Dundrum Castle – a Strongpoint of Down

Dundrum Castle is of the many medieval castles of Ireland and certainly one of the more important and impressive. It was built by the famous knight John de Courcy, sometime around 1180 on the location of a previous Celtic fortification. It saw plenty of battles all the way to the 17th century. It overlooks the scenic Dundrum Bay and offers excellent views of the surrounding countryside. Dundrum Castle is one of the more important medieval castles in Ireland and coupled with its location near the Mourne Mountains, Legananny Dolmen, Tollymore Park and Downpatrick means that a combined visit will be touring time well spent, even if one is not a history buff.

Dundrum Castle, County Down. Photo Source: NI Environment Agency.

Dundrum Castle Early History – John de Courcy, Hugh de Lacy and King John

As the Normans conquered England after the battle of Hastings in 1066, they started thinking of Ireland across the waters. Soon they were launching expeditions to subdue the Irish Celts. John de Courcy, a Norman knight, landed in Ulster in 1177 and with a small army of well equipped knights quickly defeated the local Irish clans. He built Carrickfergus and Dundrum Castles among others.

While Carrickfergus was built from stone from an early stage, it appears that Dundrum was initially built partly of wood and partly of stone. Part of the wall was stone, but most of the building within it were wooden and no longer extant. To learn more about castles and the development of the building of medieval castles click here. With his base in County Down secure, De Courcy began to extend his rule into the southern areas of the island.

When John became king of England in 1199, he became suspicious of de Courcy’s growing power and in 1203 handed overlordship of the Irish lands to another Norman knight, Hugh de Lacy. De Lacy in turn invaded Ireland and defeated de Courcy taking over de Courcy’s major castles. Sometime after this date it seems that the wooden structures at Dundrum were replaced by stone ones. It is believed that it was de Lacy who built the stone tower, the Keep. The tower is interesting in that it is circular in design, something unusual for castles in Ireland, but common in Wales. The reason perhaps for the choice of design was that many of de Lacy’s men were from Wales.

Dundrum Castle, County Down as it would have looked in its heyday. Photo Source: NI Environment Agency.

De Lacy also fell out of favor with King John who invaded and in 1210 took over de Lacy’s castles. De Lacy returned in 1227 having found favor with the new king of England, Henry III, but on the basis of a previous agreement the castle returned to the direct authority of the king on de Lacy’s death in 1234. Around 1260 an impressive gate was added, replacing the original, humbler entrance.

Dundrum Castle, the Gatehouse. Photo Source: NI Environment Agency.

From Family to Family

Dundrum Castle saw many battles in the centuries that followed and changed hands many times. Initially it does not seem to have had a tower, but one was added and its defenses strengthened. Lord Grey captured it around 1539 and wrote of it to king Henry VIII: “I took another castell……called Dundrome, which I assure your lordship, as it standeth, is one of the strongest holds that I ever saw in Ireland”. The house at the lower end of the ward was built by the Blundell family who owned the castle after 1652.

Blundell House, Dundrum Castle. Photo Source: NI Environment Agency.

Visiting Dundrum

Dundrum Castle is easily accessible. From Belfast take the A55 in a south-easterly direction and then A24 in the same direction towards Ballynahinch. The A24 leads onto the A2 coastal road at Clough. Dundrum village is about 3 miles beyond Clough. The direction to the castle is well signposted on the A2. There are parking and toilet facilities and the site is good for picnics, but respect the environment and keep the area clean.

Leave plenty of time for your visit, enjoy the beautiful surroundings and views, and visit some of the other important attractions in the area too.

For more detailed historical information click here.


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