DEATH, HAUNTING AND THE BLOOD RED ROSE OF BALLYSEEDE CASTLE

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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.

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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.

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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.

Ballyseede Monument

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.

HIlda grave

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.

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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.

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IRELAND’S 10 MOST TERRIFYING ROADSIDE GHOSTS!

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Driving and walking along lonely Irish roads in the howling wind and rain on a dark winter’s night is scary enough, without thinking about the ghostly figures you may encounter!

Ireland’s 10 most terrifying roadside ghosts – Spooky Isles

 

MYSTICAL SKELLIG MICHAEL – STAR WARS AND SO MUCH MORE!

Skellig Michael Co. Kerry Aerial survey works south peak

Skellig Michael

What do ancient Spanish invaders, Gannets and Luke Skywalker have in common? They have all set foot on the mystical and enchanting island of Skellig Michael.

Now famous both on Earth and in a galaxy far, far away, this world heritage site off of Ireland’s Ivereagh Peninsula in the Atlantic Ocean has a history dating back thousands of years.

ABOUT SKELLIG

Skellig Michael is one of two islands alongside Small Skellig which make up the Skellig Islands, reachable by boat from the fishing village of Portmagee in County Kerry. The name derives from the Irish ‘Sceillic’ which means ‘Steep Rock.’
The name is not misleading as the imposing natural formation stands more than 700 feet above sea level.
Star Wars aside, Skellig Michael is noted for not only incredibly well preserved archaeological sites of interest, but for the incredible amount of breeding birds it is home to. Rare birds such as gannets, puffins and artic terns draw in Ornithologists from around the globe.

SKELLIG MICHAEL AND THE MILESIANS

The origins of Skellig Michael are shrouded in mystery; however there have been documented accounts of the craggy outpost in ancient texts and annals. One such event dates back to 1700 B.C.

King Milesius spent many years absent from his homeland of Spain in pursuit of greatness and knowledge in places such as Egypt. He was welcomed as a hero upon his return and drove out hostile nations attempting to gain control.
As Spain fell victim to famine, Milesius found himself heavily influenced by the words of Cachear the Druid as well as his own superstitious beliefs. In order to appease the gods and his people, the King ordered members of his family to head up a scouting mission to a green and bountiful land that became known as Ireland.

Although his sons were successful in their conquering of Ireland and Milesius himself came to be known as ‘The Father of the Irish Race’, the initial expedition party ended in tragedy. The Chief Leader was a son of Milesius, called Ir. Unlike those who followed in his footsteps, Ir was doomed to never set foot on the Irish mainland.

During a stormy crossing, his ship crashed with the waves onto the rocks of Skellig Michael and he and his crew were drowned, the unforgiving natural wonder their final resting place.

THE MONKS OF SKELLIG MICHAEL

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Saint Finnian of Clonard, also known as Fionán, was one of Ireland’s first monastic saints and he was responsible for the education and training of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland in County Meath in the sixth century.

It is believed that during this time Fionán founded a monastery on Skellig due to its remoteness and isolation from civilization. The actual location of the monastery on the island was selected for durability and access to building materials.

It was sometime between here and the 11th century that the monastery and Church were dedicated to Saint Michael, giving the large rocky habitat its name.
Monks continued to live, work and pray in solitude on Skellig Michael, believing their removal from general society brought them closer to God. Nature had a different opinion however, and as the centuries passed, conditions on the island become intolerable.

In the 1200’s, the Order of St. Augustine relocated to Ballinskelligs Abbey, however Skellig Michael remained under their authority and became a site of pilgrimage until the dissolution of the Catholic Church in Ireland under the command of Queen Elizabeth I of England.

SUBSEQUENT HISTORY OF SKELLIG MICHAEL

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Despite its isolated and hostile demean or, Skellig Michael was gaining European attention. It was known to the Spanish Armada during their attacks on the Irish Atlantic coastline and was documented on charts and maps of Europe during the Middle Ages.

In 1578, Queen Elizabeth granted the island of Skellig Michael to the Butler Family who maintained control for a further number of generations, until it was purchased by Irish authorities in the nineteenth century as a matter of maritime safety.

It was at this point that not one, but two lighthouses were built to combat the combination of stormy high seas and the perilous rocks that had caused the deaths of so many sailors – too late for Ir!

SKELLIG MICHAEL TODAY

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Skellig Michael has become a must visit location for naturalists, ornithologists, archaeologists and tourists for decades, not being deterred by the cantankerous ocean crossing from the Kerry mainland or the intensely steep ascent.
Once there, the remains of the monastery, St. Michael’s Church, the Monk’s Graveyard and over a hundred crosses dominate the rugged landscape.

In order to ascend to the monastery, one must climb 618 steps where you will stand at more than 600 feet above sea level; however the reward far outweighs the endeavour as you stand surveying incredible scenery, one with the depth of Irish history, the elements and nature, not to mention standing on the same craggy, remote site as Luke Skywalker in Star Wars!

Skellig Michael climb

George Bernard Shaw describes Skellig Michael best by calling it an ‘Incredible, impossible, mad place…’
 May the Force of Skellig Michael be with you.

IRELAND’S 8 MOST TERRIFYING HEADLESS GHOSTS!

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When it comes to Spooky ghosts and Halloween, none are quite as unnerving as the Headless variety! Here I look at Ireland’s 8 most feared Decapitated Spectres!

http://www.spookyisles.com/2015/10/irelands-8-most-terrifying-headless-ghosts/

10 HAUNTED IRISH PUBS TO VISIT ON SAINT PATRICK’S DAY

Get in the spirit of Saint Patrick’s Day with 10 of Ireland’s Haunted Pubs!

The Brazen Head

10 Irish Haunted Pubs to visit on Saint Patrick’s Day.

FIVE HAUNTED PLACES TO VISIT IN KILLARNEY, Co. KERRY

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Killarney is an ancient town in County Kerry with a deep history dating back before Brian Boru. Set in stunning landscapes, Killarney will have you enthralled with stories of battle, dark history, horror and hauntings. Have a look at my ‘Five Haunted Places to Visit’ on Spooky Isles!

5 Haunted Places to Visit in Killarney

MASSACRE AT THE FORTRESS OF GOLD

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On the Dingle peninsular lies the Viking settlement of Smerwick Harbour. On it was built the settlement of Dún an Óir, also known as ‘Fort del Oro’ or ‘The Fortress of Gold’. In the latter 16th century explorers returning from the Arctic hit a reef and sank their ship with a cargo hold full of black gold. This was later to be revealed as Fool’s Gold and the worthless load was said to be utilised as building blocks for the fort.

In 1579, James Maurice Fitzgerald initiated the Second Desmond Rebellion against the English and those who sided with them. He took position with his men at Smerwick and was slain within the month. Undeterred, the rebellion continued and Pope Gregory XIII sent Papal troops in September of 1580, led by Sebastian di San Giuseppe to give aid to Fitzgerald’s army.

Although only numbering around 600 in total, thanks to the arms and money brought over from Europe, the men of Desmond were able to hold off the English who were in a holding pattern until the arrival of Admiral Winter and the Lord Deputy of Ireland, Arthur Grey, together with a few thousand naval personnel.

Trapped by the ships blockade in the bay, Grey’s men advancing and the daunting Mount Bandon behind them, Giuseppe had no choice but to order his men to retreat to Dún an Óir. They battled on for three days as the English laid siege to the fortress, however they were left with no alternative but to surrender without condition.

In November of 1580, overseen by Sir Walter Raleigh, the Rebellion and Papal Troops were gathered and the officers led away. The remaining 600 or so men were taken to a field now known as ‘Gort a Gherradh’ or ‘The Field of Cutting’ for execution. Every last man was put to his knees and beheaded.

The heads were buried together in a field and the bodies thrown without ceremony into the sea. It is said these soldiers were the lucky ones as the officers were to suffer a worse fate. The higher ranking men were told to immediately denounce their Catholic faith in order to receive a life sentence. The captives’ refusal to do so led to their limbs being fractured multiple times, after which they were left in agony for a day before being dragged out and hanged.

In later years, some would say the dead had their revenge, as although only acting on instruction, Raleigh was charged with atrocities pertaining to the events at Dún an Óir as well as the Main Plot against James I, which led to his own execution.

Centuries later the fort is ruins, victim of an unforgiving sea and the field in which the heads of the soldiers are buried has been named ‘Gort na gCeann’. A sculpture has been placed here to commemorate the dead of the Second Desmond Rebellion, but this is not enough to let their spirits rest in peace.

The harsh erosion of the Atlantic coast is said to have brought skulls and skeletons forth from their burial site and on the anniversary of the massacre the tormented souls call out. Many have heard voices crying out in Spanish, the agonising sounds of fear and suffering not needing translation and on the wind the horrific stench of rotting flesh is carried out to sea. If you stand on Smerwick Harbour remember you stand on centuries old violent history and bloodshed. If you are standing there in November, the men of the Second Desmond Rebellion will not let you forget it.