Excavation reveals second castle for Carrickfergus

Excavation work is underway at Dobbins Inn on Carrickfergus High Street.
Excavation work is underway at Dobbins Inn on Carrickfergus High Street.

Extensive excavation work on a family-run hotel on Carrickfergus High Street has uncovered secrets of a type of castle dating back to the 1300s.

A joint project is underway to investigate the Dobbins Inn building with funding from the owners, Carrickfergus Townscape Heritage Initiative (THI), Heritage Lottery Fund and the Department for Communities Historic Environment Division (HED).

Experts will examine just how much of the castle still survives. The tale of the building is a complex one, but it is finally beginning to unveil its secrets.

Work on the outside of the Dobbins Inn shows that there have been at least three major building phases throughout the structure’s long history. The first phase was the construction of a medieval, urban tower house, possibly as early as the 1300s, which would have been occupied by a merchant or trader.

This phase can be seen in the ground and first floor. A sawn off scaffolding timber can still be found in the wall, which experts are now working on to see if it can be dated.

Originally the tower house would have stood to the second or third floor, but was lowered and extended to create a house in the 1700s. Tower houses were primarily for defence and as the modern era developed, the need to display one’s wealth become more important.

In the 1800s, as Carrickfergus once again grew as a strategically important town, new buildings were constructed around the Dobbins Inn. It is likely that the addition of the second floor dates from this era, as does the roof.

Hotel manager Kirsty Fallis said: “We now know that we have an early example of an urban tower house, and our future works to restore and conserve the building will reflect this.”

The Deputy Mayor of Mid and East Antrim, Cllr Cheryl Johnston, said: “This has been the first time the Dobbins Inn has been formally investigated, and it has been a success for both the owners and the town of Carrickfergus.”