Cushendun – Game of Thrones & an Iconic TV Series
Cushendun Village, County Antrim
Situated in the Glens of Antrim, the picturesque village of Cushendun lies on the north coast between the towns of Ballycastle and Cushendall. It acquired its name from its location at the mouth of the River Dun, Cois Abhann Doinne, ‘foot of the Dun’.
In 1954 the National Trust took over the conservation of the village and it remains today, a scenic hamlet in a breath-takingly beautiful setting.
The golden sands of the curved beach were formed when the last Ice Age receded and the landmass rose. Enclosing the bay are the magnificent Glens of Antrim, leading the English author William Makepeace Thackery to describe the region as “Switzerland in miniature”
The sheltered harbour at Cushendun made it a safe port for travellers. The Mull of Kintyre in Scotland is only 15 miles away across the Irish Sea. A regular ferry service from here to Scotland existed from the mid 1600’s to the mid 1800’s. A rough road from Ballymena via Newtowncrommelin brought people and their goods and livestock to the port and a thriving trade in cattle and pigs was carried out with Cantire on the opposite Scottish coast.
Ancient Artefacts and Antiquities
As well as famed for its idyllic scenery, the Cushendun-Glendun area is known for its many ancient artefacts and antiquities. There are numerous sites of standing stones, cairns, cromlechs, ancient forts and there is evidence of a Mesolithic flint works.
“There are a number of souterrains in the area around Cushendun – and the whole district has yielded ample evidence of prehistoric inhabitants, in the form of worked flint implements of many types; in fact for anyone interested in history there is evidence of the continuity of life right through the ages to be traced in the countryside”Rosemary Garrett, Cushendun and the Glens of Antrim, 1956
Just north of Cushendun village are the ruins of Castle Carra. This square tower with an enclosed bawn was constructed in the early fourteenth century.
In the sixteenth century it was owned by the famous Shane O’Neill, a powerful chieftain in the Province of Ulster. However, in 1567 during a feast with his former adversaries, the McDonnells, Shane was stabbed and killed. His head was sent to Elisabeth 1’s, English ministers in Dublin Castle.
“….where the souldiours, with their slaughter knives, killed the Secretary and Shane O’Neale, mangled him cruelly, lapped him in an old Irish shirte and tumbled him into a pit within an old Chappel hard by; whose head four days after, Captaine Pierce cut off and met therewith the Deputy, who sent it before him staked on a pole to the Castle of Divelin (Dublin), where it now standeth”Edmund Campion, Historie of Ireland, 1571
In the early twentieth century the site of Shane’s grave was commemorated
“Those drawn to Cushendun with an interest in archaeology and natural history included members of the Belfast Naturalist’s Field Club, Francis Joseph Bigger was one such member. A prominent Antiquarian, he is responsible for raising Shane’s Cairn above Cushendun in 1908 as a memorial to the reputed burying place of Shane O’ Neill, murdered by the McDonnells in 1567”Cushendun Building Preservation Trust, 2019
Popularity of Cushendun for Tourism
In the nineteenth century, Cushendun was a popular tourist destination.
“Cushendun is cheerfully situated and the neighbourhood is frequented in the summer by gentlemen’s families who have bathing lodges here”James Boyle Ordnance Survey Memoirs 1835
The Cushendun Hotel (1925) and the Anchorage Hotel (1927, subsequently renamed the Glendun Hotel) were built on an old mill site.
The industrial complex, comprising a scutch mill, spinning mill, starch works and various warehouses and stores was constructed in the 1860’s. They were designed by Benjamin Maxwell. There was also a bleach green and reservoir and a stone water tower. The business was owned by Nicholas de la Cherois Crommelin. At its peak the mills employed 60 people. The steam-driven mill was the only one of its kind in the Glens. However, the business failed to thrive and closed in 1882.
The hotels did good business offering reasonable rates to people who wanted to escape the city for a week or two in the summer. They provided breakfast, lunch and high tea or dinner. Both hotels had tennis courts and there was always plenty of outdoor activities for the tourists.
In 1935 the owner of the Cushendun Hotel, Mrs Elizabeth McBride secured at an auction in Glasgow, the luxury fittings from the Harland and Wolf liner the Minnewaska. She used these to decorate the hotel’s rooms. While the following year, the Elliots, who owned the Glendun also opened The Bay Cafe.
“The wee village of Cushendun, the Foot of the Dun River, is perfectly placed at the side of a lovely bay, with a grand strand for bathing and lazing. There are two good hotels here, very good indeed, and fine fishing up the Dun River, which winds up the far-famed Glendun”Richard Hayward, In Praise of Ulster, 1938
In 1910 Ronald John McNeill, later Lord Cushendun, settled in Glenmona House in Cushendun. The ornate two-storey house is in a beautiful setting surrounded by woodland and facing Cushendun Bay. McNeill was a Conservative and Unionist politician and the son of ‘Long Eddie McNeill’ of Craigdun Castle.
In 1912 Ronald McNeill hired the Welsh architect Clough Williams-Ellis to redesign the village. Williams-Ellis built a collection of houses in a distinctly Cornish style as a tribute to McNeill’s wife, Penzance-born Maud Bolitho.
“At once they commissioned the youthful Clough Williams-Ellis, an architect then fashionable amongst rising politicians, to make improvements, to the house and the village, in a slate-and-whitewash style intended to combine an Irish with Cornish flavour”C E B Brett Buildings of County Antrim 1996
Seven houses with shutters and mansard (four sloping sides) slated roofs formed The Square. A public hall, clubhouse, shop and gate lodge followed. In 1926, following the death of Maud McNeill, a collection of five, two storey, terraced homes were constructed known as Maud Cottages.
Lord Cushendun – Second Marriage
Lord Cusnendun later married Miss Catherine Margesson, daughter of Sir Mortimer and Lady Isabel Marggesson on 29th December 1930.
Lord Cushendun died on 12th October 1934, aged 73.
The Cushendun Church
In 1838, a Church of Ireland church was constructed in the village. It is now known as Cushendun Old Church. A sum of £800 was raised towards building costs, probably supplied mainly from the five ‘big houses’ forming the Protestant gentry in the area – McNeills, Smyths, Harrisons, Higginsons and O’Neills. It is built in a simple Georgian style with a distinctive tower of red sandstone from the nearby quarries at Layde. The window features the hand and dagger of the O’Neill coat of arms. In 1911 the roof was replaced and the pine pitch ceiling renovated by Mr W H Fennell, a Belfast architect. Today the church building, in the grounds of Glenmona House, acts as an arts and exhibition centre.
The architect Clough Williams-Ellis is most famous for the later construction of the colourful Italianate village of Portmeirion in North Wales. In 1967 this location was the setting for the cult science-fiction television series ‘The Prisoner‘.
This complex, psychological drama was created by and starred Patrick McGoohan. McGoohan had just completed work on the popular Danger Man series (known as Secret Agent in the US) and pitched the idea of The Prisoner. The iconic opening credits depict an angry secret agent resigning, being kidnapped and imprisoned in an idyllic sea-side village patrolled by the mysterious ‘Rovers’.
All the outside scenes of the Prisoner were filmed in the beautiful and distinctive court yards, gardens and streets of Portmeirion village in Wales (although the location was never named in the series).
The agents name is not revealed, he is simply known as Number Six. While his captors attempt to find out why he resigned, the ‘Prisoner’ fights for his rights to freedom from persecution, imprisonment, surveillance and attempts to undermine his right to personal privacy.
The Prisoner series appealed to a 1960s population concerned at the growing state infringement into their personal lives & privacy.
Ironically these freedoms have since been surrendered willingly to the Internet giants of today who gather information on every aspect of our lives.
The Cushendun Caves & Game of Thrones
Just round from the harbour, past the Fisherman’s Cottage, are the impressive Cushendun Caves. These are around 400 million years old, carved out by the constant erosion of the waves. The cave walls are composed of rounded lumps of stone of different sizes and colours. Although quite shallow, the caves reach a terrific height.
“To the right beyond the hotels are some caves in an unusual outcrop of Old Red sandstone conglomerate, a pretty stew embedded with stones of all sizes from mere pebbles to hefty boulders. This is an interesting survival of an ancient storm beach, but apart from geology the place is worth visiting for the sake of the caves and some odd views”.Richard Hayward, In Praise of Ulster, 1938
The Cushendun Caves have now gained fame in their own right. They are the location of Stormlands and the place where Ser Davros and Melisandre landed, in the popular Game of Thrones television series.
Mary McBride’s pub in the village has the 8th Game of Thrones Door, featuring the Faceless Man coin and Arya’s fateful journey.
So, the quiet little hamlet of Cushendun is not only linked through its architectural heritage to the ground-breaking TV series The Prisoner in the 1960’s, it is also linked to a modern classic of television history!
The story of a peaceful County Antrim bay at the village of Cushendun, a couple in love and a tragedy that reverberates to this day.
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