Ireland is known for its deep-rooted history surrounding Samhain, which dates back to the days when druids were commonplace in society. Many people don't realize that in addition to its spookier history, Ireland is home to plenty of medieval history - and the two often intertwined. There's one place, in particular, that shares its own dark history which overlaps both time periods.
Not only was it home to its fair share of witch trials, but it's also home to a castle and a major natural landmark. And the best part? It's located not far from Belfast, one of the most popular cities in Northern Ireland!
Why Visit Carrickfergus?
This town has a unique name and a history to go with it that's just as unique. There's something for everyone, from its history to its nearby entertainment which makes it one of the most versatile stops in Ireland. To the locals, the town is simply known as Carrick, and it's home to roughly 30,000 people. It's also one of the oldest towns in the country, making it that much more alluring to avid history buffs. Visitors can find Carrickfergus in the seaside county of Antrim, which is also home to the best-preserved castle in Ireland: Carrickfergus Castle.
If castles aren't enough, then perhaps the history of witch trials in Ireland will be enough to draw one in. And, even still, if that's not enough, then having a chance to walk along the Causeway's famed Gobbins cliff walk will do the job.
Historic Landmark: Carrickfergus Castle
Similar to the way that Edinburgh Castle sits atop a hillside in Scotland, Carrickfergus Castle towers over town in a similar manner. The exception is the seaside at its hilt, with waves that crash against the exterior walls of the castle, setting a dramatic scene. This castle is one of the oldest in Ireland, dating back to the 12th century, and was built in a traditional Norman style. Carrickfergus has seen its fair share of warfare, as well, surviving onslaughts by the Scottish, English, French, and even the Irish, themselves.
Those interested in seeing the tower up-close can take a guided tour of its halls; otherwise, it's easily seen from the shoreline of Carrickfergus. To this day, it's one of the most well-preserved castles in the country, which also makes it one of the most famous.
- Hours: Monday - Friday, 9 AM - 5 PM
- Admission: Adult (18+) - £5.25 | Child (age 5 - 17) - £3.50 | Child under 5 - Free
Dark History: Ireland's Witch Trials
Almost in the center of Carrickfergus, visitors will find a unique memorial. Featuring a replica of a pillory, the memorial stands in tribute to the witch trials that occurred in Ireland during the early 18th century. The last trials occurred in 1711, with eight women from Islandmagee being accused of witchcraft. All eight of them were sentenced to stand at the pillory in Carrickfergus a total of four times, while the townspeople determined which punishments would suit them. The pillory that stands there today is in memory of those accused; a somber reminder of some of the darkest parts of Ireland's history.
- Address: Joymount & Antrim Street
Local Lore: The Gobbins
Those familiar with Ireland's Causeway Coastal route are likely also familiar with The Gobbins. This cliff walk is not overly popular - at least, not like its neighbor, the Giant's Causeway - but it's well worth a stop for those near Carrickfergus. The route takes hikers around some of Northern Ireland's most dramatic seaside cliffs, with views of the coast that one would be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. The views alone are enough but hikers should be aware of the stairs and somewhat steep steps that can be found along the route.
- Total Length: 2.5 hours
- Tour Type: Guided
- Ranking: Easy to moderate
Finding Accommodations In Carrickfergus
While it might be easier to find lodging in the nearby city of Belfast, there are several great options for those who would rather stay right in Carrickfergus.
- Cost: Starting from $98
- Amenities: Free WiFi, continental breakfast, daily housekeeping, full-service laundry, air conditioning
The Tramway House
- Cost: Starting at $136
- Amenities: Beachfront property, intimate (three main rooms) inn, friendly hosts, flat-screen TVs, full kitchen access, bathroom features a washing machine
- Cost: Starting at $84
- Amenities: Continental breakfast, free WiFi, all-inclusive options available
Those interested in visiting Carrickfergus are advised to book flights and accommodations in advance, due to the popularity during the height of tourism season (June - August). Those hoping to avoid the crowds should opt for late spring or early fall. The best month to visit, overall, is during the month of March, when the weather is still pleasant and the crowds are few and far between.