Medieval castles in Northern Ireland

Carrickfergus Castle

Carrickfergus castle was built by John de Courcy in 1177 as his headquarters, after he conquered eastern Ulster in 1177 and ruled as a petty king until 1204, when he was ousted by another Norman adventurer, Hugh de Lacy. Initially de Courcy built the inner ward, a small bailey at the end of the promontory with a high polygonal curtain wall and east gate. It had several buildings, including the great hall. From ...
Founded: 1177 | Location: Carrickfergus, United Kingdom

Dunluce Castle

Dunluce Castle is a ruined medieval castle located on the edge of a basalt outcropping in County Antrim, and is accessible via a bridge connecting it to the mainland. The castle is surrounded by extremely steep drops on either side, which may have been an important factor to the early Christians and Vikings who were drawn to this place where an early Irish fort once stood. In the 13th century, Richard Óg de Burgh, ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Portballintrae, United Kingdom

Enniskillen Castle

The first Enniskillen castle was built on this site by Hugh Macguire in 1428. It featured greatly in Irish rebellions against English rule in the 16th century and was taken after an eight-day siege in 1594. Captain William Cole remodelled and refurbished the castle adding the riverside tower at the south, known as the Watergate, in 1609. The castle was remodelled as “Castle Barracks” as part of the response to a thre ...
Founded: 1428 | Location: Enniskillen, United Kingdom

Strangford Castle

Strangford Castle appears to be a small tower house from the late 16th century, but a blocked door of 15th century type at first floor level, seems to indicate the remodelling of an earlier tower. The current entrance, in the north-east wall, is a reconstruction, positioned by the surviving corbelled machicolation above and a socket from a draw-bar to secure the original door. The original entrance may have been on th ...
Founded: 15th century | Location: Strangford, United Kingdom

Dunseverick Castle Ruins

Dunseverick Castle is located on the peninsula near the small village of Dunseverick and the Giant"s Causeway. Saint Patrick is recorded as having visited Dunseverick castle in the 5th century AD, where he baptized Olcán, a local man who later became a Bishop of Ireland. The original stone fort that occupied the position was attacked by Viking raiders in 870 AD. In the later part of the 6th century AD, th ...
Founded: 6th century AD | Location: Dunseverick, United Kingdom

Dundrum Castle

Dundrum Castle, situated above the town of Dundrum, County Down, Northern Ireland, should not to be confused with Dundrum Castle in Dundrum, County Dublin. It was constructed by John de Courcy, sometime near the beginning of the 13th century, following his invasion of Ulster. The castle, built to control access into Lecale from the west and south, stands on the top of a rocky hill commanding fine views south over D ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Dundrum, United Kingdom

Killyleagh Castle

Killyleagh Castle dominates the small village and is believed to be the oldest inhabited castle in the country, with parts dating back to 1180. It follows the architectural style of a Loire Valley château, being redesigned by architect Sir Charles Lanyon in the mid-19th century. It has been owned by the Hamilton family since the early 17th century. Killyleagh was settled in the 12th century by Norman knight John ...
Founded: 1180 | Location: Killyleagh, United Kingdom

Shane's Castle

Shane"s Castle is a ruined castle near Randalstown in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. The castle is on the north-east shores of Lough Neagh. Built in 1345 by a member of the O"Neill dynasty, it was originally called Eden-duff-carrick. Shane MacBrien O"Neill changed the name to Shane"s Castle in 1722. Multiple scenes of Game of Thrones series have been shot in and around the 2600-acre estate ...
Founded: 1345 | Location: Randalstown, United Kingdom

Audley's Castle

Audley"s Castle is a three-storey tower house named after its 16th century owner, John Audley. There are thousands of small stone towers similar to Audley"s Castle in the Irish countryside. They are one of the commonest of archaeological sites, which indicates these were not buildings put up for the higher aristocracy, but for lesser lords and gentry. Most were built in the late Middle Ages (roughly 13 ...
Founded: 15th century | Location: Downpatrick, United Kingdom

Sketrick Castle

Sketrick Castle castle dates from the late 12th century. In the 14th century it was acquired by Sir Robert Savage. The Annals of the Four Masters record the capture of the castle in 1470 by an army led by the O"Neill to assist the MacQuillans. They took the castle and it was given to MacQuillan for safe keeping. It was intact until 1896 when a storm demolished much of it. Sketrick Castle was four storeys high, wit ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: Newtownards, United Kingdom

Clough Castle

Clough Castle is an excellent example of an Anglo-Norman castle with an added stone tower. A small kidney-shaped bailey lies south of a large mound, originally separated from it by a 2.1m deep ditch. On top of the 25 ft high motte is a stone tower, enlarged to become a tower house in the 15th century. It is sited off-centre as much of the rest of the top of the motte was occupied by a large hall, which apparently burne ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: Clough, United Kingdom

Jordan's Castle

Jordan"s Castle"s early history is somewhat obscure. The earliest authentic reference is to a defence of the castle by Simon Jordan against the O"Neills for three years, until relieved by Lord Deputy Mountjoy in 1601. In 1911 the Belfast antiquarian, Francis Joseph Bigger, bought the castle and restored it, using it to display his extensive collection of antiquities and making it freely accessible to e ...
Founded: 15th century | Location: Ardglass, United Kingdom

Cowd Castle

Cowd Castle is a small two-storey tower which may date from the late 15th century or early 16th century. The doorway is in the west wall. A straight mural stairway (now blocked) led to the upper level.
Founded: 15th century | Location: Ardglass, United Kingdom

Margaret's Castle

Margaret"s Castle is a small Tower house probably built in the 15th century. Only two storeys still exist but there is evidence that it was at least three storeys high. It is vaulted above the ground floor with a rectangular tower with projecting turrets in the north west wall. The doorway between the turrets was protected by a murder-hole. A spiral stairway rises within the west turret. Ardglass had at least six ...
Founded: 15th century | Location: Ardglass, United Kingdom

Greencastle

In a beautiful setting with excellent views of the Mourne Mountains and Carlingford Lough, Greencastle is mainly 13th-century in date. It was built at royal expense and guarded the southern approach to the Anglo-Norman Earldom of Ulster. After capturing the town of Carrickfergus in 1315/16, a Scottish army under Edward Bruce headed to the important town of Dundalk, one of the seats of Anglo-Norman power in Ireland. It wa ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Kilkeel, United Kingdom

Kilclief Castle

Kilclief Castle was the earliest tower-house in Lecale area, and was built between 1412 and 1441. It was originally occupied by John Sely, who is said to have built the castle. John Sely was Bishop of Down from 1429 to 1443, when he was ejected and deprived of his offices for living there with Lettice Whailey Savage, a married woman. The building was garrisoned for the Crown by Nicholas Fitz Symon and ten warders from ...
Founded: 1412-1441 | Location: Strangford, United Kingdom

Carra Castle Ruins

Carra Castle dates to around the early 14th century. The castle lies in a field near the coast and the harbour of Cushendun, known as Murlough Bay. The site had once been used during medieval times as a children"s cemetery. The castle was once occupied by Irish king Shane O"Neill, and Sorley Boy McDonnell was held as a prisoner here in 1565. In 1567, two years after being defeated by O"Neill, the McD ...
Founded: 14th century | Location: Cushendun, United Kingdom

Quintin Castle

Quintin Castle is one of the very few occupied Anglo-Norman castles in Ireland. The castle was built by John de Courcy in 1184 and it was later occupied by the Savage family and their dependents, the Smiths. In the 17th century Sir James Montgomery, then living at Rosemount, Greyabbey, purchased the Quintin estate from Dulaltaigh Smith. His son William, built a walled courtyard and other smaller towers, a large ho ...
Founded: 1184 | Location: Portaferry, United Kingdom

Mound of Down

The Mound of Down is an ancient monument which gives County Down its name. Originally the home of Celtair - Rath Celtair - this became a stronghold for the Dál Fiatach, a powerful army who once owned the Isle of Man. It is a good example of an Iron Age defensive earthwork in the middle of which a Norman Motte and Bailey was built by John de Courcy after his defeat of Rory Mac Donlevy in 1177. Originally on the sh ...
Founded: 11th century | Location: Downpatrick, United Kingdom

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Hochosterwitz Castle

Hochosterwitz Castle is considered to be one of Austria's most impressive medieval castles. The rock castle is one of the state's landmarks and a major tourist attraction.

The site was first mentioned in an 860 deed issued by King Louis the German of East Francia, donating several of his properties in the former Principality of Carantania to the Archdiocese of Salzburg. In the 11th century Archbishop Gebhard of Salzburg ceded the castle to the Dukes of Carinthia from the noble House of Sponheim in return for their support during the Investiture Controversy. The Sponheim dukes bestowed the fiefdom upon the family of Osterwitz, who held the hereditary office of the cup-bearer in 1209.

In the 15th century, the last Carinthian cup-bearer, Georg of Osterwitz was captured in a Turkish invasion and died in 1476 in prison without leaving descendants. So after four centuries, on 30 May 1478, the possession of the castle reverted to Emperor Frederick III of Habsburg.

Over the next 30 years, the castle was badly damaged by numerous Turkish campaigns. On 5 October 1509, Emperor Maximilian I handed the castle as a pledge to Matthäus Lang von Wellenburg, then Bishop of Gurk. Bishop Lang undertook a substantial renovation project for the damaged castle.

About 1541, German king Ferdinand I of Habsburg bestowed Hochosterwitz upon the Carinthian governor Christof Khevenhüller. In 1571, Baron George Khevenhüller acquired the citadel by purchase. He fortified to deal with the threat of Turkish invasions of the region, building an armory and 14 gates between 1570 and 1586. Such massive fortification is considered unique in citadel construction.

Since the 16th century, no major changes have been made to Hochosterwitz. It has also remained in the possession of the Khevenhüller family as requested by the original builder, George Khevenhüller. A marble plaque dating from 1576 in the castle yard documents this request.

A specific feature is the access way to the castle passing through a total of 14 gates, which are particularly prominent owing to the castle's situation in the landscape. Tourists are allowed to walk the 620-metre long pathway through the gates up to the castle; each gate has a diagram of the defense mechanism used to seal that particular gate. The castle rooms hold a collection of prehistoric artifacts, paintings, weapons, and armor, including one set of armor 2.4 metres tall, once worn by Burghauptmann Schenk.