Myths and Legends of Ards and North Down, Northern Ireland


Ards and North Down in Northern Ireland is full of spooky myths and legends, and well worth a visit, says guest writer CLARE FOREMAN

Bangor Castle is one of the many haunted places in Ards and North Down
Bangor Castle is one of the many haunted places in Ards and North Down.

Northern Ireland is home to many myths, legends and strange tales, with Ards and North Down laying claim to a fair few of its own.

Here are a few ghostly goings-on that you may or may not have heard of…

Ghosts of Ards and North Down

The seaside town of Bangor has many nautical tales to tell, one of which concerns a mermaid and monks!

Legend has it that, back in the 6th century, a group of monks travelled from Bangor Mor monastery to deliver a message from Saint Comgall to Rome. En route, they caught a mermaid called Liban in their fishing nets. The men informed Comgall of their strange catch who accompanied the men to the shore. Here he found the unfortunate mermaid, and after speaking with her, baptised her Muirgen.

Said to be one of Northern Ireland’s most haunted spots, Donaghadee Town Hall dates back to the 1770s, with the lane beside it formerly known as ‘Murder Lane’. Paranormal investigators have reported hearing a child’s voice saying the name Matthew and saw stones being thrown in the basement.

They also picked up communication from a man who referred to himself as the ‘key keeper’. It turns out that a boy called Matthew used to be locked in the basement because of his disability and the key keeper was his minder.

At Grace Neill’s on Donaghadee High Street, meanwhile, it’s said the original owner still greets guests in his own unique way… with flickering lights, glasses moving of their own accord and bottles opening all by themselves.

Scrabo Tower, Newtownards

Scrabo Tower in Newtownards is a well-known local landmark in the borough with its own tales to tell. Some have heard whispering and banging there late at night, while others claim to have seen a woman in period dress walking down the tower’s curved staircase.  While many local children were told a witch lived in the Tower and the red light was said to be her eye keeping a watch over them!

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More spooky goings-on are linked to Movilla Abbey in Newtownards, a ruin with only the graveyard remaining intact, after the abbey was burned down by Vikings around 824AD.  Lights have reportedly been seen floating around the graveyard in the wee hours.

Newtownards War Memorial is also said to have its own ghost, haunted by a Victorian man who has been seen waiting patiently by the memorial on various occasions. The story goes that he was waiting for someone one night when he was robbed and beaten. The robbers fled, the man died and yet, still, on occasion, he waits.

Comber Ghaist/Ghost Hole

Various stories are linked to the Comber Ghaist/Ghost Hole, which is the stretch of Comber River at Cherryvalley.

One tale tells of a beggar who used to visit the mill houses when they lined Comber in a row. He was carried from house to house, as he had no legs, but one night, a resident who had to carry him the furthest distance decided to throw him in the river.

The beggar is now said to haunt the water’s edge, and some have even seen him trying to pull himself from the river… The ghost stories were encouraged by illicit smugglers in the 19th century as a way of protecting their trade in wines, silk and brandy!

Just south of Comber and located along Strangford Lough, Mahee Island also has a haunted history.

Mahee Castle on the island, also known as Nendrum Castle, is said to be a place where the veil between this world and the spirit world is thin all-year round, rather than just at Hallowe’en. Indeed, there have been tales of mists manifesting before people’s eyes and of whispering voices within the castle walls…

Mahee Abbey

The fifth century Mahee Abbey is also located on the island and there are stories of up to nine spirits haunting the site – former monks who can’t rest after the removal of several holy artefacts. 

Legend also has it that a mermaid once charmed one of the monks with her song and he was only released from her power when he heard the matins bell ringing out.

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‘The seamaid there would of times haunt/At evening’s silent close/With tuneful harp and song so sweet/When from the waves she rose/Her golden locks…With eyes so blue/Deride the coming storm…’  John Vinycomb (1833-1928).

At nearby Greyabbey, meanwhile, an old tale linked to the windmill stump tells how an 18th century pirate chief, Commodore Bob, was hanged by a lynch mob with his body dumped there for the rats.

However, the rats merely chewed through the ropes and the pirate wasn’t quite dead, so he managed to escape. The mob, known as ‘The Merry Hearts of Down’ was a ruthless band of pirates who operated in and around Kircubbin on Strangford Lough.

The Wee White Wuman of Queen’s Wall

Back when there were many more springs and drystone walls in Portavogie than there are now, one wall in particular – the Queen’s Wall – gained a reputation for being haunted. The story goes that in the time before Second World War, a woman fell in deep snow in and around the Bog Road and died. She was subsequently referred to as ‘the wee white wuman of Queen’s Wall,’ and her ghost was seen – or her presence felt – in this spot from time to time there-afterwards.

One encounter occurred on a foggy night when a lorry driver was making the return journey from the Portavogie fish auctions to Ardglass. This was before the ferry was in use and drivers had to travel to Portavogie via Newtownards. When the driver reached the Bog Road, he hit something and got out to see what it was.

As he was looking around, however, he felt icy hands on the back of his neck… He turned, but there was no one there. And yet, he had felt those hands upon him, chilling him to the bone. Understandably spooked, he hurried back to his lorry and drove quickly home. He never took the Bog Road route again.

Killyleagh Castle

And finally, another spooky location with a link to the borough is Killyleagh Castle, in the village of Killyleagh, sections of which date back to the 12th century. Owned by the Hamilton family (who also built the original Bangor Castle) since the 17th century, Hamilton’s wife is said to have adored the castle and reportedly haunts its great hall to this day.

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Alice Moore was the wife of the Second Earl of Clanbrassil and a wee bit ambitious – she poisoned her husband to get his substantial estate, then fled to wait it out. However, at the time women were not allowed to own estates so her brother took the land instead. Eventually an earlier will was located and the estate was returned to the Hamilton family. Now she haunts the castle in anger!

Anne’s said to haunt the castle to protect it – she defended the castle in real life for a period of time against Cromwell when her husband was away. She eventually waved a white flag but apparently offered her protection as a ghost when she died!

Killyleagh Castle

Bangor Castle

Every good castle has a ghost story and Bangor Castle is no exception. Lady Maude, the last person to own and live in the castle, is said to have never left after her death in 1941.

In particular she enjoyed visiting the staff dining room as she loved listening to gossip, and it is around this area that people claim to have seen her ghost! Over the years there are members of staff who were uncomfortable in this area as they felt a hand on their arm, or a cool breeze pass them in the corridors.

Other stories include feeling the presence of soldiers. This may relate to the Second World War when the castle was used as a temporary hospital with Nissan huts erected in the forecourt.

Rumours spread around Bangor that prisoners of war were kept in the basement tunnel area, they weren’t but these stories fuelled talk of ghosts haunting the grounds!

CLARE FOREMAN works in Tourism and Development, for Ards and North Down Borough Council.


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