With its 54 charming bedrooms, the stunning 17th-century Ballygally Castle Hotel is ideally located for those wishing to explore all that the Antrim coast has to offer, including the legendary causeway route with its breath-taking views, and simple beach walks with splendid views across the Irish sea.
The castle was constructed by James Shaw in 1625 on land granted to him by the Earl of Antrim. He lived there with his wife Isabella Brisbane, who is a central character in the castle’s main ghost story. Given the ongoing conflict between the English and Scottish settlers and the Gaelic Irish chieftains during that period, the castle was built to withstand attack with walls that are five feet thick and narrow windows that allowed for muskets to be fired from them. The defence features surely worked. Despite the castle coming under siege several times in 1641 and a brief period in 1680 when the castle was actually captured, it remained in the Shaw family until the early 1800s when financial pressures forced them to sell. The castle was later used as a base for the local coastguards, before returning to residential use, and later conversion to an inn during the 1950s.
Ballygally Castle has several ghost stories to tell, the most famous of which relates to Lady Isabella Shaw, wife of Lord James Shaw.
One version of the story suggests that Lord Shaw desperately wanted a son, but when his wife delivered a daughter, he callously locked his wife in a room in the castle turret. Desperate to be reunited with her newborn child, Isabella attempted to escape through the window but fell to her death. Another version of the same story tells of how Lord Shaw (or one of his accomplices) deliberately pushed poor Isabella from the window.
The second version of the story suggests that Lady Isabella had been having an affair and that the child was a product of it. This caused her husband to become enraged and ultimately led to her death falling from the tower, either by a failed attempt to escape or by being pushed.
Lady Isabella’s room in the tower (“the ghost room”) is now preserved for visitors who wish to ascend the spiral staircase and say hello to her spirit. According to some, she is quite receptive!
A reporter for BBC Radio Ulster recorded a segment in the ghost room in 1998 and was accompanied by a psychic medium. The presenter recounted to author Jeff Belanger, how the temperature in the room rose by a good ten degrees and the strong scent of vanilla filled the room. The medium claimed to have connected with the ghost of a distressed young woman who was being kept in the room against her will by an older woman and who was worried about her young daughter. The spirit paced back and forth to the window and was wondering why a man named Robert – who was at sea – had not come to rescue her. Later that evening, the reporter settled into the room for a solo vigil. At 3 am, the cold room began to warm up and the scent of vanilla again filled the air. Then, like all good ghost hunters, she fled the room and spent the remainder of the night at the opposite end of the hotel.
The ghost of Madam Nixon is also said to walk the corridors of Ballygally Castle at night. Madam Nixon lived at the castle in the 19th-Century. Her presence is signified by the swooshing sound of a silk dress moving through the corridors, and she has been known to knock on the doors of confused guests too.
One evening, in 2003, the Dungeon Room was set up ready to host dinner for a group of corporate guests. The table was fully set with smart napkins and polished glasses arranged in readiness for their arrival, and the door was locked to ensure the room would not be disturbed.
However, doors are only an obstacle for the living!
On her return to inspect the room shortly before the guests were due to arrive, the manager was shocked to discover that the perfectly set table she had left, was now a complete mess! The glassware had been arranged in a circle on the table and there was a strange residue on each glass. The napkins had all been opened too. The entire table had to be cleared and reset and nobody knows who – or what – was responsible.
It is possible that at least one child haunts the hotel and maybe they had something to do with the disturbed dinner party.
On a separate occasion, one hotel guest was startled when he was touched on the back while sleeping. Now awake and being somewhat confused, he heard a child laughing and moving around his room. He assumed it was one of his own children…but then he remembered that they were at home and he was there all alone. The man fled the room and headed to the lobby, probably giving the staff member on duty a fright too as the lad was only wearing his underwear.
Many other guests staying at the Ballygally Castle Hotel have experienced other phenomena over the years, including the feeling of a presence in their rooms. Some have also spotted a mysterious green mist.
My niece had our video camera in our room and videoed about 6 secs which was obviously just an accident. But the strange thing was, the TV was off. It was her and my partner alone in the room. You can clearly see him standing in camera shot and clear as day hear a woman’s voice whispering “EXCUSE ME”. It was clear as day and freaked me out! I have listened over and over and am 100% sure it’s paranormal, which I am quite sceptical about. My niece was obsessed with running up and down to the tower room and I did sort of ask Isabella to try making a noise for a joke when we went into the tower, but this voice at approx 1am on camera is amazing and eerie.
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