Dunseverick Castle: History, People & Myths
Journeying along the iconic Causeway Coastal Route, every twist and turn of the rugged coastline reveals a story, a legend, or a piece of history waiting to be explored. Among these treasures, perched dramatically on a cliff’s edge, lies the evocative ruins of Dunseverick Castle.
Dunseverick Castle is one of Northern Ireland’s most iconic landmarks, located on the scenic Causeway Coastal route. The site offers visitors a glimpse into rich history and culture of ancient ireland.
A site of immense historical significance and bewitching beauty, this castle whispers tales from an age long past, drawing travellers into its narrative. For those tracing the path of the Causeway Coastal Route, a stop at Dunseverick offers not just breathtaking views but a deep dive into Northern Ireland’s rich tapestry of history and folklore. Dive in with us as we unveil the stories behind these ancient stones.
Here’s a guide to visiting the ancient royal site, including how to get there, parking, things to do, history, nearby attractions, where to stay, and places to eat.
How to Get There
Dunseverick Castle is located near the Village of Dunseverick in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, about 4.5 miles (7.2 km) east of the town of Bushmills and 10 miles (16km) from Ballycastle. The castle is located off the Causeway Coastal Route, one of the most scenic driving routes in the world between The Giants Causeway and Whitepark Bay.
From Belfast its around 1.5 hours and 3.5 hours from Dublin by car. There are two main routes to get to Dunseverick. The first would be follow the A2 Causeway Coastal Route, or the direct route. From Belfast, take the M2 motorway to Ballymena, then follow the A26 and then A44 to Ballycastle to Army and then follow the signs to Dunseverick Castle. From Dublin, take the M1 motorway to Belfast, then follow the same route as above.
Parking At Dunseverick Castle
Parking There is a small car park located near Dunseverick Castle here, which is free of charge. The car park can accommodate about 20 cars and is located a short walk along the causeway cliff path from the castle ruins. During peak tourist season, the car park can become busy, so you may need to arrive early to secure a parking spot, or park on the road. There is another lay-by around 150m towards Dunseverick.
By Public Transport
There are no direct bus or trains to Dunseverick Castle. The main two options are getting the 221 Gold Line service from Belfast to The Giants Causeway, changing at Bushmills to the 402 Coleraine to Balycastle Translink bus to Dunseverick Castle. The Translink Ulsterbus service offers several daily departures, and the journey takes approximately 2 hours.
By train you can get the train from Belfast (or Dublin) to Coleraine and then change to the 402 bus to Ballycastle which stops at Dunseverick Castle. The Bus station and train station are in the same building at Coleraine which makes it easy.
For both of these options it is best to look at theTranslink NI Journey pLanner Site HERE
Alternatively, visitors can join a guided tour that includes Dunseverick Castle and other nearby attractions. Several tour operators offer tours of the Causeway Coast, including stops at the Giant’s Causeway, Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, and Dunluce Castle, among others.
The History of Dunseverick Castle
Dunseverick Castle has a long history of over 1,500 years, originally constructed as a stone fort to protect against maritime attacks.
According to the Irish annals, St Patrick, Irelands patron Saint, is one of the most important figures in the history of Ireland and is credited with bringing Christianity to the country in the 5th century AD.
The castle’s earliest records mention Saint Patrick’s visit in the 5th Century AD, during which he baptized a local man named Olcán. Olcán later became a Bishop of Ireland and a saint of the Dál Riada.
While the exact nature of Saint Patrick’s relationship to Dunseverick Castle is unclear, his legacy is deeply intertwined with the history and culture of Ireland, and his impact can be felt throughout the country to this day. Saint Patrick is celebrated every year on March 17th with parades, festivals, and other events that honor his memory and the rich cultural heritage of Ireland.
Fergus the Great
During the 6th Century AD, the castle served as the seat of Fergus Mor MacEirc; said to have been the founder of Dunseverick Castle, which was originally known as Dún Sobhairce. Fergus a notable figure who held the title of king of Dalriada and was the great-uncle of Muirceartaigh MacEirc, who served as the High King of Ireland.
Legend has it that Fergus Mor was a powerful and charismatic leader who united the clans of Dalriada and established a strong sea kingdom in north Antrim and western Scotland. He is said to have had close ties to the legendary Irish hero Cúchulainn and to have been a skilled warrior and diplomat.
The castle played a significant role as the starting point of the five great royal highways for the Lia Fail, a legendary coronation stone used to crown all kings of Ireland during that period.
Dunseverick Castle was reportedly one of Fergus Mor’s primary strongholds and was strategically located on the coast of County Antrim, overlooking the North Atlantic Ocean. The castle was a key defensive position and was often targeted by Viking raiders who sailed up the nearby River Bush.
When The Viking Raiders Visited Dunseverick Castle
During the Viking era, which lasted from the 8th century to the 11th century, the castle played a key role in the conflict between the Norsemen and the native Irish. The Vikings were notorious raiders and traders who had established settlements throughout the British Isles, including in Ireland. They were known for their skill as sailors and warriors, and they were feared by the Irish for their raids on ancient castles along their coastal towns and villages.
The Vikings are believed to have attacked Dunseverick Castle several times over the centuries as their sea kingdom expanded, and the castle was fortified and expanded in response to these attacks. The castle’s strategic location on the coast made it an ideal place for the Vikings to establish a base from which to launch their raids, and it was the scene of many fierce battles between the Norsemen and the Gaelic tribes.
Despite the Viking attacks, the castle continued to be an important center of power and trade throughout the medieval period. It was ruled by various Gaelic clans over the centuries, including the MacDonnells and the O’Cahan family held. The family maintained control of the court for centuries until it was captured and destroyed by Cromwellian General Robert Munro in 1642.
The Castle During 1600s
During the Cromwellian period in Irish history, Dunseverick Castle played an important role in the conflict between the English Parliamentarians and the Irish Royalists. The castle was held by the MacDonnell clan, who were supporters of the Royalist cause.
In 1642, the castle was attacked by Cromwellian troops under the command of Colonel John Clotworthy. The MacDonnells Scottish army held out against the siege for several weeks, but eventually surrendered after their supplies ran low. The castle was captured then occupied by the Cromwellian troops, who used it as a base for their operations in the surrounding area.
In 1650, the castle was once again the scene of conflict, this time between the Parliamentarians and the forces of the Irish Confederate Catholics. The castle was held by a garrison of Parliamentarian soldiers, but they were unable to withstand the siege laid by the Confederates. The castle was eventually captured and destroyed by General Robert Munro, who razed it to the ground.
While a small residential tower survived until 1978, now only the ruins of a gate lodge from the original stone fort built around the 5th century ad.
Dunseverick Castle and earthworks are scheduled historic monuments and are looked after by the National Trust along with local farmer Jack McCurdy
However, it still exudes a mystical atmosphere.
Things to do at Dunseverick Castle
Although Dunseverick Castle may be in a state of disrepair and guided tours are not available, there are still enough activities to keep visitors engaged.
The following contains information about various places of interest, including views, Dunseverick Falls, and the walk leading to the Giants Causeway.
Soak up the Sea Views
Dunseverick Castle provides a distinctive coastal setting regardless of the weather. The castle’s ruins and ocean view can transport you to another time when kings surveyed their kingdoms and invaders feared the fortress perched atop the rocky cliffs.
The cliffs around show signs of erosion from past battles with the ocean, resulting in a rugged landscape. If you look carefully, you can see Rathlin Island and possibly even the Scottish Isles of Islay and Jura.
Visit Dunseverick Falls
The Dunseverick Falls are located near the castle and can be reached through a seaside walk from Dunseverick Harbour. The waterfall is formed by a small river that meets the sea and creates a beautiful sight.
Dunseverick Falls features rock pools filled with marine life, making it a family-friendly destination with a serene atmosphere.
This location offers a unique experience of the meeting of land and sea, with minimal crowds.
Walk to the Giant’s Causeway
Dunseverick Castle is located near the well-known Giants Causeway. A footpath is available for those who wish to enjoy the scenery while walking.
The footpath is a part of the Causeway Coast Way & Ulster Way, spanning almost 5 miles. From the castle car park, visitors can choose to walk to the Giant’s Causeway and return or take a bus back, as there is a bus stop at the car park.
Visitors can enjoy breathtaking views of the cliffs, ocean, farmlands, and the unique basalt columns of Giant’s Causeway. Dressing warmly and wearing appropriate footwear is recommended due to potentially harsh cliff conditions.
Things to see near Dunseverick Castle
Dunseverick Castle is conveniently located near top tourist destinations in Antrim.
Near Dunseverick Castle, there are various tourist activities, food options, and pubs to visit.
Whitepark Bay Beach (5-minute drive)
Whitepark Bay Beach offers various activities like surfing, strolling, and sunbathing. The beach is surrounded by beautiful wildflower-covered dunes and is usually not overcrowded. Visitors may also spot the Whitepark Bay cows maintaining the dunes.
Ballintoy Harbour (10-minute drive)
Ballintoy Harbour is a beautiful location with a steep, winding road leading down. The sea is dotted with stacks and rocky outcrops, and fishing boats can be observed navigating the waters. The harbour cafe is a recommended spot for lunch and offers a variety of delicious options.
Kinbane Castle is a ruined castle located on the coast of County Antrim, Northern Ireland. It was built in the 16th century by the MacDonnell clan and was later captured by the English during the Nine Years’ War.
The castle is perched on a cliff overlooking the Causeway coastline, offering stunning views of the surrounding landscape. Visitors can explore the ruins of the castle, which include the remains of the keep, the gatehouse, and the walls.
Kinbane is a hidden gem that is less crowded than some of the other attractions in the area, making it a perfect destination for those seeking a quieter and more off-the-beaten-path experience.
Old Bushmills distillery
The Old Bushmills Distillery is a whiskey distillery located in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. It was founded in 1608, making it the oldest licensed whiskey distillery in the world.
The distillery produces a range of Irish whiskeys, including the flagship Bushmills Original, which is a blend of triple-distilled single malt whiskey and Irish grain whiskey. Visitors to the distillery can take guided tours that include a visit to the working distillery, a whiskey tasting, and a visit to the gift shop.
The distillery is situated in the picturesque village of Bushmills, which is also home to the famous Giants Causeway, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Old Bushmills Distillery is a must-visit destination for whiskey lovers and anyone interested in the history and culture of Ireland.
The Giants Causeway
The Giants Causeway is a natural wonder located on the coast of County Antrim, Northern Ireland. It is made up of over 40,000 hexagonal basalt columns that were formed by a volcanic eruption millions of years ago.
Legend has it that the columns were created by a giant named Finn McCool who built them as stepping stones to reach Scotland. The Causeway is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a popular tourist attraction, offering visitors stunning views of the rugged coastline and the unique geological formations that make it one of the most fascinating natural wonders in the world.