A spir­ited ad­ven­ture

Fam­ily rents a cas­tle in Ire­land on a sen­ti­men­tal trip to scat­ter par­ents’ ashes

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Travel - By Mary McNa­mara Los An­ge­les Times

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 comes in many fa­mous forms: 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); and the Face­less Lady of Belvelly Cas­tle (sur­vived a siege but went in­sane upon dis­cov­er­ing she was no longer beau­ti­ful).

If you are look­ing, there are plenty of ghosts to be found in Ire­land. Or you can do what we did and just bring them with you.

My fam­ily and I trav­eled to Ire­land in 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 140-foot drop onto black rocks and white foam.

We have pic­tures of my

then-1-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.

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.

Af­ter that once-upon-atime 1-year-old went away to col­lege, my brother and I re­al­ized we had to get mov­ing, mixed feel­ings be damned.

My hus­band, Richard, Danny and his sis­ters Fiona and Darby, and I flew to Dublin a few days be­fore Jay and his hus­band, Franco.

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

Jay had de­cided that we needed to rent a cas­tle, so we chose Turin Cas­tle

($3,400 to $4,600 a week, de­pend­ing on sea­son), a glo­ri­ous re­stored keep in County Mayo, near the towns of Ballinrobe and Cong. 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.

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.”

Later, 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 have been in houses that felt dis­turbed or

scarred, but Turin Cas­tle was not like that, not scary at all. It was lovely and in­ter­est­ing; even those who felt the spirit thought it was mis­chievous, not ma­li­cious.

I be­gan to feel snubbed, hav­ing not en­coun­tered it.

The day of the great ash scat­ter­ing came, and we made our way north to Down­patrick Head. We fi­nally ar­rived at the tip top of Mayo, about 3 miles north of Bal­ly­cas­tle, pop­u­la­tion 219.

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 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, 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.

I was fu­ri­ous, my brother wide-eyed and my kids dou­bled over with laugh­ter.

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.


The view is dra­matic at Down­patrick Head in County Mayo, the hand­picked spot for the loved ones’ ashes. But the windy site would present a chal­lenge.


Turin Cas­tle sleeps 12, with five bed­rooms and five bath­rooms. For once there were no ar­gu­ments about bed­rooms, no wait­ing for a bath­room af­ter a long day tour­ing.

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