When floorboards creak in empty chambers, doors lock without explanation and eerie sounds and scents pass through the halls. Whenever lights flicker, when a presence is felt and where the air is deathly still – that is when the Romantic Castles of Ireland ghosts are present, practicing their mischief and terror with their ghoulish delight!
We would like to take you on a ghost tour around the luxurious castle hotels of the Romantic Castles of Ireland collection this Halloween. I’ll be your host for the tour, your ghost host, and our tour begins in Cabra Castle in Kingscourt, Co. Cavan. It was declared the second scariest hotel in the world in 2010 by Trip Advisor and legends about the hotel have been circulating for generations.
The most infamous story dates back to the 1780s, where the then owners of the castle had a son who fell in love with a servant girl called Sarah. It was a passionate but secret love, which for the sake of property, could only be pledged silently.
The secret was broken when Sarah became pregnant and her lover’s family ordered that she was to be killed. Legend has it that she was taken from the servants’ quarters of the castle and dragged into the forest, where her body was hung over a bridge. It is said that in the dead of the night, the haunting cries of a baby may still be heard. There is also testament from those who have felt ‘a presence’ in the courtyard rooms and near the ‘Hanging Tree’ in the grounds.
One guest claimed to have met a man in early 20th Century military uniform striding down the corridor. Another heard a horse and carriage pull into the courtyard in the dead of night to deposit a screaming infant at the steps of the hotel.
Our ghost tour continues at Ballyseede Castle just outside Tralee, in County Kerry. Ballyseede Castle’s ghostly legend is deeply interwoven with the story of the rose. In the 1500s, the castle ownership lay with Sir Edward Denny who rented the property to the Blennerhassetts, before they built their home on the site. On Midsummers Day, 21st June, the payment of a single red rose would be exchanged as a ground rent for the castle.
“A lot of people independently would say that, at different times of the year on the main staircase, they get a very strong smell of roses,” describes proprietor Rory O’Sullivan. The scent is an eerie aromatic announcement that precedes the appearance of the ghost of Hilda Blennerhassett herself. She is mostly seen “roaming around” the upper floor bedrooms of the castle and the main staircase. Patrons who frequent the hotel bar recall catching glimpses of an old woman in a black Victorian dress.
One of the most recent sightings was in May this year when the castle was closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Proprietor Marnie Corscadden was convinced she saw the outline of a woman looking out at her from a window in the castle when taking her kids for a stroll around the castle grounds. It was collectively met with Mr. Higgins, resident Irish Wolfhound, barking at this same window, despite the castle being empty. Marnie took a photo of this outline in the window and it was uploaded to the Ballyseede Castle Instagram account, with a poll asking people if they can see Hilda or not. With more than 1700 people voting on the poll, 56% of people said they too could see Hilda.
Last stop on our ghost tour is Markree Castle in County Sligo. The splendour of Markree Castle is also home to a little girl spirit that the staff call ‘Pippa’. She is very mischievous and often plays tricks on people, locking them in their room and causing them to drop trays and items.
One Christmas, the owners bought Pippa a present and this stopped her causing trouble. An American couple who came to Ireland to get married in Markree Castle brought with them presents for Pippa. Their wedding went off without a hitch! One two-year-old castle guest woke her mother up as she was talking. Her mother asked who she was speaking to. The little girl pointed to the corner and said “My friend.” There was nobody there - was it Pippa?
Whether or not you're a believer in ghost stories, you've got to admit that some of these tales are particularly bone-chilling. As soon as government restrictions are lifted, these castles will be open for overnight stays again. Do you dare come and stay?