A spirited adventure
Family rents a castle in Ireland on a sentimental trip to scatter parents’ ashes
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.