Irish Ghosts 6:

Dunluce Castle.

Protected by sheer cliffs and sprawled across a sea-sprayed dais, the gaunt shell of Dunluce Castle is a reminder of wilder, more virulent times, and few castles can boast an aspect that is more awesome or dramatic. Its soaring ramparts and shattered turrets, punctured by the eyeless slits of hollow windows, look down upon pebbled pathways that snake their way into roofless rooms behind whose lichen covered walls, thousands of memories must be sealed.

The first castle to be erected on the site was built by the MacQuillans in the 14th century and it is possible that the outer walls with the two round towers date from their tenure. The ghostly white lady, whose nebulous shade wanders the North East Tower, is believed to have been a daughter of the family whose father forbade her to marry the man she loved, causing her to pine away here and die of a broken heart.

In the 16th century the castle came into the possession of the MacDonnells, and it is with their occupancy that its history is most indelibly linked. Sorley Boy MacDonnell (1505-1589), inherited the families Irish estates in 1556.He was taken prisoner by his brother-in-law, Shane O’Neill, at the battle of Glentaisie in 1565 and held captive for two years, before his kinsmen set him free, having murdered Shane during a banquet called to negotiate a truce between the two families.

In 1584, Queen Elizabeth 1st’s Lord Deputy of Ireland, Sir John Perrot, brought an army to Dunluce and battered the garrison into submission with a relentless bombardment of cannon fire. Having evicted Sorley Boy, he installed Peter Carey as constable of the castle. Queen Elizabeth, however, was furious at the unnecessary expedition and, in 1586, granted the castle back to Sorely Boy who celebrated his arrival by hanging the unfortunate Carey from the ramparts of the South East Tower. Spurred, no doubt, by the indignity of his demise – his ghostly figure, clad in a purple cloak and sporting a ponytail, has wandered the tower ever since.

In 1635 Sorley Boys grandson, Randall, married Catherine Manners, the widow of the Duke of Buckingham, and brought her to live at Dunluce. This elegant lady was used to the cosseted life of London society, and found her new home something of an ordeal. She hated the place and the constant boom of the sea drove her to distraction. One stormy night in 1639, as the family sat down to dinner, her worst fears were realised when the north wall of the Kitchen Court collapsed into the sea, taking several servants to a watery grave. She point blank refused to live on the rock again and persuaded her husband to build a new house on the mainland.

Although the castle remained habitable and usable for the remainder of the 17th century, the fact that it ceased to be the main residence of the MacDonnells effectively sounded its death knell. The relentless assault of the elements gradually reduced it to the ruin that it is today and no visitor can fail to be impressed by its mysterious ambience and dramatic location.

And, even though the castle has now settled into a docile old age, past residents still make occasional forays from beyond the grave to remind us of its stormy and eventful past. Several people have reported feeling a cold chill on entering the South-East Tower, as if some unseen presence has pushed past them. Staff arriving at the castle’s shop in the morning, sometimes find that books have been lifted from the shelves and placed neatly on the floor overnight, or radios that were definitely switched off the previous day, have been mysteriously switched back on. Whoever the spirits that now walk the ethereal plain of Dunluce Castle may have been in life, their activities are seldom malicious and rarely inspire fear. Indeed, those who encounter them are more than happy to let them continue about their ghostly business, just as they have done and, no doubt, will do for as long as these ancient walls shall stand.

There is little doubt that this is a truly mystical location, and a genuine aura of magic and mystery pervades the whole site. Indeed as you begin the trudge back down the hillside you are left with the overwhelming sensation that your visit had re-energised you and instilled in you that sense of awe and wonder that people must have felt when they came here to worship at the dawn of time.

Grandads Story
I have experienced the paranormal on quite a few occasions but it was the experiences I've had since my grandfather died that really convinced me. My family have always had a tradition that our dead come back to haunt us. The reason behind this tradition has been mere experience - for some reason when members of our family have passed away, that hasn't been the last we've ever seen of them! I idolised my grandfather but I was only 4 years old when he died, so to be frank my memories of him are hazy to say the least. He has never left me though! I was always aware of his presence growing up and to this day he makes his presence felt quite forcefully when he wants to, especially around the time of his anniversary! He has even gone so far as to pull bedcovers off the bed - my husband is even aware now that when the date of my grandfather's death approaches we better be ready for a visit! The most profound experience I've ever had though occurred about 7 years ago.  At that time my oldest child who was only 19 months old, had been admitted to ICU as he was very ill. As you can imagine this is obviously a very stressful time for any parent but I couldn't bear to leave his side, not even to eat or sleep and after a few days this had of course taken its toll. The nurse who was assigned to look after my son during his time in ICU eventually managed to prise my fingers off the side of his bed and begged me to go and get some sleep. I told her that I couldn't sleep and she asked me to at least go and get a cup of tea or coffee in the family room which was situated just outside of ICU. Now, any of you that have ever had any experience of intensive care will know that you have to buzz in and out of the ward. The family room is also a private area which is protected by a lock that you have to enter a code into to enter. The family room was the first place I was shown to when my son was admitted to ICU. Anyway, as I reluctantly made my way there, exiting through the double doors at the end of the ICU corridor, I glanced up and saw a man standing by the lock to the family room. At first I thought he was a family member of 1 of the other children in there but something made me look up again and as I did so I realised that the man I was looking at was my late Grandfather! He smiled the sweetest smile at me and then laughed in that hoarse, gruff way that he used to as he did when he was alive. Then in an instant he was gone! Now, believe me when I say that he was as solid as the next living person and I KNOW that i wasn't hallucinating through lack of sleep or stress or anything else. I felt instantly reassured and went to have a cup of tea in peace, knowing that my grandfather was looking out for us. There is however more to this story. When I returned to the ICU, the nurse who was looking after my baby told me that I had a very special person looking after my child. A few minutes after I left she became aware of a presence in the chair that I was sitting in and was convinced that someone had come in and taken my place in the vigil for my child. My grandfather looked after him when I couldn't. A few hours later my son recovered and 5 days later he was home. He is now a happy, healthy 8 year old and has since been joined by a younger brother who has inherited his great grandfather's sense of mischief! Although he can make a bit of a nuisance out of himself, we feel very lucky to have him looking out for us.

St Peters
In December 1894, St Peter's National School in Raglan Street was hosting a performance in a classroom upstairs which was larger than the other rooms. Many children came to see the performance and some of them were accompanied by their parents. Now some boys in the front rows began to misbehave, forcing others watching the show to stand in order to see it. Suddenly the room was plunged into darkness and someone shouted "Ghost!" Naturally panic broke out and people began to rush to the exit. The hallway was also pitch black and people began to push in their panic, those at the front falling downstairs as they were unable to see where they were going. The poor people that fell downstairs were now blocking the door out onto the street and were soon being crushed by the people behind them.
People from the local area rushed to help and the injured were brought to nearby houses or hospital if their injuries were more serious. it eventually came to light that 5 children had been crushed to death. It later emerged that 2 youths had been responsible for turning off the gas in order to amuse themselves. The boys were arrested and held in the cells. In the official report made on their release it was claimed one of the boys "made up stories". Whilst in the cell he claimed to be kept awake by strange noises and occurences. Of course no one believed him. When the 2 boys left the cells, one went to stay with relatives in Tyrone and the other, who was the boy who claimed to hear the disturbances, returned home, although he could not go out because of the bad feeling towards him in the local community. Soon though, people began to report strange goings on in the school house. Strange noises would be heard, windows would be smashed and furniture moved around in the room where the tragedy had occurred. The young man who had caused the deaths of the children heard these stories and began to connect them to the young children who had died. He decided to move to Kilkenny where it is believed he joined a religious order. After he left, the disturbances stopped.

Belfast Workhouse

The ghost of the Belfast workhouse was an apparition in ragged clothing who would be seen whenever a death occurred in suspicious circumstances there. (Unfortunately, those who ran such institutions were often immoral, wicked and abusive and being poor was seen as a criminal offence in those hard days) The deaths always occurred in the lunatic asylum in the building although the ghost was only seen in this section once, he had previously been seen within the dormitories. However the last sighting of the ghost is, in my opinion, the most interesting.

In May 1895 a woman named Sarah McCreevy was getting ready to go to bed at her home in Portland Street in the York Street area. As she reached the top of the stairs she saw the clear figure of a man in ragged clothing FLOATING in front of her. She ran screaming from the building to her neighbour's home where she recounted her story. Some other neighbours went to investigate but they found the house empty. Nevertheless, Mrs McCreevy stayed with her neighbour that night.
The next morning, officials from the workhouse came to Mrs McCreevy to tell her that her husband had died. He died in suspicious circumstances in the lunatic asylum of the building!

Grace Neills

Grace Neill's bar in Donaghadee was built in 1611 when it was known as 'The King's Arms' and is one of the oldest bars in Ireland. It was renamed Grace Neill's after one of its owners who lived to the grand old age of 98. Grace ran the bar for many years until her death in 1918 and was a colourful character who was dedicated to the premises and kept a close and careful eye on on it, whilst she puffed away on her clay pipe! Her ghost is still said to haunt the bar today, tidying up and effecting the lighting! She is heard moving around on the second floor, has appeared in her Victorian clothing and people have even reported feeling her presence on the staircase. However, her presence is non threatening and many believe that her spirit lingers on in the place she loved the most so she may keep her ever watchful eye on all proceedings!

Springhill House

Springhill House in Derry was built by 'Good Will' Conyngham on his marriage to Ann Upton and was added to over the years as a further 10 generations of their family lived there. In 1957, the house and it's contents were given to the National Trust by Captain William Lenox Conyngham. The blue room is reputedly haunted and sudden temperature drops there are blamed on the presence. In 1814, George Lenox Conyngham was abroad on army duties when he received word that his children were ill with smallpox. Further news as to their condition was slow in coming and desperate to know how they were, he abandoned his post to make his way home to his children. He met his commanding officer and friend Robert Stewart on his journey but felt his friend would understand and would cover for him, as he had covered for Stewart on previous occasions. When he reached his home he discovered that his wife Olivia had managed to nurse his children back to health but soon received news that his friend had betrayed him and he was to face court marshall for abandoning his post. Then, one of his young daughters died and George Conyngham, who had a melancholic character anyway, understandably fell into depression, a depression that was to last 2 years. One night he got hold of a pistol and went to the blue room where he intended to end his own life. His wife Olivia realised what he was going to do and began to run wildly towards the blue room to prevent her husband committing suicide but she was too late. Just as she reached the door, a shot rang out and her husband had passed. Her ghost is said to repeat her desperate attempt to get to her husband and prevent his death and her form has been seen many times standing in the doorway of the blue room, horrified at the sight she has seen repeatedly for almost 200 years. Her ghost has also been seen at the top of a staircase where the apparition slowly moved towards the witness with it's arms outstretched in desperation. A young woman named Miss Hamilton stayed in the blue room one night where she was alarmed and frightened to hear the noise of agitated servants and rushed whispers. Too terrified to move, she heard the clicking of a door behind her and a beam of light shone into the room which was soon blocked out by a figure who calmed the noise of the invisible servants. Miss Hamilton's fear disappeared at this moment and she slept soundly. She was horrified the next morning however to discover that there was in fact no door behind her! Sometime afterwards though, it was discovered that a door had indeed existed in that spot, which had been blocked up and painted over. The door led to a powder room in which was found a pair of gloves and a pouch containing bullets! The nanny of the last generation of Lenox Conyngham children awoke one night early in the twentieth century to see Olivia standing over the children and checking their well being. The nanny reported feeling no fear and said that the ghost simply faded away having seemed satisfied that the children were ok. Objects also move in the blue room and some even completely disappear!

Fernhill Museum Ghost, Glencairn Park

Fernhill is actually the site of an ancient fort and burial ground and Fernhill estate was originally owned by the Cunningham family, who were Belfast stockbrokers and owners of the Northern Whig. It was the home of Samuel Cunningham, youngest son of Josias Cunningham who lived in Glencairn House.

The museum itself explores the history of the Shankill area and there has been a lot of paranormal activity there. Witnesses have seen pictures fall off walls and the lift move up and down of it's own accord despite being unoccupied. Others have experienced drastic drops in temperature in various parts of the museum and there have been numerous ghostly sightings. However, what is interesting about this haunting is that the sightings are always of a female ghost who is seen running out of one of the walls in the museum!

Flax Street Ghost

John Savage was a wealthy mill owner, magistrate and town councillor. For some reason, Savage seemed to break under the pressure of the different roles he played and was often seen wandering around muttering the words "I can't take much more of this" non stop. The poor man eventually committed suicide by cutting his throat from ear to ear with a straight razor.
For many years after his death, locals in and around the Flax Street area would claim to see the ghost of John Savage walking around his mill and the street he built behind it everyday. It is claimed by some witnesses that as this apparition passed by them (seemingly unaware of the presence of the living) he could be heard muttering the words "I can't take much more of this". It would appear that even in death, poor John Savage could not find peace.

Trinity Street Ghost

In October 1931, a family moved into a house they were renting in Trinity Street, just off Clifton Street and for reasons known only to them, they soon began to sublet some of the rooms which eventually led to the house becoming somewhat overcrowded. The overcrowding would eventually become less of a problem though after strange events began to occur!

When the events began exactly is not known but doors and windows began to open and close violently by themselves and other objects would move. Some of the tenants resorted to tying their doors closed but the cord would be untied by unseen hands and the doors would open again and gently rock open and closed as if to torment the poor people within the rooms! Eventually, the sounds of moaning and groaning would be heard throughout the house and an apparition was seen by some of those within the house, although two varying descriptions were given. Some of the tenants descibed seeing a dark figure wearing a cape and hat, others described seeing the apparition of a young man surrounded in a bright light in different parts of the house. Word of the strange haunting began to spread and soon crowds started to gather in Trinity street, hoping to catch a glimpse of the strange happenings. The crowds eventually became so large that these gatherings would have to be policed! A medium was called in to investigate the haunting and soon a story emerged that a young man who answered to the name of Edward or Edwards had been murdered in the house and was buried under the floor of the coal house to the rear of the building. The landlord was asked to dig this area up to find out if there was any truth behind the medium's claims but he refused and no resolution was brought to the matter. The tenants had slowly being moving out and by January 1932, the final tenants left and the haunting was spoken about no more.

St Patrick's Chapel

St Patrick's Chapel in Donegall Street (the gorgeous chapel where I was married!) was reputedly haunted by the ghost of a priest who died in the middle of the mass. The ghost would appear upon the altar and asked if anyone would help him finish mass but, understandably, most people legged it out of there pretty quickly when he put in an appearance!
However, one brave soul decided to help the lost soul out and helped the priest finish mass. Apparently, once the mass was complete, the ghost of the priest had a very contented look upon his face and disappeared, never to be seen again.
Stories such as this one add weight to the theory that ghosts hang around because they have some unfinished business to attend too. Does anyone else agree with this theory


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