Haunted in an Ir­ish cas­tle

The Jerusalem Post - - TRAVEL TRENDS - • By MARY MCNAMARA

KILMAINE, IRE­LAND – Ire­land is a proudly haunted is­land, its land­scape de­fined by an­cient cairns and stand­ing stones, by ru­ined abbeys, cas­tles and cot­tages.

The spec­tral el­e­ment comes in many fa­mous forms, such as:

• The ladies: The White Lady of Kin­sale (who threw her­self off the walls of Charles Fort af­ter her hus­band was shot); the Wait­ing Lady of Ardg­illan Cas­tle (on vigil for her drowned hus­band); the Face­less Lady of Belvelly Cas­tle (sur­vived a siege but went in­sane upon dis­cov­er­ing she was no longer beau­ti­ful)

• The in­car­cer­ated: Cork District Lu­natic Asy­lum, the Wick­low Jail

• The ca­su­al­ties of war: The Ja­co­bites of the Bat­tle of Aughrim and King James II, who is said to haunt Ath­carne Cas­tle six miles from where he died in the Bat­tle of the Boyne.

So if you are look­ing, there are plenty of ghosts on tap in Ire­land.

Or you can do what we did and just bring them with you.

My fam­ily and I trav­eled to Ire­land in June 2017 to scat­ter my par­ents’ ashes at Down­patrick Head in County Mayo. We knew the ex­act spot be­cause Mom and Dad, who spent many of their post-re­tire­ment sum­mers in the land of our an­ces­tors, had brought us here al­most 20 years ago.

Down­patrick Head is one of the world’s more dra­matic edges, where the wild­flower-stud­ded grass runs in sweet green benev­o­lence un­til it hits the wild wind and a 140foot drop onto black rocks and white foam.

We have pic­tures of my then-one-year-old son Danny sit­ting in the grass pick­ing daisies while my par­ents showed my brother, Jay, where they wanted their ashes to go: right in view of the tow­er­ing sea stack called Dun Briste (Bro­ken Fort) and a few yards from a blow hole where, my fa­ther in­formed us, Bri­tish sol­diers had thrown lo­cal villagers dur­ing the 1798 Ir­ish Re­bel­lion.

So not, you know, Rose Hills Ceme­tery back home.

For a year or two, Down­patrick Head was some­thing of a fam­ily joke. We would not make that crazy drive to that crazy cliff, but if we did, we would pitch the ashes down the blow­hole. Then far too soon, it wasn’t a joke any­more.

My dad died four years af­ter that trip; when we of­fered to take Mom and the ashes to Ire­land, she said she wanted to wait and be scat­tered along with him. When she died a few years later, nei­ther my brother nor I had the heart to make the jour­ney for years.

Af­ter that once-upon-a-time one-year-old went away to col­lege, my brother and I re­al­ized we had to get mov­ing, busy sched­ules and mixed feel­ings be damned.

My hus­band, Richard, Danny, his sis­ters Fiona and Darby and I flew to Dublin a few days be­fore Jay and his hus­band, Franco. Af­ter what I can only hope was our very last ar­gu­ment ended with “Well, you’re the old­est,” Jay per­suaded me to carry the cre­mains.

It was a bit un­set­tling to travel with our par­ents’ ashes. My mom was al­ways fash­ion con­scious, so I had to find a stylish carry-on, but it was still dis­con­cert­ing to shove it in the over­head.

In Dublin, we stayed in a lovely flat near the gen­eral post of­fice, which now houses an ex­cel­lent mu­seum de­voted to the 1916 Easter Ris­ing. We put the bag in a nice al­cove where I could nod to them as we came and went.

An ‘at­mos­phere’

It wasn’t un­til we got to the cas­tle that the haunting be­gan.

Jay had de­cided that we needed to rent a cas­tle. He showed me a few from which to choose, and we both loved Turin Cas­tle, a glo­ri­ous restored keep in County Mayo near the towns of Ballinrobe and Cong (where The Quiet Man was filmed). It slept 12, with five bed­rooms and five bath­rooms. We were seven, so for once there were no arguments about bed­rooms and no wait­ing for a free bath­room.

Turin Cas­tle rose square and solid from bright green fields at the end of a drive that was easy to miss, in part be­cause it was pre­ceded by at least two turns on un­named lanes. It has been gor­geously restored, which is not to say ren­o­vated. The ameni­ties were mod­ern (and flaw­less), but the lay­out was true to his­tory.

All the rooms were ac­cessed by a stone spi­ral stair­case that be­gan on the ground floor, where the door­ways were small enough to make male in­vaders stoop so the cur­rent res­i­dents could cut off their heads.

Along a se­ries of land­ings were other bed­rooms, bath­rooms and the kitchen, which was con­nected to a breath­tak­ing great room with a fire­place you could stand in and a ta­ble that can only be de­scribed as “ba­ro­nial.” (Which it is, in the video on the cas­tle’s web­site.)

Jay and Franco ar­rived at the cas­tle sev­eral hours af­ter we did, through the mist at dusk, and Franco im­me­di­ately in­formed the kids that he felt a def­i­nite “at­mos­phere.”

“It bet­ter have at­mos­phere,” my jet-lagged brother grum­bled. “It’s an Ir­ish cas­tle.”

We have a few ghost sto­ries from our trav­els – Jay and Franco once stayed in a Parisian ho­tel with a sor­row­ing fe­male pres­ence that they felt but never saw _ and Ire­land is full of places where a ghostly child or a cowled fig­ure would make per­fect sense. So when the “This cas­tle is haunted” sto­ries be­gan, I wasn’t sur­prised.

Franco felt a hand tug his shirt as he got ready for bed; in­vis­i­ble fin­gers tou­sled Jay’s hair. Danny, brush­ing his teeth one night, heard some­one hiss “psst” at him, but no one was there. Fiona heard rustling in the kitchen and, an­noyed when no one an­swered her, walked in from the great room to find the kitchen empty.

I laughed, un­til one day when, af­ter spend­ing a quiet half-hour with Fiona and Darby, I went to find Richard, who asked, “What are those two fight­ing about now?” I told him the girls weren’t fight­ing, hadn’t made a sound. “But I heard one of them cry­ing,” Richard said. “Cry­ing and cry­ing.”

The wind at the cas­tle was strong at times, but it al­ways sounded pre­cisely like the wind.

I kept an eye, and ear, out af­ter that, but it was all hard to be­lieve. I have been in houses that felt dis­turbed or scarred, but Turin Cas­tle was not like that, not fright­en­ing at all. It was lovely and in­ter­est­ing; even those who felt a spirit thought it was mis­chievous, not ma­li­cious.

I be­gan to feel snubbed, hav­ing not en­coun­tered it.

Best laid plans

The day of the great ash scat­ter­ing came, and we made our way north to Down­patrick Head with an oblig­a­tory, and ex­pen­sive, stop at Fox­ford Woollen Mills where my par­ents had, years ago, pur­chased the ap­prox­i­mately 387 tweed caps and wool sweaters that we were still parcel­ing out to fam­ily mem­bers.

As we got closer, Waze, which had func­tioned beau­ti­fully through­out our trip, kept taking us along long and ill-fated routes, but we fi­nally ar­rived at the top of Mayo, about three miles north of Bal­ly­cas­tle, pop­u­la­tion 219, where the wild Atlantic has carved cliffs and sea stacks.

The ge­og­ra­phy had not changed in 20 years, but a few things had. There was a car park, and there was a view­ing area around the blow hole, which we dis­cov­ered is called Poll na Sean­tine (Hole of the An­cient Fire), and where, my fa­ther would have been in­ter­ested to learn, lo­cal rebels had drowned while hid­ing from Bri­tish sol­diers. Which is bad, but not as bad as villagers be­ing pitched onto the rocks.

The wind was cold and steady un­der a pale gray sky. When my par­ents first brought us here, I told them their ashes would not be scat­tered any­where if there was any chance they would blow back all over me. Dumped, not scat­tered. I had re­peated this sev­eral times as we pre­pared for the trip.

But the wind was at our backs as we faced the sea, so strong it molded our coats against us. We went to the spot that our par­ents had showed us and got as close to the edge of the cliff as our spouses would al­low. Jay took Dad and I took Mom and we pried open the boxes, care­fully cut the bags, said a prayer and on the count of three, shook their ashes onto Down­patrick Head.

Dad flew out in a great cloud and marked the grass to the cliff. Mom flew out and then, af­ter hang­ing in the air for a sec­ond or two, pro­ceeded to defy the laws of aero­dy­nam­ics and na­ture by fly­ing against the wind and all over me.

In my hair, in my eyes, in my mouth. All over my glasses, my coat, into my purse, ashes of Mom. For weeks af­ter, I would pull some­thing out of my wal­let and find a lit­tle ma­ter­nal grit.

I was fu­ri­ous, my brother wide-eyed and my kids dou­bled over with laugh­ter. “She heard you,” said Fiona. “She heard what you said.”

I spat a few times and we walked around a bit, talk­ing about that long-ago day and how much my par­ents had loved this coun­try. Then we drove to Bal­ly­cas­tle to have lunch at Mary’s Cot­tage Kitchen, where we had lunched with my par­ents all those years ago. I went into the ladies room to wipe the ashes from my face, and af­ter I closed the door, the light went out, and then it went back on again. Quick as a wink.

The sun came out on the drive home, and when we re­turned to the cas­tle, it was bathed in golden light. We stayed an­other four days, and though the wind sighed and the fire threw shad­ows on the floor, there were no more hints of haunting. If we wanted ghosts, we would have to look else­where; ours were sink­ing into the Ir­ish grass, set­tling be­neath the Ir­ish sea.

(Los An­ge­les Times/TNS)

(Mary McNamara/Los An­ge­les Times/TNS)

TURIN CAS­TLE in Kilmaine County Mayo, Ire­land.

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