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, with a b ...
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

Veste Coburg

The Veste Coburg is one of Germany's largest castles. The hill on which the fortress stands was inhabited from the Neolithic to the early Middle Ages according to the results of excavations. The first documentary mention of Coburg occurs in 1056, in a gift by Richeza of Lotharingia. Richeza gave her properties to Anno II, Archbishop of Cologne, to allow the creation of Saalfeld Abbey in 1071. In 1075, a chapel dedicated to Saint Peter and Saint Paul is mentioned on the fortified Coberg. This document also refers to a Vogt named Gerhart, implying that the local possessions of the Saalfeld Benedictines were administered from the hill.

A document signed by Pope Honorius II in 1206 refers to a mons coburg, a hill settlement. In the 13th century, the hill overlooked the town of Trufalistat (Coburg's predecessor) and the important trade route from Nuremberg via Erfurt to Leipzig. A document dated from 1225 uses the term schloss (palace) for the first time. At the time, the town was controlled by the Dukes of Merania. They were followed in 1248 by the Counts of Henneberg who ruled Coburg until 1353, save for a period from 1292-1312, when the House of Ascania was in charge.

In 1353, Coburg fell to Friedrich, Markgraf von Meißen of the House of Wettin. His successor, Friedrich der Streitbare was awarded the status of Elector of Saxony in 1423. As a result of the Hussite Wars the fortifications of the Veste were expanded in 1430.

Early modern times through Thirty Years' War

In 1485, in the Partition of Leipzig, Veste Coburg fell to the Ernestine branch of the family. A year later, Elector Friedrich der Weise and Johann der Beständige took over the rule of Coburg. Johann used the Veste as a residence from 1499. In 1506/07, Lucas Cranach the Elder lived and worked in the Veste. From April to October 1530, during the Diet of Augsburg, Martin Luther sought protection at the Veste, as he was under an Imperial ban at the time. Whilst he stayed at the fortress, Luther continued with his work translating the Bible into German. In 1547, Johann Ernst moved the residence of the ducal family to a more convenient and fashionable location, Ehrenburg Palace in the town centre of Coburg. The Veste now only served as a fortification.

In the further splitting of the Ernestine line, Coburg became the seat of the Herzogtum von Sachsen-Coburg, the Duchy of Saxe-Coburg. The first duke was Johann Casimir (1564-1633), who modernized the fortifications. In 1632, the fortress was unsuccessfully besieged by Imperial and Bavarian forces commanded by Albrecht von Wallenstein for seven days during the Thirty Years' War. Its defence was commanded by Georg Christoph von Taupadel. On 17 March 1635, after a renewed siege of five months' duration, the Veste was handed over to the Imperials under Guillaume de Lamboy.

17th through 19th centuries

From 1638-72, Coburg and the Veste were part of the Duchy of Saxe-Altenburg. In 1672, they passed to the Dukes of Saxe-Gotha and in 1735 it was joined to the Duchy of Saxe-Saalfeld. Following the introduction of Primogeniture by Duke Franz Josias (1697-1764), Coburg went by way of Ernst Friedrich (1724-1800) to Franz (1750-1806), noted art collector, and to Duke Ernst III (1784-1844), who remodeled the castle.

In 1826, the Duchy of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha was created and Ernst now styled himself 'Ernst I'. Military use of the Veste had ceased by 1700 and outer fortifications had been demolished in 1803-38. From 1838-60, Ernst had the run-down fortress converted into a Gothic revival residence. In 1860, use of the Zeughaus as a prison (since 1782) was discontinued. Through a successful policy of political marriages, the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha established links with several of the major European dynasties, including that of the United Kingdom.

20th century

The dynasty ended with the reign of Herzog Carl Eduard (1884-1954), also known as Charles Edward, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, a grandson of Queen Victoria, who until 1919 also was the 2nd Duke of Albany in the United Kingdom. Under his rule, many changes made to the Veste in the 19th century were reversed under architect Bodo Ebhardt, with the aim of restoring a more authentic medieval look. Along with the other ruling princes of Germany, Carl Eduard was deposed in the revolution of 1918-1919. After Carl Eduard abdicated in late 1918, the Veste came into possession of the state of Bavaria, but the former duke was allowed to live there until his death. The works of art collected by the family were gifted to the Coburger Landesstiftung, a foundation, which today runs the museum.

In 1945, the Veste was seriously damaged by artillery fire in the final days of World War II. After 1946, renovation works were undertaken by the new owner, the Bayerische Verwaltung der staatlichen Schlösser, Gärten und Seen.

Today

The Veste is open to the public and today houses museums, including a collection art objects and paintings that belonged to the ducal family of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, a large collection of arms and armor, significant examples of early modern coaches and sleighs, and important collections of prints, drawings and coins.