Secrets of Dunluce Castle 16 August 2012
Secrets of Dunluce Castle revealed in new book confirms now is the time to positively develop the Causeway Coast
Environment Minister Alex Attwood launched a new book on Dunluce Castle’s intriguing history, including many exciting new insights.
The book confirms why the Causeway Coast needs protection and positive development and why now is the time to grasp sustainable development opportunities.
The striking cliff–top ruins of Dunluce Castle and its spectacular location combine to make it one of the best known and most visited monuments in Northern Ireland.
‘Dunluce Castle: History and Archaeology’ by Dr Colin Breen provides a comprehensive study of the evolution of the castle, the buried archaeological remains at Dunluce and the historical background to the site and its surrounding area. It also describes the ‘larger than life’ characters, particularly from the MacDonnell family, that have shaped its history. Sorley Boy MacDonnell, with his scheming, plotting and shifting of allegiances is just one example: in one of his more incredible escapades he managed to retake the castle from English forces in 1585, by a cunning combination of double agents within the castle and others scaling its sheer cliffs and walls to overpower the garrison within.
Attwood said: “The book and Dunluce form part of the narrative of the
Causeway Coast – they demonstrate why we need to protect and develop the assets
and to do so now, sustainably and create jobs. The Northern Ireland Environment
Agency is delighted to have a monument of the calibre of Dunluce Castle in its
care. The archaeological excavations which inspired this book has added greatly
to our knowledge of Dunluce Castle, and for the public to have the opportunity
to see those excavations, and even take part in them, was hugely exciting.
“The Agency purchased lands beside Dunluce Castle earlier this year. This is the first step in what we anticipate will be an ambitious, exciting and engaging project of excavation, interpretation and conservation of the castle and the early 17th century town that was excavated outside the castle gates–the ‘lost town of Dunluce’. Not so many years from now, our own little Pompeii could be revealed for all to see and marvel.
“Dunluce Castle is very much a jewel in our rich heritage crown. It and our built heritage, play a vital role in our tourism economy. The built and natural heritage will be the biggest part of future increases in tourist numbers and spend. Six out of ten visitor attractions are our built and natural heritage. Growing tourism from a £500 million to a £1 billion a year industry will revolve around the positive protection and development of this heritage.
“I believe firmly that we can both protect and develop our natural and built heritage. We can do so on what is arguably the greatest of those assets – the Causeway Coast. We cannot shirk this challenge. We need to build infrastructure. We need to have the facilities, the accommodation and give reasons why people will visit, stay, spend and from that comes sustainable growth and jobs. If we don’t do this, we fail the growing numbers out of work. We cannot afford to fail.”
Dr Colin Breen, Centre for Maritime Archaeology, University of Ulster, has led excavations on the site at Dunluce over four summer seasons, since 2008. He was assisted by the Centre for Archaeological Fieldwork and the archaeology students from Queen’s University Belfast. The local community, including school groups, were also involved in uncovering the secrets of this fascinating site.
Nobody could have predicted the superb and surprising results that were to emerge during the four seasons of excavations that followed. It became clear that the castle had a complex history of building, re–building and development. The excavations also revealed that the early seventeenth–century ‘town’ of Dunluce lay buried, but very well–preserved in the fields outside the castle gate.
The Plantation–period settlement at Dunluce was the brainchild of Randal MacDonnell. Historical sources tell us little about the development of the site and the people who lived there. However, the recent excavations and series of surveys which are described in this book, bring the town to life, right down to being able to picture the blacksmith gossiping over a gaming board outside his forge.
The book is written in a style that will appeal to both the specialist and general reader alike. It is beautifully illustrated, capturing the dramatic location of Dunluce Castle and the sites associated with it, charting the architectural evolution of the castle and documenting the unfolding story of the excavations.