NI's Most Haunted
Take a whistle-stop tour through our history of ghostly goings-on with legends of paranormal activity across the north
As the long evenings creep in on us and Halloween lurks just around the corner, it’s the perfect time to unearth a few spooky stories about our wee province. For don’t be fooled – there’s many a tale to be told of witches and ghouls, spirits and other supernatural beings in Northern Ireland.
We may be embracing a revolutionary new age in this century, where frights are more often confined to video games, films and books, but our past is steeped in lore…
With USA Today just recently crowning Derry~Londonderry the world's best Halloween destination, it’s only to be expected that the city has a few creepy tales to tell.
Indeed, the White Horse Hotel is rumoured to be haunted by a mail stagecoach and ghostly driver, who’s been known to draw up outside the premises and enter the hotel. Where he goes after that is anyone’s guess, as he melts out of sight once over the threshold.
Meanwhile, locals say the old convent building on Pump Street retains the spirits of the nuns who once lived there, while Bligh’s Lane is home to another supernatural lady. Stretching from Creggan down to the Lone Moor Road, Bligh’s Lane is the focal point of a ghostly tale from the 1950s, when a story sprung up around the spirit of an old woman.
Appearing from the spot of her former home to fetch water from a nearby well, she stopped two boys in their tracks as they tobogganed down the hill. The story has a happy ending however, as their slowing to miss her meant they avoided being hit by an oncoming coal lorry.
Moving on to St. Brigid’s Avenue in the Pennyburn area, the spirit of a woman, dressed in a long grey dress, is rumoured to be a rather unnerving resident. Meanwhile a little way off at Cumber House in Claudy, there’s talk of ghostly goings-on and strange noises in the grounds of the building. Is it the unsettled spirit of the previous master of the house, as some think, or something else?
County Derry author Bob Curran is someone with a rather specialist knowledge of Ireland’s supernatural history. Indeed, he spent some time a few years ago collecting tales from locals for his book, Irish Tales from the Otherworld: Ghosts, Fairies and Evil Spirits, before they could take them to their graves.
It’s enough to send a shiver down the spine, as every page reveals more and more tales of tricksy fairies, evil spirits and cunning witches, spanning Derry to Wexford and everywhere in between.
What of the weaver of Derryork, a townland near Dungiven, where malevolent fairies struck a woman and her daughter with ‘fairy bolts’ and where farmers often reported livestock injured by fairies?
The weaver of Derryork, they say, made a pact with the fairies after he visited their fort and they wouldn’t leave him be. He pledged to give them his next child if they’d leave him alone, knowing he wouldn’t have any more, but years later, his wife unexpectedly gave birth again and the fairies claimed the child.
Curran’s book also alludes to a fairy island located between Rathlin Island and mainland Ballycastle – seen once every seven years. And what of the child supposedly carried away by a dark spirit in the Sperrins…?
Image credit: Alex Leonard
Martina Devlin’s book The House Where it Happened also recounts the tale of Ireland’s last witchcraft trial in 1711, after a girl called Mary Dunbar accused eight local women. They were put on trial at Carrickfergus Castle after tales of supernatural occurrences at Knowehead House in Islandmagee.
Meanwhile, the National Trust’s Springhill House outside Moneymore is famously associated with the afterlife, as the property is said to be haunted by Olivia Lenox Conyngham. She is, however, a friendly ghost and simply likes to float around the house and grounds and keep an eye on her guests…
As recently as 2005, however, the BBC reported on another spooky occurrence in the Moneymore area, a rural landscape littered with spine-tingling stories. The sale of a supposedly haunted house on the Rockview Park estate was put on hold after worried neighbours warned of otherworldly goings-on.
The house, they said had been built on top of an old horses’ graveyard and unidentified noises had been enough to frighten away the previous tenant eight years before. The property was also rumoured to have been used for occult practices and calls came to flatten it for good, a neighbour saying that there were 'some forces in there that won't allow it to be lived in.'
Moving on to the North Coast, the Bonner Mill in Bushmills – previously known as Curry’s Mill – is said to be haunted by the ghost of a man who drowned at the site. Indeed, author Jane Talbot used it to inspire a story in her collection The Faerie Thorn and Other Stories.
At Mussenden Temple – another National Trust property, and located on the Downhill estate - blood is said to appear from nowhere on the floor, disappearing within minutes...
Further up the banks of the Atlantic they say the screams of the staff who once served in the kitchens at Dunluce Castle near Portrush can also be heard of a night. The kitchens fell into the ocean below a few centuries ago, taking all who were in them to a watery grave, and they lament their fate yet.
County Antrim also plays host to Ballygally Castle Hotel – perhaps one of the most famous – which harbours the spirit of Isabel Shaw. Her ghostly figure can be seen wandering the corridors at night, knocking on guests’ doors. Room service? Or maybe not…
In Tollymore Forest Park, The Blue Lady, formerly of the Roden family who lived at Tollymore House, also wanders aimlessly through the forest park and has done so, allegedly, since the house was destroyed years ago. Entering Newcastle meanwhile, the harbour is surrounded by unsettling tales of a banshee who’s said to walk amongst the boats, warning of imminent death and wailing in a high-pitched voice.
Bogey Hill, overlooking Newcastle Harbour, is also said to be haunted, women widowed by a boating disaster in 1843 wailing for their lost husbands still. Meanwhile, a large black dog prowls the grounds of St John's Church in Newcastle, eyes blazing fire and most definitely not of this world...
Keeping with the animal theme, a headless horse called Constantine haunts Mullenakill in north Armagh; the sound of hoof beats something to listen for if you’re about of an evening. It’s said the horse was taken to the Napoleonic Wars by Sir William Verner, who brought him home to bury him after his head was cut off.
More ghostly goings-on are rumoured at Carrickfergus Castle, said to be haunted by Button Cap, a headless man who walks the battlements, while Dobbin’s Inn in the town is supposedly haunted by Button Cap’s girlfriend.
And finally, if a trip to the Mourne Mountains you wish to make, then please, beware the Slieve Binnian light, which guides unsuspecting walkers away from the haunted trees near Spelga Dam. Perhaps, though, that’s all for the best, as it is the burial ground of an Irish Chieftain.
These tales are but a dip into the ocean of eerie phenomena in Northern Ireland however… perhaps you have your own story to tell this Halloween?
Looking for ideas to keep the kids entertained this Halloween? Check our frightening selection of half-term highlights.