Dunluce Castle is mentioned in the fourteenth century as one of the properties of de Burgo or de Burgh in the Earldom of Ulster, it is believed to have been built by Richard de Burgh on the site of an earlier fort or by one of his chief followers in the thirteenth century, possibly Hugelin De Mandeville.
The castle was taken by force from the McQuillan's by Sorley Boy McDonnell after the Battle of Orla in 1583. A battle which defined the power structure in Ulster and in which Hugh MacFelim O'Neill, Rory MacQuillan and Captain Thomas Chatterson were killed. Sorley, knowing the glens well made his way at night up through Glendun and positioned his forces on firm ground surrounded by bogland which they had covered with cut rushes. When the horses and foot soldiers charged they ended up in boggy ground and became easy victims to the lighter equipped McDonnell soldiers on the firmer ground. A traditional local saying goes - 'There's been nobody fooled by a rush bush but a McQuillan'.
There are references to Sorley Boy McDonnell's flying, much to the displeasure of Queen Elizabeth 1st, a battle standard captured after a skirmish with the English, he is also reputed to have mounted four cannons salvaged from the Girona along the castle walls. The Girona was a galleass of the Spanish Armada which foundered on Lacada Point at the Giant's Causeway in 1588, local folklore tell of victims being buried in St. Cuthbert's graveyard in nearby Dunluce Castle.
The McDonnell's also held a 'St Columcille Cross' named after the Irish saint, this was taken along with other valuables by Sir John Perrott who took the castle on instructions from Queen Elizabeth in 1584.
The castle has seen lots of sieges and battles during its history, Sorley Boy eventually went to live at Dunaneenie, Ballycastle and the castle came into the possession of his son Randal McDonnell. Randall set about restoring the castle and built a lavish manor house within the castle walls.
He married the widow Lady Katherine Manners, daughter of the Earl of Rutland, her husband George Villiers, the Marquess of Buckingham was shot in Portsmouth by a disgruntled naval officer called John Fenton.
Dunluce Castle became their residency, an inventory dating from this period shows that the castle was indeed a fine residence. The Earl and Countess of Antrim frequented the royal court in London and acquired many of their possessions there. There were said to have been tapestries and exquisite curtains including a set which had belonged to Cardinal Wolsley at Hampton Court.
The inventory lists six sets of chairs of state, which would have been placed under an elaborate canopy. Sixty other elaborately upholstered chairs and stools and a library of books. There were saddles worked with gold and silver, finely inlaid cabinets and valuable objects such as telescopes, celestial and terrestrial globes.
The most valuable listings are the priests vestments - the Countess is credited with establishing St. Cuthbert's Church (nearby to the castle) it was originally thatched and is recorded as having a lavish interior which included the signs of the zodiac painted in the ceiling plaster.
A village which grew up around the castle had its own customs house at Portballintrae, merchants settled here and it became a thriving focus of commerce - evidence to this can be found in the many headstones within the old church graveyard of St. Cuthbert's.
In 1639, while the second Earl and his Countess were there, part of the castle including the kitchens fell into the sea; seven cooks went with the kitchen but an itinerant cobbler was said to have survived in a corner of the vanished room.
The 1641 rebellion saw the castle besieged by an Irish army and the surrounding village burnt, the castle held out under the command of a Captain Digsby and was relieved by the Earl. Most of the Scottish settlers and merchants escaped to Scotland before the village was destroyed by fire.
General Munro arrived here in 1642 with a large army, some thousand foot soldiers, two troops of cavalry and field guns - he is said to have arrested and imprisoned the Earl in Carrickfergus, ransacked Dunluce and other castle belonging to the Earl as well as burning Glenarm.
The Earl re-occupied Dunluce Castle after 1666 and lived there until his death in 1683. Oliver Plunkett, the Archbishop of Armagh who had at the time been recently canonized, was a visitor during this period and described it as a 'palace washed on all sides by the sea'.
The Battle of the Boyne in 1690 had repercussions for the McDonnells who had supported the cause of James II, Dunluce Castle was abandoned and Ballymagarry House nearby became the Earl of Antrim's main residence, part of its structure and garden walls are still standing. A barn survives with a massive oak roof said to have come from Dunluce Castle after it was deserted.
Ballymagarry was destroyed by a fire in 1745 after which Glenarm Castle became the principal seat of the Earl of Antrim which is still the clan seat of the McDonnells.