THRILL SEEKERS have always relished the prospect of coming face to face with the paranormal, especially around Halloween. But how much would you pay – or rather, how much would you have to be paid – to stay in one of Ireland’s most haunted getaways?
It’s well-known that Ireland has a long spiritual tradition that dates back hundreds of years.
The country’s mythology is riven with spirits, and indeed, superstition is woven through the fabric of many parts of everyday life – from families who claim to have received visits from the banshee, to ring forts, fairy trees, curses and thin places.
Many castles, hotels and tourist sites have been known to fit the bill of this last category of popular superstition.
In Irish folklore, these ‘thin places’ are geographical locations where the veil between our world and the spirit realm is said to be at its thinnest, which sometimes can lead to friction – and indeed, to doorways opening – between the two.
Here are five such ‘thin places’ where you can spend a sleepless night and perhaps even encounter visitors from the Otherworld.
1. Ballygally Castle Hotel, Co. Antrim
Built in 1625 by the Shaw family on land originally rented from the Earl of Antrim, Ballygally Castle Hotel is everything you would expect a dramatic sea-swept coastal location to be – rugged, beautiful, ancient and spooky.
Legend has it that after giving birth to a son, Lady Isabella Shaw was locked away in the corner turret of the castle by her cruel husband, Lord James Shaw.
Whether she fell or jumped is still up for debate, though it’s said that shortly after her interment Lady Shaw fell to her death from the window of her secluded room.
Her spirit is now said to roam the halls of the castle at night, looking for her child, and enough visitors to the corner turret have reported strange activity that staff now refer to it simply as ‘The Ghost Room’.
2. Kilkea Castle, Co. Kildare
This beautiful 11th Century castle located just outside Castledermot once belonged to an eccentric noble named Gerald Fitzgerald – known as ‘The Wizard Earl’ – who was renowned in the 16th Century for dabbling in the black arts and carrying out strange experiments in alchemy.
It’s said that these secretive sessions used to take place in the Castle’s highest tower, and legend has it that the doomed Earl makes an appearance to guests once every seven years!
The castle now belongs to an entrepreneurial Bostonian named (appropriately) Jay Cashman, and these days you’re more likely to feel the brush of luxury fabrics than anything supernatural.
Still, one has to wonder how many people are brave enough to try on such luxury?
3. Castle Leslie, Co. Monaghan
Like something from Henry James’s haunted classic ‘The Turn of the Screw’ or Shirley Jackson’s ‘The Haunting of Hill House’, Castle Leslie offers two haunted rooms to guests – the ominous sounding Red Room, and the more peaceful sounding Mauve Room.
The Castle has been with the Leslies for generations, so long in fact, that it’s said the hauntings are carried out by two of the family’s own ancestors – husband and wife Norman and Constance.
Guests have reported the disembodied sounds of rustling paper, whispering noises, bells ringing by themselves, and furniture levitating before crashing back to the floor!
The apparitions of Norman and Constance have even been rumoured to stand at the foot of guests’ beds: perhaps jealous of the opulence, or perhaps to let them know that they have overstayed their welcome…
4. Cabra Castle, Co. Cavan
Perhaps best known as one of Ireland’s most popular wedding venues, what people don’t seem to realise is that Cabra Castle has a much darker history.
Situated near the picturesque Dún a Rí Forest Park, Cabra Castle was built in the first decade of the 19th Century.
Local lore tells us that sometime before its construction, a pregnant servant girl was hanged in the 1760s – ostensibly for the crime of adultery – and that her spirit manifests near ‘The Hanging Tree’ where she has been known to greet guests by screaming at them!
The Castle is reputedly also haunted by a woman named Kate Morgan; a guest who shot herself in her room in November 1893 after her doctor husband failed to provide her with the cancer treatment she needed.
5. Renvyle House Hotel, Co. Galway
Built in 1883 and known for its proximity to the beautiful and rugged Wild Atlantic Way near Connemara, Renvyle House Hotel is the most modern site on our list.
Don’t let that fool you, however, since Renvyle House has played host to many important guests over the years, including artists, writers and politicians – some of whom it's said have never left…
Legendary Irish poet W.B. Yeats was a much-favoured frequent visitor of the hotel, and during his association with the occult group Order of the Golden Dawn, was said to have performed séances, dabbled in black magic and possibly opened up gateways to the Otherworld during his time there.
This has led some clairvoyants to conclude that the Hotel exudes a dark aura, with guests reporting feelings of being watched, hearing disembodied footsteps, having their bed clothes removed in the middle of the night, as well as witnessing perhaps the Holy Grail of all Irish ghosts; W.B. Yeats himself!