The name Carrickfergus comes from the Gaelic 'Carraig Fear gusa' which translates in English to 'Rock of Fergus'. It is said to have been named after King Fergus (498AD) who ruled the Kingdom of Dalriada which stretched along the North Antrim coast and into Argyll and Bute in Scotland.
Fergus had moved the seat of power from Ireland to Scotland, on a journey back to Ulster in stormy weather his boat foundered on rocks and he was drowned, this is said to have happened close to where the present castle stands. There are references made to Fergus having leperosy and that he was returning to seek a cure.
The same long rock which is said to have claimed his life is, in geological terms a volcanic dyke and provides the foundation of Carrickfergus Castle. This fabulous Norman fortress was built on the site of an older wooden fort and was built by John de Courcy in the 1180s. it took him seven years to complete as he was also fighting and establishing territory in the north east of Ulster at the same time.
De Courcy was a Norman knight who moved north from Dublin in 1177 to establish land for himself in Ulster and expand the Norman interest. With 25-30 armoured horsemen and 300 foot soldiers, he captured the main settlement of Downpatrick, then took the settlement of Carrickfergus which he made his strategic stronghold, fro here he expanded his powerbase and also protected it.
This magnificantly preserved castle strategically guards the entrance to Belfast Lough and would have originally been surrounded by water. The castle served as a stronghold for numerous governors and conquerers during its existence. It been besieged by French, Scots, English and Irish troops. De Courcy also founded St Nicholas Church in 1192 in the town and Woodburn Priory.
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