Carlingford, County Louth

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Carlingford Town from above
Carlingford Town from above
Carlingford is located in Ireland
Location in Ireland
Coordinates: 54°02′35″N 6°11′10″W / 54.04294°N 6.18609°W / 54.04294; -6.18609Coordinates: 54°02′35″N 6°11′10″W / 54.04294°N 6.18609°W / 54.04294; -6.18609
Country Ireland
Province Leinster
County County Louth
Elevation 1 m (3 ft)
Population (2011)[1]
 • Urban 1,045
Irish Grid Reference J185115

Carlingford (from Old Norse Kerlingfjǫrðr, meaning "narrow sea-inlet of the hag";[2] Irish: Cairlinn) is a coastal town and townland in northern County Louth, Ireland. It is situated between Carlingford Lough (to the east) and Slieve Foy, sometimes known as Carlingford Mountain (to the west). Located on the R176/R173 roads between Greenore Point and Omeath village, Carlingford is approximately 27 km north east (by road) from Dundalk (15.6 km directly), 90 km north of Dublin and 11 km south of the border with Northern Ireland. Carlingford won the Irish Tidy Towns Competition in 1988.

Carlingford has a number of mediaeval streets — the main one being Tholsel Street.



Carlingford was occupied approximately 800 years ago by Norman knight Hugh de Lacy after laying the foundation stone for a castle on a strategic outcrop of rock. A settlement sprang up close to this fortress.

The Prosperous Years[edit]

Carlingford's strategic position on the east coast of Ireland (along with Carrickfergus and Dundalk) made it a vital trading port. This trade led to its relative prosperity during the 14th, 15th and early 16th Centuries. Carlingford's early prosperity faltered when, in 1388, the town was burnt to the ground, by a Scots force under the command of Sir William Douglas of Nithsdale. This was a punitive raid, following Irish attacks on Galloway, the Lord of which was Nithsdale's father, Archibald the Grim.

Carlingford received five charters in total—the first in 1326 by Edward II and the last in 1619 under James I. The increased trade encouraged the rich mercantile class to build, the results of which can be seen today in the remains of the Mint and Taffe's Castle.

In 1637, the Surveyor General of Customs issued a report compiled from accounts of customs due from each port and their "subsidiary creeks". Of the Ulster ports on the list, Carrickfergus was first, followed by Bangor, Donaghadee, and Strangford. Carlingford and Coleraine each had £244 customs due and had equal ranking.[3]

War and Ruin[edit]

The 1641 Rising by the Irish of Ulster, the Cromwellian Conquest of 1649, and the subsequent Williamite wars of the 1690s all took their toll on the local economy. As recorded in the Journal of Isaac Butler, Carlingford the town was in a "state of ruin" by 1744. However, the final nail in coffin was the desertion to open water of the prosperous herring shoals that occupied the lough by the early 18th century.

The Modern Era[edit]

Carlingford's inability to develop a heavy industry allowed its mediaeval charm and archaeological artefacts to remain relatively intact. The area was opened up to tourism in the 1870s by the Dundalk, Newry and Greenore railway, which passed through Carlingford. This line closed in 1951. Better transport led to tourism being the main source of employment. Also significant is fishing, particularly of oysters and crabs from the nearby harbour. The town hosts the annual Carlingford Oyster Festival usually held in August. A passenger ferry operates daily out of the village of Omeath, 5 km (3.1 mi) away, during the summer months.


The Irish singer-songwriter Tommy Makem wrote a melancholy song about the town, "Farewell to Carlingford", covered by The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem and The Dubliners.

Places of interest[edit]

The Tholsel
  • King John's Castle. Despite the western part being commissioned by Hugh de Lacy before 1186, the castle owes its name to King John (Richard the Lionheart's brother) who visited Carlingford in 1210. The eastern part was constructed in the mid 13th century with alterations and additions occurring in the 15th and 16th centuries. In the 1950s the Office of Public Works (OPW) undertook conservation work to stabilize the structure. An excellent view of the north pier and lough can be had from the viewing area on the eastern side of the castle, though the castle itself is closed to the general public for health and safety reasons.
  • Taaffe's Castle. A fortified town house that belonged to the rich mercantile Taaffe family who became Earls of Carlingford in 1661. Its close proximity to the harbour would suggest a trading depot on the ground floor with the upper floors reserved for residence. The construction suggests two phases—the main tower built in the early 16th century while the extension to the side occurred later.
  • The Tholsel. The Tholsel or "town-gate" is the only remaining example of its nature in Carlingford and one of the few left in Ireland. Originally it was three stories high—the present appearance due to alteration made in the 19th century. The original function was of course to levy taxes on goods entering the town—the murder-holes on the side of the walls are testaments to that fact. In 1834 it was used by the Corporation of Carlingford for meeting and a Parliament is said to have used it to make laws for The Pale. It was also used as a town gaol in the 18th century.
  • The Mint. A fortified three-storey town house belonging to a wealthy merchant family in the centre of Carlingford. While the right to mint coinage was not granted to Carlingford until 1467, it is unlikely that it was actually used as a mint. The most interesting feature is the five highly decorated limestone windows. The patterns and motifs are an example of the influence of the Celtic Renaissance on art during the 16th century.
  • Dominican Friary. The Dominicans were established in Carlingford in 1305 primarily because of their patron Richard Óg de Burgh, 2nd Earl of Ulster, with the friary itself being dedicated to St. Malachy. Dissolved in 1540 by Henry VIII, it became the centre of a repossession struggle between the Dominicans and Franciscans in the 1670s. It was resolved in favour of the Dominicans by Oliver Plunkett. However the friary itself was subsequently abandoned in the 18th century by the Dominicans to their present location of Dundalk. The remains today consist of a nave and chancel divided by a tower. Also, there are possible remains of some domestic buildings to the south like a mill, mill race and mill pond.
  • Town Wall. Established by charter in 1326 by Edward II to the Bailiffs of Carlingford it allowed them to levy murage for its building. Not much remains however but the little that does has some externally splayed musket loops that would indicate the arrival of firearms to Ireland in the late 15th century. It is likely that the wall had an external ditch to strengthen its defences. Its purpose was to serve as a barrier to ensure that goods entering the town had to pass through a town gate (and hence could be taxed) but it also had the purpose of creating a boundary between Gael and Norman.
  • Ghan House. A fine Georgian House built by William Stannus in 1727 it is surrounded by castellated walls and a guard tower. The first floor contains the drawing room which has a decorative ceiling of rococo plaster work of flower garlands and medallion busts reputed to be of Stannus ladies. The basement contains two underground passageways (now blocked) that led to the Heritage Centre and the bakers (now chemist). The latter tunnel was reportedly used by a silent order of monks who once lived on the site and apparently supplied the local bakery but wished to avoid contact with townspeople. Today Ghan House is used as a luxury guest house (with wine bar), ballroom, meeting room and cookery school. The current chefs of Ghan House are Stephane Le Sourne and Allan Maynard.
  • Church of the Holy Trinity. Donated by the Church of Ireland to Carlingford this restored medieval church is also known as the Holy Trinity Heritage Centre. Exhibits inside display the history of Carlingford from Viking times to the present period. The video and beautiful stained glass window are popular with visitors. Musical recitals are common. The grounds outside contain a graveyard.
  • De Gaulle. Carlingford has a pseudo historical, comical head affectionately known as "De Gaulle". This feature is situated on the south facing gable on a building on Newry Street. Some enterprising Francophile placed a piece of slate for the cap and the attraction was born.
  • Market Square. Now the main street of Carlingford, this was the area where a weekly market was held with records of its layout going back to 1358. It is now the intersection of Dundalk Street and the beginning of River Lane.


Carlingford railway station opened on 1 August 1876, but finally closed on 1 January 1952[4] when the Dundalk, Newry & Greenore Railway ceased operations. In 1948 the film 'Saints and Sinners' used various locations around Carlingford including a scene at the beginning at the station of a DN&GR train arriving. A regular bus route serves Carlingford from both Dundalk and Newry (Bus Éireann route 161). There are five weekday journeys to Dundalk - all except the last journey of the day serve Greenore en route. There are three journeys each weekday to Newry via Omeath. On schooldays there is an additional morning journey to Newry. There is no service on Sundays or Bank Holidays. [5]

Carlingford also has a marina.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Census 2006 – Volume 1 – Population Classified by Area" (PDF). Central Statistics Office Census 2006 Reports. Central Statistics Office Ireland. April 2007. Retrieved 2011-06-08. 
  2. ^ "Carlingford", Placenames Database of Ireland, retrieved 8 December 2011 
  3. ^ O'Sullivan, Aidan & Breen, Colin (2007). Maritime Ireland. An Archaeology of Coastal Communities. Stroud: Tempus. p. 212. ISBN 978-0-7524-2509-2. 
  4. ^ "Carlingford station". Railscot - Irish Railways. Retrieved 2007-09-14. 
  5. ^

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