The Village and Castle of Glenarm

J. Stirling Coyne & N. P. Willis
c. 1841
Volume II, Chapter III

THE inn parlour at Larne was very clean, and the breakfast excellent. The day shone brightly through the little inn windows, and our expeditious landlord, who was to drive us himself to Glenarm, had his tandem-car at the door by the time we had polished our first egg-shell. The car and team were the worst we met with on our excursion; but all deficiencies were made up by the enthusiasm with which we were driven. We never saw a much more damaged grey mare than the wheeler, but she was "persuaded" in a style that would have worked speed into a tortoise. Our Jehu was a merry, pleasure-loving looking boy, with a very big arm, and a most formidable whip; and, in spite of the dislocating motion of the vehicle, we were much amused at the tender terms with which the driver accompanied blows that threatened to break in the poor creature's ribs at every repetition. Imagine the contrast between tune and accompaniment in a performance like this: "Come up, woman!" (thwack!) "Go along, pet!" (thwack! thwack!) "Whew, sweetheart!" (thwack!) "Hip, old mare!" (thwack! thwack! thwack!) and "de capo" for twelve Irish miles.

We rounded a noble promontory into Glenarm, the church-spire first breaking on the view, and the towers of the castle immediately after—the whole appearance of the town and its fine points of picturesque resembling the moving tableaux of theatrical scenery. We lost no time in making for the castle, and turning out of the street, came directly upon the bridge connected with its lofty and superb barbican. A small mountain-river brawls between the town and the lofty structure which, in feudal days, lodged its master, the M'Donnell, and from the deep water rises directly the stern old wall, with its embrasures and towers, in as high preservation as on the day it was completed. A great part of the walls and ornamental architecture of Glenarm are modern, but all the additions are executed in the finest spirit of antiquity. A more beautiful gem than this castellated structure, nestled between the overhanging sides of this ravine, we never have seen. It has all the charms, beside, of high cultivation; the deer-park stretching away up the valley, and the green swards and walks within the grounds, being kept with the nice care which distinguishes the noble demesnes of England.

Glenarm, County Antrim


The village of Glenarm consists of about two hundred cottages, and appears originally to have been built for the clansmen of the noble family whose castle stands beyond the river. The castle is a stately, ancient pile, in a commanding position; from one front there is a view of the bay and its enclosing promontories, and from the other a prospect up the wooded glen towards the deer-park. The castle is large, and contains some excellent apartments; its exterior presents something of the character of a baronial castle of the fifteenth century. The approach to the castle is by a lofty barbican standing on the northern extremity of the bridge. Passing through this, a long terrace, overhanging the river, and confined on the opposite side by a lofty embattled curtain-wall, leads through an avenue of ancient lime-trees to the principal front of the castle, the appearance of which from this approach is very impressive. Lofty towers, terminated with cupolas and gilded vanes occupy the angles of the building; the parapets are crowded with gables, decorated with carved pinnacles, and exhibiting various heraldic ornaments.

The hall is a noble apartment, forty-four feet in length by twenty in breadth and thirty feet high; in the centre of which stands a handsome billiard-table. Across one end passes the gallery, communicating with the bed-chambers, and supported by richly-ornamented columns, from the grotesque ornaments of which springs a beautiful groined ceiling.

On the principal floor are several noble apartments; the dining-parlour, forty feet by twenty-four, and the drawing-room, forty-four by twenty-two, are the most spacious: the small drawing-room, library, &c., though of considerably less dimensions, are most commodious apartments. The demesne of Glenarm is very extensive, and beautifully wooded: it has latterly been much improved, and many obstructions to the view removed. There is also an enclosure in the glen, called the Great Deer Park, which is generally supposed to be the finest park in the kingdom, and the venison fed here the choicest.

The parish-church stands near one of the entrances to the demesne, upon the beach, with a small enclosed cemetery around. There are no monuments in the interior. In the burying-ground, around the church, are the remains of a cruciform building, formerly a monastery for Franciscan friars of the third order.

The Bay of Glenarm is formed by a deep circular winding of the shore, and is protected on each side by lofty headlands. There is deep water here, and a quay might readily be formed by building upon a natural basaltic pier on the north side of the bay. This would be not only of great advantage to this place, but of universal benefit to the shipping in the northern part of the Irish Sea; for, from the tremendous swell and precipitous shore, the land is unapproachable when the wind blows from the north-east, nor is there a sheltering harbour on this coast from Lough Foyle to Larne. Further, the fishing along the coast is at present so exceedingly precarious, that it does not yield a sufficient return to the poor seaman who has the hardihood to prosecute it. This would be remedied, to a certain extent, by the erection of a pier in this harbour, where the little skiff might fly for protection when the sea assumed one of those angry perturbations which are so sudden and so frequent on the Antrim coast. At present, for seven months and upwards, the fisherman's boat is drawn up on the beach, and the inverted hulk secured by a quantity of large stones until the return of the milder season; for as he has no place of retreat in the hurricane, and he dares not approach the shore while it continues, he is obliged to abandon this vocation altogether, and seek another and less perilous mode of subsistence.

We were very glad to be rid of our two miserable jades and the Larne post-car, and, with many a lingering backward look at the romantic Castle of Glenarm and its green valley and bright river, we took the new road to Cushendall. If the engineer of the new and capital coast-road of Antrim had worked with a poet and painter at his back, he could not have laid out its course more agreeably to the eye and the imagination. It is constructed with equal skill, taste, and enterprise; cliffs cut through, chasms crossed, water-courses walked and bridged—a roughly-ribbed and jagged coast, in short, traversed by a road as smooth and almost as level as a tennis-court. We have been surprised at the excellence of the roads all over Ireland, but by none so agreeably as this.