VISITING CARRICKFERGUS CASTLE
Rising from the dark waters of the Belfast Lough and situated on the Antrim Coast, stands the impressive and domineering fortress of Carrickfergus Castle. This beautiful 11th century marvel is the primary landmark of the medieval town of Carrickfergus in Northern Ireland and is one of Ireland’s most popular tourist attractions. Being only 11 miles from Belfast, it is easily accessible to all. Open all year round, the opening hours of Carrickfergus Castle are 10:00 until 16:00 October to April and then 10;00 until 18:00 between April and October.
Cited by Britain Ireland Castles as being one of the finest examples of Norman architecture in Ireland, it is also one of the best preserved from the trial and tribulations of time, Carrickfergus Castle is currently used by tourists and is available to hire for wedding ceremonies; the dungeons also serve as function rooms and are available to hire for parties.
The interior of Carrickfergus Castle transports visitors back to a time when Normans invaded Ireland in a conquest that reshaped history. With banners, furniture and life-sized mannequins caught in a snapshot of domesticity, visitors get a good look at what it was like during the Norman period. To further the experience, Carrickfergus Castle hosts exhibitions where visitors can take part in activities such as archery, swordsmanship and other practical demonstrations.
However, Carrickfergus has a long, rich and varied history of battles, sieges, construction, re-construction and a multitude of occupants. Let’s go start at the very beginning of Carrickfergus Castle’s vibrant story.
John de Courcy (b1150-d1219), an Anglo-Norman knight, built Carrickfergus Castle on a volcanic dyke on the Antrim Coast to use as his headquarters during the Norman conquest of Ireland, eleven years after it began in 1169 AD. Moreover, he constructed the castle after he conquered Ulster, a province of Ireland, where he ruled as a petty king.
The original Carrickfergus Castle, as constructed by de Courcy, featured a bailey (an enclosed courtyard), a curtain wall (a defensive wall between two towers), a polygonal curtain wall (a masonry wall to prevent a building from sinking into soft or unstable land) and a great hall.
In 1204, de Courcy lost possession of Carrickfergus Castle to another Anglo-Norman knight, Hugh de Lacy (d1242) and never managed to retake his usurped headquarters. De Lacy was deposed and expelled from Carrickfergus Castle in 1210 by King John but returned in 1227 when he recovered his earldom and the castle. Just after the attack by King John another much larger curtain wall was constructed to protect the eastern flank of the castle from sea-borne invasion and low tide.
Hugh de Lacy further added to Carrickfergus Castle when he built a particularly large portcullis (a fortified gated entrance to a castle), a gatehouse (a fortified building to defend the entrance to a castle) and a vault, all of which saw completion in 1250.
Jumping ahead in time, the Antrim Militia Artillery installed six sixty-four pound cannons, seven thirty-two pound cannons and one mortar at Carrickfergus Castle where Lieutenant Commander John Skeffington (b1812-d1863) established a headquarters for the training of volunteers in the Crimean and Boer Wars.
At some point during the 16th and 17th centuries, Carrickfergus Castle underwent modification with cannon embrasures and gun ports being added, both of which are still visible today. On 27th May 1856, the cannons fired to celebrate the end of the Crimean War.
Carrickfergus Castle saw action again in The Great War (better known as World War One) when it was garrisoned and used as an armoury by the 4th Extra Reserve of the Royal Irish Fusiliers in 1914. During the Second World War, Carrickfergus Castle saw usage as an air raid shelter when the Luftwaffe caused significant damage to the town on its bombing raids against Belfast.
After the conclusion of World War Two, the British Army relinquished its hold on Carrickfergus Castle where the local Northern Ireland government took over, preserving it as a national monument.
Taking into consideration the dense and colourful history of Carrickfergus Castle, the site has a rather spooky but nonetheless entertaining side to history as well and it is not surprising since it is considered as one of the most haunted castles in the United Kingdom.
In the mid to late 1700’s, Carrickfergus Castle became a garrison for the 62nd Wiltshire Regiment of the Foot. A soldier serving in the regiment by the name of Timothy Lavery became the focus of attention when he was wrongly accused of murder – when in actual fact he was the victim of mistaken identity. No-one came forward to defend or attest to Timothy Lavery’s innocence and as a result, he was hung from the gallows in the town of Carrickfergus. However, when the noose slipped around his head on that fateful day, Timothy Lavery swore to haunt the castle forever. Whether the tale is true or a fabrication, visitors to the castle have told of seeing a dark silhouetted figure in 16th century regalia lurking about the keep of Carrickfergus Castle, the most occasioned visits occurring by the well.
Another spooky tale is perhaps the most recent in Carrickfergus Castle’s steeped narrative. An Australian tourist visiting the site claimed to have caught a ghost in a photograph during her visit in 2016. The photograph shows the somewhat translucent image of a young boy stood in the window of one of Carrickfergus Castle towers, pressing his hands against the glass.
Back to today and Carrickfergus Castle recently underwent a £1 million renovation which saw upgrades to specific areas in the reception area, retail unit and visitor seating. Another and altogether new addition to the site came with the purchase of iPads to bring the history of the castle into the expanding Digital Age with an interactive app, specifically designed and aimed at children.
Carrickfergus Castle also had a £1 million Capital investment fund to repair the roof of the keep replaced in 2019. for more information follow this link NEW ROOF FOR CARRICKFERGUS CASTLE
With a wealth of history, ongoing lively exhibitions and a promising future to Carrickfergus Castle, there is still yet more history to be added to the chronicles of one of Northern Ireland’s most noteworthy landmarks. Why not pay it a visit and relive the experiences of the past?
Daily tours are available for visitors to the Castle and are included in the ticket price.
Adult (18+) – £6.00
Child (age 5 – 17) – £4.00
Child under 5 – Free
Family (up to 5 members, including up to three adults) – £18.00
Senior Citizen (65+), Student and Benefit Claimants (ID required) – £4.50
Group rate (15 plus, must be pre-booked) – £4.50 per person