Did you know that Hallowe’en started in Ireland? The spooky celebration on October 31 can trace its roots back to Ireland's ancient Samhain festival which was celebrated the end of the harvest. At this time of year—as the seasons changed from summer to winter—the division between this world and the next was thought to be its faintest, allowing spirits to pass through into our world. Hallowe’en traditions like the carving of pumpkins are said to originate from carving turnips as lanterns on Samhain night to ward off the evil spirits. The festivities included rituals and games with nuts and apples, and people lit bonfires for their evil-cleansing powers. As people went from door to door to collect for the Samhain Festival, they wore ghoulish costumes to ward off fairies and evil spirits.
With all this ghostly activity and a countryside full of haunted castles, jails and forests, as well as being the birthplace of Bram Stoker, the writer of Dracula, it’s no surprise that Ireland has some spooky places to stay in. Here are five.
1. Kinnity Castle (pictured above)
This 19th century gothic revival castle in County Offaly has a turbulent history. The first castle was destroyed in 1209 and rebuilt in 1213. In 1922 it was burnt down during the civil war and rebuilt in 1928. It first opened as a hotel in 1994 and over the years, ghostly apparitions and crying sounds have been reported in bedrooms like the attic Geraldine room. A monk called Hugh is said to haunt areas of the castle like the banqueting room and dungeon bar, reportedly appearing to visitors and staff and sometimes giving prophecies. Paranormal investigators from Living TV’s Most Haunted filmed there during the show’s fifth season.
Dating back to 1625, Ballygally Castle on the scenic Antrim coast in Northern Ireland is said to be haunted by a number of ghosts including that of Lady Isabella Shaw, who was said to have been locked in a room at the top of the castle, later falling to her death from the tower window. She’s now said to be a friendly spirit that walks the corridors. The castle has a ghost room in one of the towers in the old parts of the castle, where guests can visit if they are brave enough.
With lots of turrets and towers on the exterior, and nooks and crannies on the inside, it’s no surprise that there are plenty of ghost stories about Cabra Castle in Kingscourt, County Cavan. Guests have reported seeing a man dressed in full military uniform in the corridors, while others have reported hearing a horse and carriage at night. Stories of a resident ghost date back to the 1780s when the son of the castle owner fell in love with a servant called Sarah, who became pregnant and was said to have been killed at a bridge in the forest. Sarah’s lost soul is said to still wander the castle. The bridge where she was hung is called Sarah’s Bridge and there is a room in the castle called Sarah’s Well.
This County Monaghan pile has been in the Leslie family since 1665. One of the most popular bedrooms, the Red Room, was said to be haunted by Norman Leslie who died during World War I. His ghost was seen on the Castle terrace a week before his death, and a few weeks afterwards, he was seen by Lady Marjorie Leslie reading through letters at a chest of drawers in the Red Room. When Lady Marjorie herself died in 1951, she was reportedly seen in two different apparitions, one in London. Guests have since reported spooky apparitions including candles being lit. Living TV’s Most Haunted also filmed there in season five.
This family-run inn and pub in Carrickfergus, County Antrim, dates back to the 13th century and is steeped in history, including tales of Maud, its resident ghost. During the Plantation of Ulster in the 1500s, Hugh Dobbin’s wife Elizabeth fell for a handsome soldier at the castle barracks. When he returned from the Tyrone rebellion, Dobbin discovered the affair and killed the couple with his sword. Elizabeth’s ghost, called Maud, is said to still roam the inn in search for her lost lover.