Just off the main N69 Tralee/Killarney Road, just three miles outside of Tralee stands the majestic Ballyseede Castle. Covering some 30 acres and approached from the road via a sweeping drive, the Castle is now a majestic four-star hotel and favourite wedding venue, however its current status is far removed from the dark and violent history for which it has notoriety. It is little wonder that it ranks so highly among in the world’s most haunted hotels.
Built by the Fitzgerald family, the castle was their garrison for what became known as the Geraldine Wars during the late 16th Century. Gerald Fitzgerald, 16th Earl of Desmond joined the Rebellion in defiance of the English and the Fitzgerald family openly refused to swear their allegiance to the Queen.
After years of fighting, Gerald was captured in Stacks Mountains, the range that dominates the Tralee skyline. Charged with treason to the crown, on 11th November 1583 he was taken to the Demesne at Ballyseede and beheaded by the local executioner, Daniel Kelly. As a warning to others not to disobey Queen Elizabeth, Gerald Fitzgerald’s head was taken to London and was exhibited in a cage at London Bridge.
The Crown instructed the Governor of Kerry, Sir Edward Denny to lease what was then 3000 acres of estate at Ballyseede over to Thomas Blennerhassett of Cumberland, England in 1590. The unique annual rent was six pounds and a single red rose to be picked from the Castle gardens on Midsummer’s Day.
Although remaining in the Blennerhassett family, the once proud castle fell into disrepair until the early eighteenth century when William, son of the former lessee, took it upon himself to build the current imposing structure.
Upon William’s death, the entire estate was bequeathed to his son Arthur, who at the very young age of 21 was appointed High Sheriff of Kerry, leading to a successful political career. It was during this time that the castle was expanded and the grounds landscaped further.
Arthur married the daughter of the Knight of Glin from the neighbouring county of Limerick and they had a daughter called Hilda who went on to become a nurse. During the First World War she was awarded the 1914 Mons Star, an honour usually given to male officers, however Hilda was one of a handful of nurses to receive the medal for her work in France and Belgium.
Hilda however, had not seen the last of the bloodshed and horror of war. In 1923, just two years after the Irish War of Independence and just one year after the death of Michael Collins, a quartermaster of the IRA issued an order for the death of Free State Army Lieutenant Paddy O’Connor.
On 6th March the unsuspecting Officer was decoyed to Knocknagoshel and a mine trap where he and five of his unit were killed outright. Outraged, the Free State took immediate retaliatory steps. IRA prisoners were being held at Ballymullen Barracks in Tralee, so shortly before dawn the following day, nine were removed and taken to Ballyseede Crossroads, close to the castle.
The road itself had been barricaded with rocks, tree trunks and explosives. The prisoners were bound, then forced to stand against the blockade, at which point the command to detonate was given. Not satisfied that all the prisoners were all dead, a further order was given and the mutilated men were subjected to machine gun fire in the shadows of Ballyseede Castle gates.
A cross stands at the gates in their memory and a bronze memorial known as the Ballyseede Monument stands further along the road in honour of Irish Republicanism.
Hilda herself died in 1965 and was buried next to her family members in nearby Ballyseede graveyard. In keeping with her persona, there is a simple cross marking her grave. Hilda was the last of the Blennerhassett bloodline and the estate was put up for auction. The single red rose that had kept Ballyseede Castle in the Blennerhassett family for almost four hundred years was no more.
The Castle was converted into a hotel, however one particular member of the Blennerhassett family was checked in as a permanent ghost. Hilda has regularly been seen and indeed conversed with in the hotel, particularly in the Crosby room, which had been hers.
Despite legend having Hilda appear on 24th March each year, she has been seen much more frequently. Interestingly since Hilda’s passing, roses have never been present in the hotel, however on the top floor, the strong scent of roses can be noticed.
Hilda herself can be seen at her window looking out across the grounds and beneath her window the letters RIP eerily appear and then vanish.
The staff at Ballyseede have had many of their own experiences, however Esther has had more than her fair share.
Esther, had been stock taking and had sole access to the premises. As she approached the castle along the drive, she could clearly see a shadow at Hilda’s window and it appeared that the television and lights were on.
After unlocking the door and dashing up the stairs, Esther rushed into the Crosby room to discover everything was turned off. Almost as if to let Esther know it wasn’t her imagination, this occurrence repeated itself the following day.
On another occasion two ladies who were staying in the Crosby room where dining in the Stoneroom, being served by a young girl called Paige. The ladies had told her that Hilda had been talking to them and so Paige asked Esther if she could go to the room and see for herself.
A while later Paige returned, white as a sheet and told Esther that Hilda had spoken with her. The former nurse had told Paige she would be gone from the hotel within the year and overseas. Less than twelve months later Paige was working in England.
Of course Hilda isn’t the only spirit to wander the halls of this stately home. Former landlords keep a careful watch on the upkeep of Ballyseede and undoubtedly those who were executed or died in battle remain in the grounds, or in nearby Ballyseede woods where the original house once stood.
I recently had the opportunity to stay in this magnificent building and whilst I did not encounter Hilda, I witnessed enough to know that the living are not the only guests at Ballyseede Castle, however only the living check out.