Explore Northern Ireland's Historic Castles
Northern Ireland has some of the finest castles on the island. The earliest are from Norman times, but fortified homes continued to be built well into the 17th century, with more modern versions such as Hillsborough Castle and Belfast Castle being constructed in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Here’s a selection of some our most impressive and intriguing castles.
Dunluce Castle, County Antrim
Dating from the 14th to the 17th centuries, the iconic Dunluce Castle is strikingly perched on rocky cliffs overlooking the North Atlantic, and was the headquarters of the MacDonnell Clan. Constantly fought over, it eventually succumbed to the power of nature, when part of it fell into the sea one stormy night in 1639. It was abandoned shortly afterwards. There is archaeological evidence of a village that surrounded the castle, which was destroyed by fire in 1641. The castle and its magical setting are said to have inspired Cair Paravel in C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia.
Tully Castle, County Fermanagh
Why not head off the beaten track and discover the beauty of Tully Castle, located on the shores of Lower Lough Erne between Enniskillen and Belleek. This fortified house and bawn was built for Sir John Hume in 1619, who occupied the house until 1641 when it was attacked and burned. The site includes a recreated 17th century style garden. Nearby Monea Castle also dates to the Plantation of Ulster.
Carrickfergus Castle, County Antrim
A striking monument from land, sea and air, Carrickfergus Castle represents over 800 years of military might, strategically located on the northern shore of Belfast Lough. Originally built in 1177 by John de Courcy, this Norman castle has been altered throughout the centuries and has been in use as a garrisoned property until as late as 1928. The castle now houses historical and other displays as well as cannons from the 17th to 19th centuries.
Harry Avery O'Neill's Castle, County Tyrone
Picturesquely situated amid the foothills of the Sperrin Mountains near Newtownstewart, this castle is thought to have been built around 1320 by a local chieftain of the O’Neill clan. This is unusual in that Irish chieftains of the time rarely built stone castles. The main surviving features are the huge D-shaped twin towers and a large mound behind which formed the courtyard. Nearby Newtownstewart Castle, dating to the early 17th century, is also worth visiting.
Dundrum Castle, County Down
Standing high above the town and bay of the same name, Dundrum Castle was a central fortification in the Anglo-Norman conquest of Ulster in the 12th century. It features a tall circular keep at its centre, an inner and outer bailey and the ruins of the 17th century Blundell House.
Belfast Castle, Belfast
Located on the slopes of Cave Hill and offering stunning views over the city and Belfast Lough, Belfast Castle was built in the Scottish baronial style for the third Marquis of Donegall and completed in 1870. Explore the landscaped gardens and Adventurous Playground, go for a brisk walk in the surrounding Cave Hill Country Park, then head indoors and enjoy a bite in the cosy Cellar Restaurant.
Monea Castle, County Fermanagh
Built for Malcolm Hamilton and completed in 1618, it has a Scottish look about it, with corner turrets at one narrow end of a rectangular four-storey building and with two massive full-height round towers having angular tops guarding the entrance at the other end. This imposing structure stood in one corner of a walled bawn with rounded corner towers, one of which subsequently served as a dovecote. The castle fell briefly into Irish hands in 1641, and was held by Gustavus Hamilton, governor of Enniskillen in 1688. It appears to have been burned in the 18th century and was abandoned.
Hillsborough Castle, County Down
This late Georgian mansion was built in the 1770s by the first Marquis of Downshire and remodelled in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Today, it functions as the official residence of the Royal Family in Northern Ireland. Take a guided house tour through the elegant State Rooms then explore the 98 acres of beautiful gardens (open until end of September). While in this beautiful town, make sure to visit the picturesque Hillsborough Fort, originally built in 1650.
Narrow Water Keep, County Down
An excellent example of a tower-house and bawn built about 1568 at a strategic point where the Newry River meets Carlingford Lough. There has been a keep on this site since 1212. It was originally built by Hugh de Lacy, first Earl of Ulster, to prevent attacks on Newry via the river, as part of the area's Norman fortifications. The original was destroyed in the 1641 Rebellion.
Greencastle Royal Castle, County Down
This imposing castle is approached across a rock-cut ditch, which excavations revealed to be 7m wide at top, 3m at base and 3.5m deep. The curtain wall had four corner towers, of which only the bases of two remain. The four-storey keep is 13th century with later alterations. From its setting on a rocky height beside Carlingford Lough, it has commanded the ferry link with Carlingford and defended sea and land communications. Due to various attacks on the castle over time, the building standing to day is a mix of 13th – 16th century structures.
Find out more about Northern Ireland's castles and historic sites.