Situated between Dublin and Belfast, the medieval town of Carlingford in county Louth sits on the north east of the island, surrounded by Slieve Foy, Carlingford Lough and the Mourne mountains. It is one of Ireland's best examples of a medieval town, and is also known for its picturesque setting.
Carlingford today has much to offer visitors, including:
- Well preserved medieval streets, with an olde-worlde feel
- Unique vistas, particularly from the lakeside harbour and marina
- A variety of pubs, cafes and award-winning restaurants
- Activities such as sailing, kayaking, and windsurfing
- One of Ireland's best cycling trails, known as The Táin Trail, begins just outside Carlingford
Named Carlingford, meaning the fjiord of Carlinn, by the Vikings who used it as a temporary base, a town was subsequently founded by the Anglo-Normans in the 12th century.
In the centuries that followed, Carlingford became the major port of its region, known as the Cooley peninsula. It is a typical example of a medieval town – a linear settlement with typically narrow streets, defensive walls, narrow streets, a Friary and Urban Tower Houses. As the town failed to develop during the industrial age, it retains much of its medieval heritage and atmosphere.
Carlingford prospered in the 14th, 15th and early 16th centuries, however, when it rivalled Dundalk as one of the east coast’s main trading ports. Today, several town houses that once belonged to the rich merchant class, such as Taaffes Castle and The Mint, are evidence of the town’s former wealth. The town’s importance is also recognised in its five royal charters, the first dating from 1326, when King Edward II reigned, with the last in 1619, signed by King James I.
By the 17th century, however, things had changed, and in 1744 Isaac Butler declared the town to be “in a state of ruin”. Carlingford’s decline was the result of war and rebellion, as well as a failure to shift from traditional methods of production (such as fabric making) to industrialisation.
Meanwhile, another source of wealth, the herring shoals in Carlingford Lough, had moved to the open seas by the early 18th century. For today’s visitor, of course, this failure to modernise has resulted in the preservation its essential medieval character, with structures such as the town’s defence walls, which have been dismantled in other towns, still standing. Buildings from this era include the 12th century King John's Castle, the early 14th century Dominican Friary, 15th century The Tholsel (a medieval toll house) and the 16th Century Taaffe's Castle.