Carlingford Castle dominates the skyline of Carlingford town overlooking Carlingford Lough. It was a vital point of defence for the area for centuries as it not only commanded control of the sea lough but also the narrow gap of land to the north leading into Ulster. The castle was built around 1190 by the Norman baron, Hugh de Lacy. Initially favoured by King John of England, Hugh grew too powerful for John’s liking and so John forced him to rebel and seized the castle for himself in 1210. John reputedly stayed in the castle for a short period when he visited in 1210. and so, it became known as King John’s Castle. Hugh did manage to reclaim it in 1222. Recent excavations show that the Anglo Normans were not the first to recognise the strategic importance of the site which was probably used for settlement by the local Irish lord, Murchadh O’Carroll. There is evidence of an early rath ditch which runs around the site. This ditch, used in the foundations by the Normans, probably accounts for the curved façade on the western side of the castle. Located at the most northerly part of the Pale, Carlingford Castle provided a stronghold for the Normans to control the area. The initial phase of the castle was a strong fortified area consisting of a straight wall facing east and an oval shaped wall to the west with wooden buildings within the space which housed soldiers, horses and supplies. The Castle would appear to have been extended in phases as an ongoing process. In the 1260s, the eastern section was remodelled to provide a large 2 storeyed hall and the south east corner was bult in the 1400s to contain living quarters for the Constable of the Castle. It remained the stronghold of Anglo Norman conquest and was subject to attacks by the Irish. The castle was difficult to maintain and is quoted as being in “a wretched condition” by 1549. It was granted to Nicholas Bagnel who repaired it as a strategic defence point of the Pale. William of Orange is said to have housed his wounded soldiers there following the Battle of the Boyne while they waited for Hospital ships to arrive from Carrickfergus. The castle was abandoned in the 1700’s and fell into ruin. It has always been a popular place and beloved of the local population who explored it growing up and held events there in the 70s and 80s. More recently, it has undergone a careful renovation by the Office of Public Works to make it accessible to the public.
Carlingford Lough Heritage Trust provide excellent guided tours of this historic Castle from March to October Contact Carlingfordcastle@carlingfordheritagecentre.com
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