Castle Roche - Story of Belfast

CASTLE ROCHE stands seven miles from Dundalk. It is built upon a great rock, and commands a most extensive view. The elevated position is rendered even more secure by the depth of the surrounding moat, while the immense strength of the walls renders it impregnable. With the single exception of Dunluce Castle, there is not a more imposing or massive ancient castle still in existence in the north of Ireland. There is a round tower which was in former times an outpost of the castle, and a secret passage once connected them. St. Ronan's Well lies near, and like so many ancient wells in Ireland, it is said to have possessed marvellous powers of healing, and thousands of pilgrims flocked to it constantly. As years advanced, these sacred waters lost—in some strange way—their miraculous gift of healing and in these later times their glory has departed. Nearer Dundalk, there is another place of intense interest—the hill of Foighard or Faughart which is where the last scene of Edward Bruce's ill-starred and romantic life took place.

We can sit here upon the very spot where he planted his standard almost seven hundred years ago. On this place on the 28th of May, 1318, the Scottish Chieftain and his followers stood, and raised his standard here. It nerved the heart of his tired soldiers, and raised their drooping spirits to look over the rich and beautiful country waiting—as they thought—to be theirs.

We are reminded of the story which is told of Oliver Cromwell when he stood on the rock of Cashel. He smiled grimly as his eyes traversed the golden vale of Tipperary, and his mind filled with thoughts of conquest and confiscation. Turning to his soldiers he said, "This is a land worth fighting for." We, too, may say in these later years, "This is a land worth living in." Turn which way we will, new beauties meet the eyes. The grim and timeworn mountains like great black lions guard the frontier, while at our feet the vivid green landscape lies laughing in the golden sunshine. It was here the hot and furious battle raged, and the English troops were crowned with victory. Edward Bruce died like a king. He engaged in combat with a Norman knight named Maupas, and, at the close of day, when the desperate conflict was over, they were found lying dead across each other.

The warriors who fell were all buried together, friend and foe alike. In an old churchyard at Faughart, in one great grave, they were laid "in one red burial blent." A huge granite slab covers the "King's Grave"—what king we know not.

The two brothers—both brave and fearless men, but blinded by ambition—were unfortunate. In the year 1819, in Dunfermline Abbey, was found under the slabs of royal tombs the skeleton of Robert Bruce. It was wrapped in two coverings of thin sheet lead, rolled in a shroud of cloth of gold, all enclosed in an oak coffin which mouldered into dust. It was replaced in a lead coffin, and buried under the tower. In raised letters on the lid are these words "King Robert Bruce, 1329-1819."

St. Bridget was born—some say—at Faughart, but at any rate she presided over a nunnery here on the ruins of which the old church was built. There is a well in the graveyard at the foot of an ancient ash tree, and it is marked by the possession of a most peculiar cup, which is a polished human skull. A drink from the holy well taken out of this remarkable cup was believed to cure toothache. One would like to know to whom the skull originally belonged. I would prefer a toothache, rather than such a revolting cure.

Castletown Castle was once a formidable stronghold and it still stands upon its island promontory. It was here that the brave and unfortunate Edward Bruce was crowned, and where he resided for two years.

An ancient story tells us that, when he came to be crowned, it was found there was no crown ready, and, as that was a most important part of the ceremonial, his followers were in a dilemma. One of them, more courageous than the others, disappeared for a short time, and returned bringing with him a golden crown. He had ridden in hot haste to Dundalk, which was about one mile distant, and had begged the loan of the crown which was on the head of the figure of the Virgin Mary in the chapel there. After the coronation, it was sent back and placed upon the sacred figure again. It must have been rather small for Edward Bruce, but that was merely a detail, and it served the purpose for which it was required.

A little bit of old history is preserved quite near us, and brings to mind the stirring times of Queen Elizabeth. In a little Presbyterian church, at Dundonald, the records and communion plate are kept in an old iron treasure chest. It came out of the Spanish ship which was wrecked at Dunluce. Another similar chest is preserved in the Tower of London, while two others are in Glenarm Castle. There is also, at Dundonald, a cromlech called the "Kempe Stones," which in Irish means "Eternal Homes," and a giant's grave. The ancient name of the place was "Baille-Clough-togal," the town of the strangers, now changed to "Greengraves."

It would require a more eloquent pen than mine, and larger space than can be given in this small book, to attempt to tell the story of all the ancient and interesting places near Belfast. The places which played a vigorous part and filled a large place in Irish history,—the beautiful old castles and fortresses which lie under the shadow of the Mourne Mountains along the shores of Carlingford Lough, and the lovely stretch of country surrounding Strangford,—and the old stories of Lough Neagh are full of a charm distinctly their own. Indeed, Dundrum alone would fill more pages than we can spare. On the other side, Dungannon, the ancient stronghold of the O'Neills, is overflowing with thrilling romance. Then the lovely glens of Antrim and the wilder scenery of the northern coast form a fit setting for many an old story.

An artist might spend a lifetime about Cushendall and the country on to Portrush and find fresh pictures every half-mile, and still leave undiscovered beauties for future generations to find out. No colours have ever been made, and no artist has ever been born who can give us the living light and shade on Lurigethan, or the exquisite indescribable beauty of the waves breaking on the rocks at Port-na-Spania. If such picture should ever be painted, this old world of ours will hold its breath, and be uplifted by such scenes.

We vibrate with the idea that it may have been in places like these—

That the thought of Creation was born,

Where the twilight of history touches the air,

And the rivers the secret of Paradise share,

Into the dawn of the world.

When these hills and rocks were formed fresh from the hands of the Creator, we can well imagine He looked down and said, " It is good," and on the seventh day He rested from all His labour.