Kinbane Castle (also known as Kenbane, meaning “white headland”) is a little-known jewel in the North Coast of County Antrim. A secluded ruin at the bottom of a steep cliff face, the castle commands excellent views of the surrounding coastline with Fair Head to the East and Rathlin Island to the North. Travelling further west will take you past Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge and on to the Giants Causeway.
There is an air of peace and solitude at Kinbane which is difficult to find elsewhere, perhaps because the castle is slightly off the beaten track. It is situated atop a huge limestone outcrop which rises from the rocky shore to 100 feet at its far end.
Finding Kinbane (and staying safe!)
Travelling along the coast road from Ballycastle to Balintoy, a sign pointing to the right reveals the location of Kinbane Castle. A winding road takes you to the Kinbane car park which has a fantastic view of the cliffs back to Ballycastle and Fair Head beyond.
A word of warning: to get to the castle, there’s a fairly steep descent by way of a winding stairway down the cliff face. The pathway is currently closed, although you can get down if you’re willing to jump a couple of fences!
Access to the outcrop on which the castle sits is difficult – there used to be a set of steel steps here, but these have been removed. I’m sure more intrepid explorers will find a way onto the promontory.
The MacDonnells and Kinbane
Kinbane Castle was built in 1546-7 by Colla MacDonnell, younger brother of the notorious Sorley Boy MacDonnell. Less than ten years later, in 1555, the castle was partially destroyed by English forces using cannon.
Prior to the introduction of cannon as a weapon, Kinbane, like Dunluce Castle was virtually impregnable because of its positioning on a high cliff. The steep headland and rough seas surrounding it would have made for a difficult approach and a difficult getaway.
Near the castle is a hollow known as ‘Lag na Sassenach’ (the hollow of the English), where a group of invading English soldiers were trapped and slaughtered. Apparently fires were lit on the headland by the MacDonnells to signal for help during the attack. Many responded to the call and the garrison were trapped at the castle and murdered.
Following it’s partial destruction, Kinbane was repaired and continued to be occupied after this setback. After Colla MacDonnell died in 1558, the castle was inherited by one of his sons, Gillaspic. Sorley Boy took over Kenbane when he exchanged another property with Gillaspic. The castle was then presented to the MacAlister family by Sorley Boy as a reward for their loyalty to the MacDonnell clan.
It’s also worth noting that Gillaspic died in 1570 on his ‘coming of age’ celebration, which was organised by Sorley Boy MacDonnell in his honor. Several sources cite these games as the origins of Ballycastle’s Auld Lammas Fair.
According to rumour, Kenbane Castle was lived in until the 1700’s and the last person to inhabit the castle was a Mrs. McAlister. Some say it was also used at a time as a smuggling outpost.