The castle was built on the site of an older in the 13th century by either John De Courcy or Richard de Burgh, this was during the Anglo Norman period in Ulster. De Burgh's daughter became the second wife of Robert the Bruce who took refuge on Rathlin with the help of local supporters. The site was certainly occupied long before this. A souterrain exists on the outcrop and runs under one of the Norman towers. Names that have been associated with ownership of the include Mac Eoin, De Courcy, De Burgh, MacQuillan and MacDonnell with brief captures and occupation by crown forces represented by Perrott and Munro..
The most colourful occupier of Dunluce Castle was Sorley Boy MacDonnell, a Scottish chieftain whose clan established their dominance along the north coast in the mid 1500s. The castle was lay siege to on several occasions during its long history, three examples were:
1584 - Queen Elizabeth dispatched Sir John Perrott (the Lord Deputy of Ireland) from Dublin with an army to arrest Sorley Boy MacDonnell - he lay siege to Dunluce on September 14th 1584 and on the third day the castle surrendered - Sorley had flown the nest before his arrival and evaded arrest. The castle was held by Perrott for one year, Sorley re-took it on his departure. 1641 - It was unsuccessfully besieged by an Irish army - the village of Dunluce which was a thriving merchant settlement that had developed around the castle was destroyed by fire but the castle held out under the command of a Captain Digby and was relieved by the Earl of Antrim in April of that year. The outlines of some of the old walls of this village can still be seen in the land to the west of the castle and recent excavations have provided interesting finds. A plan now exists to create a new visitors centre and excavate the area for public access. 1642 - In July General Munro arrived with a thousand foot soldiers, two troops of cavalry and field guns on his mission to crush the uprising and establish control. Acting under the orders of the Marquis of Argyll (an enemy of the Earl) he arrested and imprisoned the Earl of Antrim in Carrickfergus Castle, he also ransacked Dunluce and other castles belonging to the Earl.