With Game of Thrones soon to return to our screens, JANET QUINLIVAN takes a look at some of the most historical and spooky places to visit in County Antrim.
County Antrim is one of the most beautiful and scenic places in all of Northern Ireland, from the lively Belfast city through the dense and calm Tolleymore Forest, finishing up on the magnificent Giant’s Causeway. Its rugged and amazing coastline is something to behold, steeped in history with no shortage of ghost stories and folklore. No wonder Game of Thrones love to film there!
Dunluce Castle, 87 Dunluce Rd, Bushmills, County Antrim BT57 8UY
This is one of the most dramatic castle locations in all of the British Isles. The castle sits on a cliff side surrounded by the sea, but accessible via footbridge. The castle was built by Richard Og De Burg in the early 13th Century, the 2nd Earl of Ulster. However, the first documented owners were with McQuillan family in 1513. Stories differ at this point; some say one of the children used to see a white lady standing on the cliff side but when he called out to her she never spoke. His siblings would never believe what he saw. The other story was that the eldest McQuillan girl was forbidden to marry her love and pined away until her death and now still walks the castle as the White Lady.
In 1588 a Spanish Armada Ship called ‘The Girona’ crashed into the rocks nearby. In the wreckage the canons and cargo were found and anything not of use was sold to repair the castle and the canons were placed on the gatehouses. Despite the constant maintenance the family decided to leave because parts of the castle were beginning to fall into the sea. It’s said that one awful night the kitchen collapsed into the stormy waters taking some cooks and maids with it. On a still night locals claim you can still hear the screaming. However, this seems to be unlikely as much of the kitchen area is still intact today, so perhaps the screams were from the Spanish sailors who drowned.
Carrickfergus Castle, Marine Hwy, Carrickfergus BT38 7BG
The castle is Norman built by John De Courcey between 1180 and 1204. The castle has been used for many military campaigns, including the landing of William of Orange before the battle of the Boyne against King James army in southern Ireland. The castle was further fortified when it was used as a prison in the 18th century. The resident spirit said to haunt this castle goes by the name of ‘Buttoncap’. Legend has it that in the 16th Century a young soldier called Robert Rainey fell in love with a local girl called Betsy Baird. Robert was a real ladies man but promised Betsy that if she agreed to marry him he would change his ways. She agreed and Robert was over the moon to finally be marrying his love.
Robert, however soon discovered that Betsy was involved with another man, the brother of Colonel Jennings who was stationed at the castle. In his rage he found the Colonel’s brother and killed him using his sword. Afterwards Robert calmly walked back to barracks and went to bed. In the meantime, Mr. Jennings was able to describe who had attacked him just before he died. Unfortunately, another young soldier called Timothy Lavery also was stationed in the castle, he bore a very close resemblance to Robert. He was arrested for the murder and sentenced to death. As the noose was put around his neck he swore that it was mistaken identity and promised to haunt the castle forever. After a number of years Robert confessed is guilt but what happened after that we don’t know. What we do know is that a young man dressed in military uniform can be seen walking the castle corridors and towers. It’s also said that his girlfriend haunts the local inn called ‘Dobbins Inn’.
Antrim Castle, Randalstown Rd, Antrim BT41 4LH
The castle itself is now only reduced to a stump in the ground after it burned down. This Castle has several haunting stories attached to it. On the 31st of May every year it’s said that you will see a recurring entity that shows a coach and its four horses that steered into the pond and all aboard were drowned. Supposedly this happens every year but only on this specific date.
In 1607 the castle was owned by a Sir Hugh Clotworthy and his bride Lady Marian. Marian loved to walk in the woods and around the castle grounds. It’s said that one day while out in the woods she heard a fierce roar and a wolf appeared at her side threatening an attack. Another loud and long growl was heard from the woods and then a wolfhound appeared bearing its teeth at the wolf. The two locked on in a battle to the death, lady Marian supposedly fainted at this point and when she came to the wolf was dead and the wolfhound was limping and injured.
She guided to dog to the castle and tended to its wounds and brought the animal back to health. The dog disappeared and wasn’t seen for several weeks. One day while Sir Hugh was out with his men he heard the same loud growl and bark from the woods. He sent his men to investigate and they discovered a troop of men ready to spring a surprise attack on the castle. Sir Hugh put this discovery down to the wolfhound’s protection. Some say the wolfhound turned to stone and was kept on the castle turret never to be removed, others say sir Hugh had the statue built in 1612 and again it was never to be removed as the wolfhound would always protect the castle. However, during a time when they decided to clean the statue they broke the tail off and soon after the castle was burned to the ground. The statue can still be seen in the Antrim forum today. Maybe one day the dog will wake up from its stony state to protect once again.
Bonmargy Friary, Cushendall Road, near Ballycastle, County Antrim
This friary and chapel was Franciscan and built around 1485 by Rory McQuillan. Several of the McQuillan family and MacDonnell family are buried there. The Friary was home to a nun called Julia McQuillan who is now known as the ‘Black Nun’. She was a prophet who over her life made several accurate prophecies. It’s believed that Julia met her end and was murdered on the steps leading to the upper story of the friary. Her wish was to be buried at the entrance of the chapel. Today her grave is marked by a worn Celtic cross with a hole in the middle. Locals say Julia will appear to you if you walk around her grave 7 times clockwise and then 7 times counter clockwise and then you put your hand in the hole in the cross. Others say that on your entry to the friary you must say ‘hello Julia’ and she will come to see you and perhaps even appear to speak to you.
Ballygally Castle Hotel, Coast Rd, Ballygally, Co. Antrim BT40 2QZ
This castle is very unusual as it is half modern hotel and half 17th century castle and is the only building of its age in Antrim still used in residence. It was owned by Lady Isabella Shaw and Sir James Shaw who built it in 1625. The story goes that Sir James was desperate for a son, Lady Isabella became pregnant but when the birth came James discovered that she had a girl. In his rage he locked both of them into the highest room of the castle (now known as the ghost room). Lady Isabella and her baby began to starve and distraught by her husband’s cruelty she opened the window and took her baby in her arms and jumped to their death. On some nights a baby’s cries can be heard around the building, the crying becomes louder and more distraught as you get closer to the ghost room but as soon as the door is opened the cries stop. Also many guests believe that Lady Isabella knocks on your door at night and likes to play tricks on them. There is also another resident ghost that walks the castle known as Madame Nixon, witnesses say you can tell when she is there because you can hear the rustling of her skirts and she walks around.
Maybe if you visit you can stay in the hotel and keep an ear out for the crying of baby Shaw, perhaps you will meet Buttoncap in his uniform wondering around Carrickfergus castle, or maybe you will spot the wolfhound who has woken up to defend the city.