Carlingford - Story of Belfast

THE history of Carlingford goes back to the time when St. Patrick returned to Ireland, for it was here that he landed. The first time, it is said, he landed at Dundrum.

It was once a fortified town, and part of the wall still remaining shows that it was of great thickness and strength. There were thirty-two castles and monasteries about Carlingford, so it is rich in castellated and monastic legacies of a proud past.

De Courci seems to have closely followed where St. Patrick marked the way, and he built the castle in 1210. It is named King John's Castle, and is the gem of Carlingford. It is curiously made in the shape of a horse-shoe, owing to the formation of the rock it is built on, and it is a massive pile with walls eleven feet thick. It stands in lonely grandeur, "Moored on a rifted rock"; it once guarded the frontier of Ulster at this narrow pass. It needed no moat, drawbridge or portcullis to repel invaders, for nature supplied all the defence which was required to protect the entrance of Carlingford Lough. The majestic fortress was surrounded by galleries and arched recesses, and each loophole was large enough to hold four or five archers. The dungeons under the castle were hewn out of the solid rock.

The early settlers of the "Pale" flocked to Carlingford for refuge and protection, and in time it became a place of considerable importance.

In the year 1305, the abbey, a Dominican monastery, was built. The ivy-clad walls show that it was very extensive, and what still remains is extremely picturesque.

To have been erected at such an early period, the architecture is very beautiful and the long aisles, the belfry, and the Gothic arch of the east window are chaste and impressive.

One Lord Inchiquin, in utter disregard for the sacred edifice, turned it into a stable, and this was strangely confirmed some years ago, when some horse-shoes were found imbedded in the floor. In later years, Duke Schomberg's wounded soldiers were brought into the abbey, and it was used for a hospital.

Between the castle and the monastery, there are two square towers which show remains of very curious carving. One tower has a strange device of serpents, human heads and true-lovers'-knots, and the other has a winding staircase leading to the top, from which there is a magnificent view.

There is an old church, a large and handsome building near the abbey, which was erected on the site of an older edifice. The spacious graveyard is remarkable for its vivid greenness, and also for the ancient oak trees and wide-spreading sycamores. A large bell which belonged to the abbey was used in the church, but a rector, for some unknown reason, sold it in Liverpool, where it is still used. It was of ancient Irish work, with a mellow, sonorous sound.

When Henry the Fourth sent his son over as the Lord Deputy of Ireland in the year 1408, Lord Thomas of Lancaster used to climb to the highest part of the castle wall and sit there to gaze over the glorious prospect which lay at his feet. The place was called the "King's Seat."

A strange old building which looks now like a watch tower was the "Tholsel" a kind of town hall. It is a small rude edifice arched over the narrow street. Small and insignificant as it seems, it was formerly used by the Sovereign of Carlingford and twelve burgesses, who once gave laws to three counties, Louth, Armagh, and Down. What a show-place Carlingford would be made if it were in some English county, with the blue waters of the Lough spreading for miles through such exquisite scenery, and the long chain of rugged mountains—the Ulster Apennines—the guardian sentinels of our northern land.