Carrickfergus Castle at sunset
|Population||27,998 (2011 Census)|
|• Belfast||11 miles (18 km)|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|Dialling code||028 93|
Carrickfergus (from Irish: Carraig Fhearghais [ˌkaːɾˠəɟ ˈaɾˠɣəʃ], meaning "Fergus' rock") is a large town in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. It sits on the north shore of Belfast Lough, 11 miles (18 km) from Belfast. The town had a population of 27,998 at the 2011 Census. It is County Antrim's oldest town and one of the oldest towns in Ireland as a whole. Carrickfergus was the administrative centre for Carrickfergus Borough Council, before this was amalgamated into the Mid and East Antrim District Council in 2015, and forms part of the Belfast Metropolitan Area. It is also a townland of 65 acres, a civil parish and a barony.
The town is the subject of the classic Irish folk song "Carrickfergus", a 19th-century translation of an Irish-language song (Do Bhí Bean Uasal) from Munster, which begins with the words, "I wish I was in Carrickfergus".
The town is said to take its name from Fergus Mór (Fergus the Great), the legendary king of Dál Riata. According to one tale, his ship ran aground on a rock by the shore, which became known as "Carraig Fhearghais" – the rock of Fergus.
As an urban settlement, Carrickfergus far pre-dates the capital city Belfast and was for a lengthy period both larger and more prominent than the nearby city. Belfast Lough itself was known as 'Carrickfergus Bay' well into the 17th century. Carrickfergus and the surrounding area was, for a time, treated as a separate county. The historical walled town originally occupied an area of around 97,000 square metres, which now comprises the town centre, bordered by Albert Road to the west, the Marine Highway to the south, Shaftesbury Park to the north and Joymount Presbyterian Church grounds to the east. Segments of the town wall are still visible in various parts of the town and in various states of preservation. Archaeological excavations close to the walls' foundations have yielded many artefacts that have helped historians piece together a picture of the lives of the 12th and 13th century inhabitants.
Carrickfergus became an inhabited town shortly after 1170, when Anglo-Norman knight John de Courcy invaded Ulster, established his headquarters in the area and built Carrickfergus Castle on the "rock of Fergus" in 1177. The castle, which is the most prominent landmark of Carrickfergus, is widely known as one of the best-preserved Norman castles in Ireland.
Sometime between 1203 and 1205, De Courcy was expelled from Ulster by Hugh de Lacy, as authorised by King John. de Lacy oversaw the final construction of the castle, which included the gatehouse, drum towers and outer ward. It was at this time that he established the nearby St Nicholas' Church. de Lacy was relieved of his command of the town in 1210, when King John himself arrived and placed the castle under royal authority. de Lacy eventually regained his title of Earl of Ulster in 1227, however the castle and its walled town were captured several more times following his death (in 1242). The forces of Edward de Bruce captured the town in 1315 and the castle in 1316 before his death in battle in 1318. The town was largely destroyed by the Scots in 1402.
The Battle of Carrickfergus, part of the Nine Years War, took place in and around the town in November 1597. It was fought between the crown forces of Queen Elizabeth I and the Scots clan of MacDonnell, and resulted in a defeat for the English. A contemporary Elizabethan illustration of Carrickfergus shows ten tower-houses, as well as terraces of single-storey houses, some detached cottages and 70 or more Irish beehive-type huts in the town.
Sir Arthur Chichester was appointed by the Earl of Essex to govern the castle and town in 1599 and was responsible for the plantation of English and Scottish peoples in the town, as well as the building of the town wall.
Nevertheless, the decaying castle withstood several days of siege by the forces of William of Orange in 1689, before surrendering on 28 August. William himself subsequently landed at Carrickfergus on 14 June 1690.
During the Seven Years' War, in February 1760, the whole town was briefly captured and held to ransom by French troops landed from Francois Thurot's naval squadron, after the defenders ran out of ammunition. In 1711 Carrickfergus was the scene of the last witchcraft trial in Ireland. Eight women were charged with bewitching a young girl, and were convicted, despite a strong indication from one of the judges that the jury should acquit. They were sentenced to a year in prison and four sessions in the pillory.
In April 1778, during the American War of Independence, John Paul Jones, in command of the American ship Ranger, attempted to capture a British Royal Navy sloop of war, HMS Drake, moored at Carrickfergus. Having failed, he returned a few days later and challenged Drake to a fight out in the North Channel which the Americans won decisively.
During the 1790s there was considerable support in the Carrickfergus area for the United Irishmen. On 14 October 1797 William Orr was hanged in the town following what was widely regarded as a show trial held in Carrickfergus Courthouse (now the Town Hall) and in 1798 United Irish founder Henry Joy McCracken was captured on the outskirts of the town while trying to escape to America.
In 1912 the people of Carrickfergus turned out in their thousands to watch as the RMS Titanic made its first ever journey up the lough from its construction dock in Belfast. The famous passenger liner was anchored overnight just off the coast of Carrickfergus, before continuing on its journey.
During World War II, Northern Ireland was an important military base for United States Naval and Air Operations and a training ground for American G.I.s. The First Battalions of the elite US Rangers were activated and based in Sunnylands Camp for their initial training. The US Rangers Centre in nearby Boneybefore pays homage to this period in history. It is rumoured that Italian and German POWs were held in the town, the Italians in a camp at Sullatober mill, and Germans at Sunnylands.
In the 1970s, the town became an important centre for the textile industry. An ICI man-made fibres factory was opened at Kilroot and was followed by the Rothman's cigarette factory. Courtaulds operated a large rayon works there until the 1980s.
Throughout the course of The Troubles, there was a reasonably large paramilitary presence in the town, namely the Ulster Volunteer Force and Ulster Defence Association. Census figures show that the Catholic population of Carrickfergus declined from 16.2% in 1971 to 9.56% in 2011.
On Census day (27 March 2011) there were 27,998 people living in Carrickfergus. Of these:
- 20.23% were aged under 16 years and 14.73% were aged 65 and over;
- 51.95% of the usually resident population were female and 48.05% were male;
- 80.70% were from the Protestant or other Christian community backgrounds and 8.35% were from a Roman Catholic community background;
- 39 years was the average (median) age of the population;
- 8.49% had some knowledge of Ulster-Scots and 1.99% had some knowledge of Irish;
This section needs additional citations for verification. (April 2011)
- Sir John de Courcy (1160–1219) Anglo Norman knight and builder of Carrickfergus Castle
- Hugh de Lacy, 1st Earl of Ulster (c. 1176 – c. 1242)
- Edward Bruce (c. 1280–1319), High King of Ireland and Earl of Carrick, brother to Robert the Bruce, King of Scots.
- Robert Adrain (1775–1843), mathematician, considered one of the best mathematical minds of his time, was born in Carrickfergus
- William Orr, United Irishman, was hanged in Carrickfergus on 14 October 1797 shortly before the failed rebellion.
- Jonathan Swift, the poet and satirist lived in Kilroot, on the outskirts of the town, and wrote A Tale of a Tub there.
- Charlotte Riddell, writer of the Victorian period, was born Charlotte Eliza Lawson Cowan (1832) in Carrickfergus.
- Bob Gilmore (1961–2015), musicologist and player of piano and keyboards, was born in nearby Larne; lived in Carrickfergus during his childhood.
- Two Victoria Cross recipients, Daniel Cambridge and James Crichton
- Seán Lester (1888–1959) was born in Carrickfergus. He was the last Secretary General of the League of Nations, from 1940 to 1946.
- Louis MacNeice's family moved to the town when the poet was two years old (his father was appointed Rector of St Nicholas' Church of Ireland Church), and he left at the age of ten to attend boarding school in England; one of his poems, Carrickfergus (1937), relates his ambiguous feelings about the town where he spent his early boyhood.
- Sammy Curran, a prolific Irish League goalscorer between the wars playing for Woodburn and Belfast Celtic among others, who was also capped 4 times by Ireland.
- Billy McMillan, former Belfast Celtic and dual IFA and FAI Irish international footballer who lived his entire life in Carrickfergus.
- Patrick Joseph Kelly, member and leader of the IRA's East Tyrone Brigade, killed by the SAS in Loughgall, was born in Carrickfergus.
- Jackie Woodburne, actress known for her role as Susan Kennedy in Australian soap opera Neighbours, was born in Carrickfergus.
- Adrian McKinty, novelist, author of the Sean Duffy novels set in Carrickfergus, was born in Carrickfergus and raised on the Victoria council estate.
- Stuart Robinson, host of Northern Ireland's Young Star Search and presenter on Cool FM.
- Dave Finlay, former WWE wrestler, was born and raised in the satellite village of Greenisland.
- Ryan Eagleson, Derbyshire and Irish international cricketer, 65 caps for Ireland, 1995–2004.
- Niamh Kavanagh, Irish Eurovision entrant and winner of 1993.
- Jimmy Hill (Norwich City) and Billy McCullough (Arsenal), Northern Ireland international footballers born in Carrickfergus.
- Willie Irvine (Burnley) and Bobby Irvine (Stoke City), Northern Ireland international footballers who were born in nearby Eden before moving to Carrickfergus.
- Seán Neeson, politician and activist; former leader of the Alliance Party NI sat on Carrickfergus Council (1977–2013), and represented East Antrim in the NI Assembly (1998–2011)
- Gillian Arnold, artist and designer, born Carrickfergus. (1971–1990)
- Jo Zebedee (born 1971), writer
Carrickfergus railway station opened on 1 October 1862. In addition, the northwest of the town is served by Clipperstown railway station, and the east by Downshire railway station. All three stations have regular commuter services to Belfast and Larne. Three historic stations in Carrickfergus, Barn, Eden and Mount, closed in the 1970s.
Local MLAs for the area following the 2017 election are:
- David Hilditch (DUP)
- Gordon Lyons (DUP)
- Roy Beggs (UUP)
- John Stewart (UUP)
- Stewart Dickson (Alliance)
Until 2015 the local authority was Carrickfergus Borough Council, based at Carrickfergus Town Hall. Since 1 April 2015 Carrickfergus has come under the control of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council. The town is covered by two of the council's wards, Carrick Castle and Knockagh. In the May 2019 local elections, the following councillors were elected for these wards:-
- Billy Ashe (DUP)
- Lauren Gray (Alliance)
- Cheryl Johnson (DUP)
- John McDermott (UUP)
- Robin Stewart (UUP)
- Marc Collins (DUP)
- Bobby Hadden (Independent)
- Peter Johnston (DUP)
- Noel Williams (Alliance)
- Andrew Wilson (UUP)
Schools and education
There are many primary and secondary schools in Carrickfergus, including:
- Acorn Integrated Primary School
- Central Primary School
- Eden Primary School
- Model Primary School
- Oakfield Primary School
- Victoria Primary School
- Woodburn Primary School
- Woodlawn Primary School
- St Nicholas' Primary School
- Sunnylands Primary School
Sporting establishments in the town include:
- Carrick Rangers F.C.
- Carrickfergus Rugby Football Club
- Barn United F.C.
- Carrickfergus Golf Club
- Carrickfergus Sailing Club
- Carrickfergus Cricket Club
- Carrickfergus Ladies Hockey Club
Twin towns – sister cities
- Baron Carrickfergus
- Abbeys and priories in Northern Ireland (County Antrim)
- List of towns in Northern Ireland
- List of villages in Northern Ireland
- List of localities in Northern Ireland by population
- Market Houses in Northern Ireland
- Third Carrickfergus Silver Band
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