The Vikings invaded Ireland in the 9th Century and historical records tell us that they occupied Carlingford Lough. The very name Carlingford is Scandinavian translating into ‘Fjord of Carlinn’. They may have used the sheltered natural harbour of Carlingford as a temporary base though this is speculation as no factual evidence, apart from the name, has been recovered so far. The Normans arrived in Ireland in 1169 as allies of an Irish King Dermot MacMurrough. By 1184 they had made their way to Carlingford. A Norman Knight, John de Courcy claimed this part of Louth for himself.
The very first historical reference to Carlingford that we know of dates to 1184 when he gave the rights of the ferry at Carlingford to the Abbot of Downpatrick which indicates that the harbour or somewhere near it was in use as a ferry point. However, the town of Carlingford only developed after the castle known as King John’s Castle was built, reputedly by Hugh de Lacy son-in-law of Bertram de Verdun who had been assigned the territories taken from John de Courcy by Henry II.
HOLY TRINITY CHURCH (Heritage Centre)
The Church of Holy Trinity has been leased to the Carlingford Lough Heritage Trust by the Church of Ireland Community and refurbished as a heritage centre. The present church is the result of extensive renovations carried out in 1804. The windows were inserted into an existing fabric and the south wall contains a simple pointed doorway of 17th century date. The foundation of the church may date back as far as the 13th century. The building is attached to a three storey crenellated tower which dates to the 15th or 16th century. The original function of the tower is unclear but in more recent times it was used as a belfry. The surrounding graveyard is inter-denominational and the earliest inscribed gravestone is dated 1703.
KING JOHN’S CASTLE
This early norman fortress was named after King John who visited Carlingford in 1210, it was completed in 1261. Under the shadow of the Castle the town of Carlingford grew. The western portion of the castle predates this visit ans was probably commissioned by Hugh de Lacy c. 1190. A massive curtain wall divides the earlier western courtyard from the eastern wing which contained the living quarters. The eastern section was constructed in the mid 13th century and has alterations and additions dating from the 15th and 16th centuries. The castle commanded an important defensive position on the Lough but it was demilitarised (and has been derelict) since 1689. And it remained so until the Office of Public Works (O.P.W.) undertook conservation work on it in the 1950′s.
The mendicant order of Dominicans were established in Carlingford in 1305. Their patron was Richard de Burgo, and the friary was dedicated to St. Malachy. Its remains consist of a nave and chancel divided by a tower with possible parts of the domestic buildings to the south, including a mill, mill race and mill pond situated to the south east. Dissolved in 1540 by Henry VIII, it became the subject of a struggle for repossession between the Dominicans and Franciscans in the 1670′s, a dispute which was settled by Oliver Plunkett in favour of the Dominicans. The friary was abandoned by the order in the 18th century, when they moved to their present location in Dundalk.
The last remaining of the four town gates into Carlingford and one of a few extant in Ireland. It stands at the entrance to Tholsel Street. Contemporary with the 15th century town wall, it functioned as a toll gate where taxes were levied on goods entering the town. It is recorded in 1834 that the building was used by the Corporation of Carlingford for meetings and a Parliament is said to have convened there and made laws for the Pale. It was also used as the town gaol in the 18th century. Originally three storeys high, its present appearance is due to alterations made in the 19th century.
Fortified town houses were a popular form of residence amongst the wealthy merchant classes of medieval Ireland. Taaffe’s Castle was situated on the old harbour front which suggests that the building was the residence and trading depot of an important member of this merchant class. Business was conducted on the bottom floor and the upper floors contained the living quarters. Its architecture indicates two phases of construction, the main tower of early 16th century date and a later 16th century extension. The building derives its name from the Taaffe family who became Earls of Carlingford in 1661. Nicholas Taaffe fell at the battle of the Boyne in 1690. His family emigrated to Austria.
Although the right to mint coinage was granted to Carlingford in 1467 it is unlikely that the building was used as a mint. This three storey fortified town house of 15th-16th century date was probably the residence of one of the merchant families of Carlingford. Its most interesting feature is its five highly decorated limestone windows. The patterns and motifs date from the 16th century and are an example of the influence of the Celtic Renaissance on art during this period of Irish history.
In 1326 Edward II granted a charter to the Bailiffs of Carlingford to levy a murage (wall tax) for the building of a town wall. Only a small fragment of the medieval wall survives, it contains a number of externally splayed musket loops which indicate that this portion dates from the late 15th century when fire arms were first introduced into Ireland. This particular wall had an external ditch which helped strengthen its defences. Town walls were not only used as a means of defence, they also served as boundaries between Gael and Norman, and as a custom barrier to ensure that goods entering the town did so via the town gates where taxes were levied.
THE WATCH HOUSE
The size, the shape and the thickness of the walls indicate that this building was originally a medieval town house but what really gives it away is the vaulted basement and the base batter, that is, the way the walls slope out at the base to provide extra support for the high, thick walls. Indications such as these can identify the age of this building to approximately early 15th century.
Ghan House is an L-shaped Georgian house built by William Stannus in 1727 and later acquired by the Rutherford family who were agents to Lord Anglesy. Interesting features of the building are the vaulted basement lit by small semi-circular windows at ground level, a ceiling decorated with rococco plaster work in the drawing room, and several fine Georgian fireplaces. The house is presently owned by the Carroll family who restored it to its former early 18th century style.