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Carrickfergus Castle (Northern Ireland)

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5 Reviews

A striking feature of the landscape from land, sea and air, Carrickfergus Castle greets all visitors with its strength and menace. It represents over 800 years of military might. Besieged in turn by the Scots, Irish, English and French, the Castle saw action right up to World War II. Today it is maintained by the Environment and Heritage Service and can be enjoyed by visitors wanting to learn more about its history or just looking for a fun day out in a unique setting.

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      25.05.2010 19:52
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      Great half day out for all the family!

      Carrickfergus Castle is one of Northern Ireland's most striking remnants from the medievil period. It is located in a town of the same name, just a few miles to the north east of Belfast.

      Reaching it is easy. You can either take a bus, car, or train direct from Belfast Central. Parking is widely available and both the bus and train stops are within (or less than) a 10 minute walk of the Castle itself.

      Entry is quite cheap at £3.00 for adults and half that price for children and concessions. Under 4's get in for free and a family ticket can be purchased for £8.

      If stuck for things to do in Belfast, i'd definitely recommend it. Exploring the grounds is very interesting as there is plentiful information to tell you the backstory - not to mention the old cannons, pokey lookouts and castle walls are all rather impressive.

      There is also an indoor area where one can climb up to the top of the tower, play old board games, walk over a glass floor well, and see a banquet room. Video rooms exist off to the side detailing the history of the castle.

      All of this is even before I mention the lovely sea views. Looking out from one of the lookout towers, it's easy to imagine life here in the old days.

      Overall I rate Carrickfergus Castle as a great half day out for most families. While it naturally doesn't live up to the lofty standards of Edinburgh Castle, for example, it is still rather big, and really quite interesting. The combination of both the history and the modern day views make it a well deserved stop off point on a wider tour of Northern Ireland.

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        06.07.2009 15:09
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        Take a step back in time and explore a fantastic norman castle.

        Carrickfergus Castle

        I grew up in the shadows of this impressive monument and it amazes me that it is not more widely known outside of the UK. The castle is the best preserved monument in the whole of Ireland and is stunning to look at from all angles.

        Location

        The castle is located in the town of Carrickfergus which is situated on the shores of Belfast Lough about 10 miles from Belfast. The castle can easily be reached from Belfast by car (pretty much a straight road), regular buses and trains. The castle is open all year round. Off season it is open 10-4 Monday to Sat and 2 - 4 on a Sunday and during the summer or peak months the opening hours are extended until 6pm daily. It costs £3 per adult and £1.50 for children/senior citizens. A family ticket costs £8.

        A brief history

        The history of the castle is fascinating and whole books could easily be wrote about it. The castle was founded in 1177 by the Norman knight John De Courcy. De Courcy was later ousted by Hugh de Lacy also a Norman knight who completed the initial building of the castle. Over the 800 hundred years it has been besieged by the Scots, English and the French. Throughout the 800 years the castle has remained an important military structure and was last commissioned by the British Army who used it as an armoury during the Second World War.

        During its impressive history it was only once occupied by a reigning monarch. King John of England (Robin Hood's enemy) who captured the castle in 1210 and I believe he stayed in the Castle for a week or so before moving on. There is a live size statue of King John in the castle using the toilet. Presumably that's were the phrase going to the John may have come from.

        Other important historical dates for the castle include the landing of Price William of Orange on his way to fight at the battle of the Boyne in 1690. The landing is reinacted every year by the Orange order.

        The castle was surrendered to French forces in 1760 following fierce fighting. There is a famous story of a young boy running out in front of the opposing sides before battle commenced. A French soldier broke ranks and rescued the young boy before the battle commenced no doubt saving his life in the process.

        The sea in front of the castle played a small but important role in the American War of Independence when in 1778 John Paul Jones enticed a royal navy ship to engage it. The battle was fought for an hour with the American being the victors.

        The castle was also used as a prison and it was here that a young William Orr was found guilty of being a traitor and hung in front of the castle as an example to others. It had the opposite effect and the battle cry Remember Orr was used by the rebels in the United Irishmen Rebellion of 1798.

        The castle is built upon a rock. The rock has a well in it which still to this day supplies some of the freshest drinking water available although for health and safety reasons visitors are not allowed to drink it. Legend has it that the rock is where a King Fergus washed ashore after his boat sank. He drank the water from the well during his recovery and thus the town of Carrickfergus was born. (Carric (might be spelt wrong) in Irish means rock) thus Carrickfergus is the Rock of Fergus.

        My opinion

        As a school boy living in the town I was mesmerised by the interesting and often bloody history that our town had gone through and in a way I was very lucky that the stories of my ancestors is so well documented. The castle which was garrisoned for almost 800 years is now a national trust property and open to tourists. Over the past number of year extensive work has been carried out to the castle and the banqueting hall has been reinstated to its former glory. The castle offers a very interesting day to tourists and locals alike. Tours are available and are well worthwhile even if it's only the audio tour.

        Overall it's a fantastic place to visit. Kids and adults alike will thoroughly enjoy taking a step back in time and learning and touching the interesting history of the castle. Although increasing in popularity I can't help think more needs to be done to market such a fantastic castle and hopefully this review will go a small way towards increasing people's interest of it.

        The Ghost Story - Button Cap

        I always loved the story of the ghost of the castle and it would be a shame to leave it out of this review. Despite always looking for him I have yet to witness a sighting. The ghost is called button cap due to the large button he has at the centre of his cap. Button cap is actually a solider named Timothy Lavery who was stationed at the castle in 1760. He was friends with another soldier called Robert Rainey. They were not brothers or even related but they bore an uncanny resemblance to each other.

        Robert fell in love with a local girl called Betsy Baird who unknown to Robert was also involved with the Commanding Officers brother a Captain Jennings. One dark evening leaving his lovers house he encountered Captain Jennings and on realising his lover's infidelity and in a fit of rage ran the captain through with his sword mortally wounding him. He then returned to bed as if nothing had happened.

        In an unfortunate case of mistaken identity Timothy Lavery was arrested for the crime. He was presumed to be Rainey and as such was found guilty of the murder despite protesting his innocence. The only person that could of saved him was his friend Robert Rainey who instead choose to stay silent. As the noose was tightened around Lavery's neck he vowed to haunt Carrickfergus castle ever more. There have been numerous sightings of Button cap over the year and his spectre is said to remain near the well where he shouts and proclaims his innocence to anyone who can hear him.

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        • More +
          06.05.2008 19:43
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          This is great! Thank you!

          Hi, I live in Carrickfergus and it is a great place to live and it is never too quiet but it is never too loud and/or busy! They are talking about making the Belfast Road in to Carrickfergus a two way there and back, it is going to take FIVE YEARS to get it all built and cleaned up and we are all a bit worried but when it is all finished we well be able to take on the mourning rush hour and then it will only take at the most half an hour because it used to takemy mum at the least an hour just sitting in the car moving only a couple of inches every five minutes! Thenshe would be late for work and she would get all worried and now my mum has started uni again and that will take her even longer and my mum likes to go out shopping to after work but the roads are too cramped to drive anywhere!

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            27.02.2008 20:39
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            is a most enjoyable outing

            Carrickfergus Castle is a prime example of a Norman Castle in the old town of Carrickfergus, County Antrim. It is situated at the mouth of the old harbor and can be seen very clearly from Belfast Lough when entering Belfast on the boats that sail down past Carrickfergus. The castle is seated above the sea with the waves hitting the rock the castle is built on frequently. Carrickfergus is a very picturesque castle, one of the most in Ireland, and is the main feature in the town.

            Anybody traveling through Carrickfergus will not be able to miss the castle as it is situated on the Shore Road that leads to Larne. Castle is very large and is often features on promotional material of Northern Ireland. for example place mats, post cards and in numerous literature on the great county of Antrim.

            Carrickfergus Castle was built by John de Courcy in 1177 as his headquarters, after he had conquered the eastern quarter of Ulster, and ruled as a minor king until 1204, when he was ousted by another Norman leader, Hugh de Lacy.
            De Courcy built the inner ward and initially the castle had a number of buildings, including the great hall and banqueting suite. From its strategic position by the near the mouth of the lough and harbor, the castle was a commanding force in Belfast Lough. As a result of the castle being constructed in Carrickfergus, the town of the same name was able to emerge under its shadow.

            A chamber on the first floor of the east tower is believed to have been the castle's chapel on account of its fine, enchanting double window surrounding the chapel.It is thought the original chapel may have been in the inner ward of the castle. The ribbed vault over the entrance passage, the murder hole and the massive portcullis at either end of the gatehouse are later insertions, probably part of the remodeling that followed Edward Bruce's long and bitter siege of 1315-1316. The portcullis is still in place today at the entrance of the castle and is the scene of many wedding pictures that take place in the town. A definite treat for any family getting married in Carrickfergus to have their picture taken under the wings of such a beautiful castle.

            During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries a number of improvements were made to accommodate artillery, notably externally gunports and embrasures for cannon. These features can still be seen today.

            The much celebrated William of Orange first stepped onto Ireland in 1692 before the great Battle of the Boyne. Clearly showing the prominence that Carrickfergus castle had in Ireland.

            A significant even of the American War of Independence in 1778 began at Carrickfergus, when John Paul Jones lured a British Royal Navy vessel from its moorings into the North Channel, and won an hour-long battle. Leading to the American War of Independence that saw America cut its ties from the British Empire.

            The castle became a place for Prisoners of War during the Napoleonic Wars and became a heavily fortified jail.

            For a further century it remained an armoury. Like many big building during the great war, Carrickfergus castle was used as a garrison and during the second world war Carrickfergus Castle offered shelter from air raids to the people of this town.

            In 1928 its ownership was transferred to the government for preservation as an ancient monument and it has been open to the public for many years, being closed for important refurbishments, of the castle exterior and interior parts. The banqueting hall has been fully restored and there are many exhibits to show what life was like in medieval times in the castle and in the town itself.

            Today anyone visitor approaching the Castle can park their car in the car park next to the castle which is free of charge! Visitors can have a look round the town and visit the selective shops there and enjoy a nice meal at the many restaurants and bars that the town has to offer.

            The area immediately around the castle has wonderful floral displays in the summer that are sponsored by local businesses. A big banner is hung over the castles entrance that creates a terrific grandeur effect. Adding to the castles brilliance.

            The most prominent feature of the castle clearly has to be the large center of the structure. When climbed this offers terrific views of the lough to Bangor and Holywood over on the opposite shore.

            In the center of the castle there is a small shop and limited cafe. To the fit the most into your day I would recommend looking round the castle then going round the town and eating something in the town. When I have visited the castle it has provided entertainment for approximately 2 hours.

            At one time the public were invited to walk the castles battlement and enjoy further breath taking views and see where soldiers used to fire from. I would not like to say whether or not this practice still operates with the stringent Health and Safety regulations that govern such tourist attractions.

            Prices:
            Adult - £3.00, Ch/OAP - £1.50, Child under 4 - Free
            Family Rate - £8.00 (2 Adults & 2 Children)

            Opening times:
            Winter (1 Oct - 31 March)
            Open Monday-Saturday 10am to 4pm, Sun 2pm to 4pm

            Summer (1 April - 30 Sept)
            Open Monday-Saturday 10am to 6pm
            Open Sunday (Apr, May, Sept) 2pm to 6pm
            Open Sunday (June, July, Aug) 12noon to 6pm

            Carrickfergus is 10 miles north of Belfast city center, a straight run on the M5.

            Marine Highway
            Carrickfergus
            Antrim
            BT38 7BG

            Website: www.ehsni.gov.uk
            Tel: (028) 9335 1273
            Fax: (028) 9335 5190

            Carrickfergus Castle is definitely worthy of a visit with the breath taking views and over 800years of history that it has to offer. A trip to Northern Ireland must include this castle that is marveled at being one of the most picturesque, even to look at from the outside it is nice to see the castle and the boat bobbing around in the harbor that adjoins the castle in this small haven in Northern Ireland.

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              03.07.2006 12:44
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              Great day out

              On a trip to Northern Ireland for a wedding we were looking for something to occupy us on the Sunday. We were staying quite close to Carrickfergus and loving all things historical we decided to visit the castle there. I didn't really know anything about the castle beforehand so I'll try to give you a bit of background.

              HISTORY:

              Carrickfergus castle was begun in 1177 by John de Courcy, an English baron who conquered Ulster. He remained there until 1204 when another Englishman, Hugh de Lacy, captured the castle. The castle was taken by King John when he went to Ireland in 1210, but was restored to de Lacy in 1227 by Henry III. From around 1330 the castle was in the hands of the crown and remained their main stronghold in the North. The castle was taken by the French in the 18th century. It was used to house an armoury until 1928 when it was handed over to the government to look after.

              ACCESS AND OPENING TIMES:

              The castle is located in Carrickfergus, near Belfast. It right on the waterfront of Belfast Lough. To get there by road from Belfast take the M5 northbound, then follow the A2 through Whiteabbey and Jordanstown, along the coast. There are buses which go from Belfast city centre and there are also trains which go from Belfast to Carrickfergus station, which is only a short walk from the castle. If you are there on a Sunday make sure you plan your journey well because the trains and buses are very infrequent - maybe once every 2-3 hours! Guide dogs are allowed in. I didn't see a lift inside the castle, but there may have been one, so I can't comment on whether there is any disabled access but there were certainly parts of the castle, such as some of the towers, which had no disabled access.

              Summer opening times (1st Apr - 30th Sept):

              Monday-Saturday 10.00am - 6.00pm
              Sunday 2.00pm - 6.00pm

              In June, July and August the castle opens from 12.00pm - 6.00pm on Sundays.

              Winter opening times (1st Oct - 31 Mar):

              Monday - Saturday 10.00am - 4.00pm
              Sunday 2.00pm - 4.00pm

              Last admission is 30 mins before closing but I think that this would be too short a time to see all the castle has to offer.

              Prices:

              Adult £3.00
              Children/seniors £1.50
              Family £8.00

              THE VISIT:

              At first I wasn't that excited about the visit as the castle does not look that big or impressive from the road. However, it is bigger than it looks and there is lots to see inside. So we paid our money and got our maps and set off to explore. The map is laid out with numbers so that people follow a route, although its really up to you which bit you see first.

              The keep is the main part of the castle. This keep is around 30 metres high and has walls which are 3-4 metres thick. You go in up some stairs and there is a display, with a model of the castle and lots of boards telling the visitor about the castle. This was interesting although it did look slightly outdated. You then go through to the audio-visual room which shows a cartoon of de Courcy, de Lacy and King John arguing over the castle. I expect it showed more than that but we didn't have a huge amount of time. We found this cartoon hilarious (being historians - it was amusing to see King John 'brought to life'!!) but it would be great for kids visiting the castle and certainly told the story in an accessible way. Then we went up to the banqueting hall. This was all a bit modern looking for me, with modern furniture and modern stairs going up inside the keep but they were certainly a lot easier to climb than normal castle steps! On the top floor was the 'solar room' which has a few displays in but the main part is that there is a giant chess set and giant snakes and ladders set which are great for the kids (although if we'd had more time I would have played with them too!).

              Around the keep is the Inner Courtyard (which is also where the toilets are for reference!). This is a grassy area with a few information signs. There are lots of figures around the castle and in the Inner Courtyard you can see John de Courcy on horse back, and his wife, the Manx princess Affreca is shown looking out to sea in the direction of the Isle of Man. There is also a model of a Tudor gunner. in the Inner Courtyard you can climb up to the ramparts and this gave a great view over the Lough.

              The next port of call on the map was the Postern Gate, but this was not open at the time of our visit. We went to the Sea Tower next, which also gives great views. Here you can see the castle prison and there is a model of one of the prisoners who escaped in 1603. There is also a model of a crossbowman, firing out of the arrow slits.

              Around the interior you can see models of the soldiers who defended the castle against the French attack of 1760, as well as many canons dating from the 19th century. On the Grand Battery you can see models of Napoleonic War soldiers (some of them have the most hillarios expressions on their faces!).

              Near the gatehouse you can see the Chapel, which you can only look at through glass, and the top of the gatehouse where you can see models of people defending the castle. The last thing to see is the Constable's Quarters, where there is again a model and the room has been constructed to how it might have been in the Medieval period.

              There is also a visitor centre and a shop at the castle but these were not open at the time of our visit which I found quite surprising.

              We only stayed in the castle for about one hour but you could easily make the visit last longer by seeing all the video and playing the games and using the visitors centre.

              MY VERDICT:

              I thought that this castle was very interesting. It has a great history and lots of stories to tell. There is a lot of information provided around the castle (we learnt a lot even though the visitor centre was closed). The games, the cartoon and the lifesize models would be great for those with kids and the majority of people going in had children with them. The modernisation of some parts of the castle annoyed me slightly (being a traditionalist I like to keep heritage attractions as they were) but it certainly made getting around the castle easy. I think that the admission price is fairly reasonable as you could spend quite a bit of time here. Overall this castle was well worth a visit and provides for a reasonable family day out. I learnt from the visit as well which I find important. If you go just make sure you remember that Sunday transport!

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