Ballycastle means town of the castle, a castle built in 1609 by the Earl of Antrim which existed close to where the Holy Trinity Church is in the Diamond, very little remains of it. An older castle existed on the cliffs overlooking the present day ferry terminal and was known as Dunineeny or Dunaneanie (Fort of the fair, games or assembly).  It was here that Sorley Boy MacDonnell of Dunluce Castle fame was born in 1505 and died in 1590. His brother Colla McDonnell built Kenbane Castle (kinbane, Kenban) which is two miles from Ballycastle on the road to Ballintoy.  Ballycastle grew from a small hamlet and important landing and slipway at the mouth of the river Margie which was originally known as Margietown, there are also references to it being called Market Town and Port Brittas. This is where the original fort would have existed, it is also where Fergus (son of Erc, King of Dariada) set out with his brothers brothers Angus and Loarn  in 502 AD to expand their kingdom of Dariada into the land of the Picts.

 

After  pushing back the Picts Dalriada expanded to include Argyll and Bute. Fergus and his people were  known as the Scotti and gave that name to the area they conquered, through time this became Scotland.  It is widely written that he took The Stone of Destiny ( Lia Fiall or Jacobs Pillow) on which the Irish kings were crowned, from Tara to his new seat of power at Dunadd, Kilmartin in Argyll and Bute. He became the first Irish king to rule from Scotland. It is believed that this Stone of Destiny which came from Tara is now in Westminster Abbey and used for the coronation of English monarchs.  Patricius (Saint Patrick) founded Rathmudhain (Ramoan) here in the 5th century, the old graveyard at Ramoan stands on the original site but the ruins are that of a later building. He is also believed to have founded a church at Carey, Culfeightrim, Drumeeny and Glenshesk a well as the monastic settlement at Armoy. Two local followers of his teachings, who both became saints  were Gobban and Olcan (Armoy). Saint Gobban is reputed to have come from Glenshesk and been responsible for building many of the local churches including Templastragh near Portbraddon.

 

Bonamargie Friary (Bonamargy) is the oldest surviving building in Ballycastle and was built in the 13th century by Rory MacQuillen. It also contains the family vault of the MacDonnells, Sorley Boy was interred here in 1590 along with other Earls of Antrim.  The town flourished during the sixteenth century under the guidance of  Colonel Hugh Boyd who brought economic prosperity to the area by investing in local natural resources. He developed coal mines, tan yards, brewery, salt works and glass works. The latter produced bottles, window and plate glass and was situated on Glass Island - between the old harbour and the Margie river. A pier and safe anchorage was also built here 1748, where the tennis courts are now situated.  Framed together with oak piles, the harbour was said to have been one of the strongest and best finished in the north of Ireland. Ironically, four years later in 1752, Colonel Boyd had to petition the House of Commons for funds to repair the harbour after the piles had been attacked and weakened by insects and damaged inflicted by three hurricane force storms. Eventually in 1763, after much lobbying he was reimbursed for his own work replacing the damaged piles with cut stone.  Hugh Boyd died in 1765, he was described as typifying a good landlord and employer - it is worth noting that during the famine period when many of the wealthy had fled to comforts abroad, Hugh Boyd imported corn, oatmeal and flour to combat starvation. He is interred in the Holy Trinity Church  which he built in 1756 using locally quarried stone,  beside the ruins of the castle built in 1609 by the Earl of Antrim.

 

The area of North Antrim is generically associated with several legends of Ireland, perhaps due to the fact that man first settled and colonized these northern shores shortly after the last ice-age some ten thousand years ago. Deidre' or 'The Lamentable Fate of the Sons of Uishneach' tells the story of Deidre fleeing with the sons of Uishneach from Conovar, the King of Ulster, who wanted to marry her against her will, she came ashore on a causeway of basalt known as Carrig-Uishneach between Ballycastle and Fair Head.  Another famous legend 'The Children of Lir' tells of the four children of Lir being turned into swans by their stepmother and exiled to spe nd 900 years roaming three different parts of Ireland, part of this time was spent on the ' Cold Seas of Moyle'. Local tradition tells of them sheltering in the Margie river mouth from winter storms. Ballycastle is also famed far and wide for the Oul Lammas Fair which takes place on the last Monday and Tuesday in August and brings thousands of people from all over the world.

 

Another famous link to Ballycastle came when George Kemp, an assistant of Guglielmo Marconi arrived in 1898 to carry out 'wireless telegraph' transmissions between Rathlin Island and Ballycastle, the work were commissioned by Lloyds of London who where keen to employ this new found technology in tracking trans Atlantic shipping.  The History of Ballycastle makes fascinating reading, this synopsis was written by Hugh A. Boyd of Ballycastle, a well respected local historian and is well worth reading. The  Causeway Coastal Route passes through the town, a few miles out at Ballyvoy you have a choice of two roads, one the mountain road which passes  Loughareema (The Vanishing Lake) or the Torr Scenic Route which passes  Fairhead and  Murlough Bay. The surrounding area is designated as an AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty). Knocklayde mountain overlooks Ballycastle and is flanked by two of the Nine Glens of Antrim, Glenshesk and Glentaisie. The mountain which is climable has a cairn on the top which is said to mark the burial site of a Danish Princess. Some superb walking can be enjoyed around the area from gentle strolls along the beach towards Fair Head or a fifteen mile walking hike across the North Antrim Plateau along the waymarked 'Moyle Way'.