Castletown’s medieval fortress gives the town of over 3000 people its name. The town was, at one time, the island capital, and the castle served as its administrative centre and housing for the lords of Mann. The last Viking king, Magnus, died in the castle in 1265. In ancient times there was a volcano here.
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The town began c1090 and fishing cottages, narrow streets, a cobbled town centre, and Castle Rushen give historic glimpses of this earlier time. Large scale commercial fishing was the main industry, but it ended in the 1970s. The town was used in the filming of ‘Island at War’, a PBS series.
Castletown’s main attraction is Castle Rushen. Its keep was made of local limestone and dates from 1150-1200. During the 14th century rule of Edward III the keep was enlarged, and an octagonal curtain wall with corner towers was added. In 1644 a residence was constructed within the wall by the seventh earl of Derby, Lord of Mann.
Displays in the keep tell the story of the castle. The dungeons are on view. 125 spiral stairs lead to the top of the battlements. A chapel lies at the top of the south tower. A one-handed clock on the south wall is thought to be a gift from Queen Elizabeth I. The lord’s dining hall has a display of a midday meal.
Also in the town on the harbour’s edge is an old grammar school (closed in the 1930s). The building, dating from AD1190-1230, was originally a chapel with a nave and south aisle.
The Old House of Keys (origin of name is unknown) building is near the castle. Its original purpose was as a meeting place for the 24 administrators of the island. It served several banks and the Castletown commissioners as well as being a rural library. Manx National Heritage restored the building to its 1866 appearance in the year 2000. Inside is a debating chamber.
Castletown is also home to a small nautical museum. In the boathouse is the 18th century yacht named Peggy. The loft is set up as a sail-maker’s workshop, while the fishing gallery displays boat models, equipment, and photographs of the fishing industry.
Castletown is on the southern tip of the Isle of Man, on the A5, just west of the airport.
Castletown, at the Square
Tel. 0 1624 648000
Castletown, at the harbour
Old Grammar School
Tel. 0 1624 648 000
Old House of Keys
Tel. 0 1624 648 000
Photos of Castletown main street and two of Rushen castle © by Barbara Ballard.
Photos of harbour, Old House of Keys © and courtesy Isle of Man Tourism