Carrickfergus is situated in County Antrim on the northern shore of Belfast Lough. Having deep waters and sheltered from the Irish Sea, it was one of the first settlements of the Anglo-Norman colonisation of Ulster.
Anglo-Norman Knight John De Courcy made this site his base of operations in 1177 and began building on the rocky outcrop that juts out into the lough. So begins the 800-year history of a town which has grown and developed in the shadow of its magnificent castle.
It’s a long and fascinating history marked by sieges by Irish, Scottish and English Lords and Kings and attacks by French troops and American revolutionaries.
Once the most important town in Ulster, Carrickfergus harbour was the main commercial port, a hub of European-wide trading. In fact, Belfast Lough was known as ‘Carrickfergus Bay’ until well into the 17th century. However, in 1637, Carrickfergus sold its custom rights to Belfast, contributing to the decline of its importance – and the rise of the small settlement at the head of lough.
The 19th century was marked by rapid industrial development fuelled by growth in the local textile industry and salt mining at Kilroot that was enabled by an expanding shipbuilding industry. The commercial prosperity was not to last, and the focus of the waterfront area moved towards recreation and leisure.
Carrickfergus is the oldest walled town in Ulster. The Medieval defensive earth ditches and bank walls were replaced under the direction of Sir Arthur Chichester. Work was started in 1608 with one hundred men beginning work that summer and continuing each summer until the walls were complete in 1615.
The completed stone walls were 1159 metres long and over 6 metres high with four gates: Irish Gate and North Gate, (both of which had moats and drawbridges), Quay Gate, and the smaller Water Gate. In addition to the gates, seven protective bastions were strategically positioned along the length of the walls.
Today, an unbroken stretch of just under half of the original circuit of the walls remains in excellent preservation.
As one of the most archaeologically explored towns in Ireland, the finds on display at Carrickfergus
Museum provide a remarkable glimpse into life in the town from the Medieval period through to recent times. As well as significant artefacts from the Council's civic collection, the museum also houses objects from other private and national collections.