boats filled with fierce Highlanders, who, like the Irish, were eager for the fray. When the MacQuillins and O'Neills saw such a large body they thought they would draw them a few miles inland to a place where they would have a better advantage.Dunluce CastleDunluce Castle They then retreated southward in the direction of Armoy. Meanwhile the MacAuleys and MacPhoils had stood spectators of the fight, and did not join either side, although they could have turned the victory to whichever side they wished. Sorley Boy rode over to the chief of the MacAuleys and persuaded him to join the MacDonnells, which the MacPhoils did also. The MacDonnells, with this great addition to their forces, gave chase to the MacQuillins, but they did not stop till they came to the banks of a small river called the Orra, or Arra, the boundary between the parishes of Armoy and Loughgiel. Here they encamped and waited the arrival of their foes. The battle was renewed with fury on both sides, but resulted in the complete defeat of the MacQuillins. Hugh MacPhelim O'Neill, son to O'Neill of Claneboy, was slain in this battle, with all the MacQuillin leaders only one, namely, Rory Oge, who lived in Galgorm Castle, near Ballymena. The MacQuillins were never able after this to muster a fighting force again. The last of them of any note lived in the parish of Dunluce, and was invited to a friendly party, or what would now be called a picnic, at a place called the Winehill, about one mile south-east of Bushmills, by the MacDonnells, who also invited the O'Cahans. It was so planned that a MacQuillin was to sit on the left side of a MacDonnell and an O'Cahan. They had all eaten and drank and were seeming in the best of friendship, when, at a given signal, each one who sat beside a MacQuillin plunged his dagger into his heart. This foul plot succeeded, and ended the power of the MacQuillins in the Route. The MacDonnells had now got a firm hold on Dunluce Castle, with the estates belonging thereto, whether by conquest or by marriage, for there was not a MacQuillin left to oppose those who had any claim to the property.

Randal MacDonnell, son of Sorley Boy, was made first Earl of Antrim ; he married Catherine Manners, only daughter and heiress of Lord de Roos of Hamlake, afterwards Earl of Rutland. This lady had been previously married to George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, who was assassinated in 1624. When she married Lord Antrim she was very rich. She had great wealth by her father, and also great property by her first husband. Lord Antrim brought her to Dunluce after their marriage in 1685, and resided there till the rebellion of 1641 broke out. It was in this lady's time in Dunluce Castle that part of it fell into the sea, with nine of her English servants. It was on a wild December night when Lady Catherine, Countess of Antrim, invited a large party-the O'Neills of Shane's Castle, the O'Haras of Loughgiel, the O'Cahans of Dunseverick, the MacHenrys of Dunfert, near Portrush, and Turlough O'Neill of Castleroe, near Coleraine, with many others. The large hall was filled with visitors who had been invited from around the country. There were also a number of pipers and harpers invited to give music to this great assemblage. About twilight all were seated listening to the music, when a great rumbling noise was heard above the roar of the tempest, toward the north side of the castle. All rushed in the direction of the strange sound, when to their astonishment nearly all the kitchen had disappeared, with nine of the servants. The dinner, with all the plate and a great many valuable things, fell into the sea over 100 feet below. There happened to be an old tinker at a window on the west side of the kitchen next the castle mending a copper kettle. The tinker and his kettle were saved. This cast a gloom over all the assemblage. Soon after Lady Antrim left the castle. After a time the roof fell in, and the place remained a ruin ever since. There were originally five towers; there are now only two remaining: "Macuilin's Tower" on the east side, which contains the remains of a staircase, and a smaller tower seawards called Mave Roe's Tower; so called after Mave Roe, supposed by some to have been a relative of the MacQuillins, and by others, their banshee, or fairy spirit, whose wail, they say, is still heard above the winter's storm, and who keeps the apartment scrupulously clean, expecting the return of the former owners. The Dun-luce churchyard contains the bodies of many of the Spanish sailors wrecked in the "Gerona" in 1588.

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