Ireland - Carrickfergus Castle

Towering over the basalt dyke below its foundations, Carrickfergus Castle in County Antrim protrudes into Belfast Lough. Almost entirely surrounded by water, this rocky spur provided an ideal platform for a castle. Appreciating its defensive advantages, the Normans swiftly put the site to good use, erecting what is believed to be their earliest castle in Ireland to guard the approach to the lough. While its Gaelic name, Carrig Fhearghasa (the Rock of Fergus), remembers the 6th century drowning of Fergus, the son of Eric of Armoy, the well preserved castle also stands as a permanent reminder of the Norman invasion of Ireland and the tumultuous times of ensuing centuries.

John de Courcy began building a stone fortress at Carrickfergus shortly after storming Ulster in 1177. Over time, his stronghold developed into a imposing triple-enclosure castle dominated, as it is today, by the intimidating three storey keep. By 1204, When de Courcy, then Lord of Ulster, was forcibly removed from Carrickfergus by Hugh de Lacy, the inner bailely had been enclosed with a polygonal wall. The many sides of this wall afforded a nearly infinite number of angles from which to cover the walls from an advancing force. Inside, a great hall occupied the east curtain wall and a 90-foot tall rectangular keep commanded the northern corner.

Split into two sections by a cross-wall, the keep's barrel-vaulted basement functioned as a storage area and contained the wellhead. Gross-walls also bisected the upper storeys which held the public rooms as well as the private accommodations with fireplaces and the lord's latrine. Spiral staircases provided access between the levels.

In 1210, King John removed de Lacy from the castle and chased him to France. From 1216 to 1223, when the Crown controlled the castle, workers heightened the keep and moved the great hall from the bailey into the keep. During these years, a series of royal custodians were in charge of the castle, including a man named de Serlane, who was awarded the then princely sum of one hundred pounds to upgrade the site. De Serlane ordered the construction of another curtain wall, which enclosed a narrow strip of land on the northern and eastern sides of the castle to form the middle bailey.

In 1227 Hugh de Lacy, now the true Earl of Ulster, had returned from France and once again took possession of the castle; he immediately doubled its size by enclosing the remainder of the rocky peninsula. Commanded by the powerful twin-towered gatehouse and two lengths of sturdy walls, de Lacy's outer bailey defended the northern approach to the castle. A drawbridge, portcullis and murder holes effectively barred unwanted visitors.

Originally the cylindrical gate-towers stood twice their present height, but during the 16th century upgrade, the upper levels were demolished to accommodate artillery. This was when Sir Francis Drake was using the castle for his headquarters. Later during the Napoleonic Wars, the castle was further fitted for artillery.

Back in 1264, William de Burgh had acquired the earldom of Ulster and the castle. There was a relatively peaceful period until Edward Bruce took the castle after a year long siege. The English retook the castle in just two years time and held it for nearly four centuries until General Robert Munroe seized it for the Scots. Cromwell's army took the castle back in seven years time.

Even though the military used Carrickfergus Castle well into the 20th century, the medieval appearance and general ambiance of Ireland's oldest Norman stronghold remained sound. For over eight centuries the castle suffered siege after siege, but like the people of Carrickfergus itself, the castle has bravely endured the passage of time.

Today the Environment and Heritage Service has responsibility for the castle and open it to the public throughout the year for a fee.




author: Michael Russell

See more on: - Tourism / Travel Articles - Travel Articles




© Startpage Ireland 2004 - 2019