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

Porta Nigra

The Porta Nigra (Latin for black gate) is the largest Roman city gate north of the Alps. It is designated as part of the Roman Monuments, Cathedral of St. Peter and Church of Our Lady in Trier UNESCO World Heritage Site. The name Porta Nigra originated in the Middle Ages due to the darkened colour of its stone; the original Roman name has not been preserved. Locals commonly refer to the Porta Nigra simply as Porta.

The Porta Nigra was built in grey sandstone between 186 and 200 AD. The original gate consisted of two four-storied towers, projecting as near semicircles on the outer side. A narrow courtyard separated the two gate openings on either side. For unknown reasons, however, the construction of the gate remained unfinished. For example, the stones at the northern (outer) side of the gate were never abraded, and the protruding stones would have made it impossible to install movable gates. Nonetheless, the gate was used for several centuries until the end of the Roman era in Trier.

In Roman times, the Porta Nigra was part of a system of four city gates, one of which stood at each side of the roughly rectangular Roman city. The Porta Nigra guarded the northern entry to the Roman city, while the Porta Alba (White Gate) was built in the east, the Porta Media (Middle Gate) in the south, and the Porta Inclyta (Famous Gate) in the west, next to the Roman bridge across the Moselle. The gates stood at the ends of the two main streets of the Roman Trier, one of which led north-south and the other east-west. Of these gates, only the Porta Nigra still exists today.

In the early Middle Ages the Roman city gates were no longer used for their original function and their stones were taken and reused for other buildings. Also iron and lead braces were broken out of the walls of the Porta Nigra for reuse. Traces of this destruction are still clearly visible on the north side of the gate.

After 1028, the Greek monk Simeon lived as a hermit in the ruins of the Porta Nigra. After his death (1035) and sanctification, the Simeonstift monastery was built next to the Porta Nigra to honor him. Saving it from further destruction, the Porta Nigra was transformed into a church: The inner court of the gate was roofed and intermediate ceilings were inserted. The two middle storeys of the former gate were converted into church naves: the upper storey being for the monks and the lower storey for the general public. The ground floor with the large gates was sealed, and a large outside staircase was constructed alongside the south side (the town side) of the gate, up to the lower storey of the church. A small staircase led further up to the upper storey. The church rooms were accessible through former windows of the western tower of the Porta Nigra that were enlarged to become entrance doors (still visible today). The top floor of the western tower was used as church tower, the eastern tower was leveled, and an apse added at its east side. An additional gate - the much smaller Simeon Gate - was built adjacent to the East side of the Porta Nigra and served as a city gate in medieval times.

In 1802 Napoleon Bonaparte dissolved the church in the Porta Nigra and the monastery beside it, along with the vast majority of Trier"s numerous churches and monasteries. On his visit to Trier in 1804, Napoleon ordered that the Porta Nigra be converted back to its Roman form. Only the apse was kept; but the eastern tower was not rebuilt to its original height. Local legend has it that Napoleon originally wanted to completely tear down the church, but locals convinced him that the church had actually been a Gaulish festival hall before being turned into a church. Another version of the story is that they told him about its Roman origins, persuading him to convert the gate back to its original form.

In 1986 the Porta Nigra was designated a World Heritage Site, along with other Roman monuments in Trier and its surroundings. The modern appearance of the Porta Nigra goes back almost unchanged to the reconstruction ordered by Napoleon. At the south side of the Porta Nigra, remains of Roman columns line the last 100 m of the street leading to the gate. Positioned where they had stood in Roman times, they give a slight impression of the aspect of the original Roman street that was lined with colonnades. The Porta Nigra, including the upper floors, is open to visitors.