Once upon a time the Rock of Fergus, also known as Carrickfergus Castle dominated the Antrim Coastline of Ireland. It was originally constructed in the twelfth century and occupies a promontory that projects out into the Belfast Lough.
The guides and guidebooks both tell that the Rock of Fergus is the oldest and most well preserved castle in all of Ireland. When I was in Ireland in 2007 we arrived a little too early in the morning to actually see the inside of the castle. It is quite impressive from the outside but this year I was fortunate enough not to be on any particular timetable so we spent some time exploring the town of Carrickfergus as well as finding a nice cup of coffee and amazingly enough on a bright sunshiny Irish morning. Isn’t it always raining in Ireland?
When we first walked up to the gate (which was before it was actually open) we found a much smaller door hidden inside the much larger door and were lucky enough to pass through that smaller door undetected. But of course we concluded that it was not yet open and decided to come back later.
I’m quite sure I wouldn’t have wanted to spend any time in the dungeon which we did get to see later.
If you look closely at this picture on the left you can see the cut in the door on the right where the smaller entrance is located.
Just inside this gate is the visitor center. But what had been there was the “Hall,” which is said to have been a two story building with a view of the sea.
A little bit further in on the right hand side is the castle keep which remains intact today. And consistent with so many other attractions in Europe is replete with lots of stairs.
The Keep itself has four floors. Originally if you were a visitor to the castle you would enter via a circular staircase that was on the ground floor. I hadn’t really noticed before but the ground floor has no windows. Evidently this was done on purpose to protect the upper floors from fire and invaders.
Additionally on the ground floor were a guardroom for soldiers and a public toilet. The Lord and Lady of the castle had more private accommodations but even those pale in comparison to what we have now.
Interestingly this castle had it’s own fresh water supply which would have been of great value during any siege.
The Banquet Hall was reserved for the Lord and Lady and their family. Also located in the keep were the kitchens.
And finally on the top floor were the chambers for the Lord and his family.
The Lords private chambers have huge windows that look out too sea as well as having views of all the inner wards and courtyards of the castle. They also had a nice fireplace and the private toilet I mentioned earlier.
Carrickfergus Castle was an active Garrison right up until 1928 when it was transferred to the Government of Northern Ireland who’s charter it was to then preserve it as a National Monument.
These guns lined the walls overlooking the sea. They are known as 68 pounder guns which would fire an exploding shell. In theory they were easily manipulated using the rails on which they were mounted which allowed for more versatility when firing at targets that may have been moving.
Located next to the guns were four sea towers which had the narrow slits built into them which allowed archers to fire arrows protecting the castles’ outer walls.
And underneath these Sea towers were the dungeons or prisons. Located in the middle of the floor is a trap door where a prisoner would have been dropped into the room below. Much like the room above there were narrow slits in the walls but no door other than the one above from which they had just been dropped. Escape was next to impossible.
In 1602 it is reported that Clandeboye, Con O did in fact make a daring escape which involved the jailers daughter Annas Dobbin who smuggled ropes to Con concealed in two large cheeses. While he did appear to escape, his is not a happy ending as he was eventually caught and forced to sign over all his land holdings.