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Spirits rising at Ardgillan


Ardgillan Castle is reputed to be one of Ireland’s most haunted castles

Ardgillan Castle is reputed to be one of Ireland’s most haunted castles

Tom Reilly at Ardgillan Castle

Tom Reilly at Ardgillan Castle


Ardgillan Castle is reputed to be one of Ireland’s most haunted castles


Ardgillan Castle has a reputation for ghostly and ghoulish goings-on at this time of year as the halls of the great castle are filled with its spirited ghosts led by the famed 'Lady of the Stairs' in her ghostly white attire and the Reverend known as 'Uncle Ned', still wandering the castle corridors as he looks for the bible that once dropped out of his cold, dead hands.

Today (Tuesday) is your last chance to be scared silly at Ardgillan Castle 'Rise of the Spirits' Halloween tour that features Louisa Augusta Connolly, Baroness of Langford, who lost her life in a drowning accident at a private beach then owned by the Taylors who lived at Ardgillan.

Lady Louisa now haunts the castle and the nearby 'Lady's Stairs' and has become known as the 'Lady of the Stairs' or 'The White Lady' for the all white dress she appears in to those lucky, or unlucky enough to encounter her ghostly spirit.

The man at the helm at Ardgillan Castle is Tom Reilly and he picked up the story as he talked to the Fingal Independent in a suitably spooky and cobweb-laden library at the castle: 'There was a lady who visited the castle, whose name was Louisa Langford - Lady Louisa. She was a strong swimmer and she decided to go for a dip in the sea but it was November so that wasn't very sensible.

'Anyway, she headed off and the wind got stronger and the waves got stronger than she was capable of handling. She had a maid with her who was at the bathing house which was down on the private beach and the ruin is still there.

'Anyway, Lady Louisa got in trouble and never came back to shore because she drowned. The maid came running back up to the castle with her clothes and raised the alarm but it was too late. They found her body a few days later.'

Tom explained: 'This all happened in the 19th century and at stage, the railway was built and we had what we call The Lady's Stairs which was then a private stairway to give access to the private beach when the railway came in. When the railway came in here, the Taylors who lived here said no, you are not taking our land unless you give us three things which were access to the private beach via the stairs, they wanted shares in the company, which they got and they also wanted a platform or a 'halt' for when they wanted to go to Dublin or Belfast.

'So the stairs were already there when Lady Louisa drowned and ever since she died, around Halloween, people report seeing her on the stairs, trying to get back up to the castle.

'She has been seen on a very regular basis at the castle on a very regular basis by different people over the years, by people who lived here, by people who work here and she's been seen during the day and during the night and especially around Halloween.'

But Louisa does not walk the halls of Ardgillan alone and has some male company in the spirit world in the form of the ghost of Reverend Edward Taylor or 'Uncle Ned' as he is affectionately known.

Tom explained: 'We also have Uncle Ned. He was Reverend Edward Tayleur. The story goes that he was sitting in the dining room and he was in the corner reading the Bible and he keeled over after having a heart attack and the Bible fell to the floor.

'There are 21 yew trees outside and they were planted for one of the Taylors' birthdays - they are 20 green and one golden and they make up our yew walk and the workers would tell you here that they have seen Uncle Ned on the yew walk.

'We have had night watchmen here over the years and there is a particular door that some have been completely petrified by because it appears to have opened on occasion, on its own and some are convinced it's opened by Uncle Ned as he walks around the castle at night.'

While its two featured ghostly presences have a distinctly Anglo-Irish background, the castle can also boast some ancient Irish spirits, in the form of a banshee, who apparently struggles with a troublesome head of unruly hair.

Tom told the Fingal Independent: 'One of the rangers here would swear blind that he met a banshee and the banshee, strangely, asked him for the use of his comb, She was having a bad hair day, I suppose. He gave her the comb too and never saw the comb again.'

There are some rooms in the castle where the spirits seem more restless than others and Tom points in particular to a downstairs 18th Century Kitchen that paranormal enthusiasts have said is especially rich with ghostly goings-on.

Tom explained: 'we also have a kitchen downstairs, which is an 18th Century kitchen and seems to be a hive of spiritual activity. We have staff members here who won't go down to that kitchen on their own.'

Over the Halloween period, the castle has been dressed in some spectacularly spooky garb in readiness for series of tours that are part tour, part horror show that sees all kinds of ghosts and ghouls pop out of the castle's various nooks and crannies.

The shows are hugely popular and up to 2,000 people were expected to enjoy them over the Halloween period, with the final tour taking place today, Tuesday November 1.

Tom said: 'Halloween is huge here - it is one of our key signature events of the year. People have got to know Ardgillan through Halloween. The shows are always packed out and we scare the bejesus out of people in a very subtle way.

'We are only doing the shows and scary tours about five years and we change it every year. This year is based on the story of the Lady of the Stairs. We get 1,500 to 2,000 people here through the Halloween weekend.'

The numbers finishing the tour are sometimes smaller than the numbers who started and Tom confesses the spooky show proves just a tad too frightening for some who have to leave half-way through. He said: 'We had one tour where there was about 30 people at the start and we only had five left at the end.'

But there's plenty of humour to puncture the fright as many of the 25 staff on the castle's rosters play their part in the elaborate show and ultimately, the tour is 'good craic and everybody loves it', according to Tom.

The Halloween tours have only been running at the castle for the last five years or so and were an innovation introduced under Tom's reign as the castle manager, a job he took up seven years ago with a background as an historian, heritage centre operator and a journalist for the Fingal Independent's sister paper, the Drogheda Independent.

In fact, it was an ad in the Drogheda Independent that first made him apply for the job he now holds and he has never looked back.

Asked how he feels about the job, he said: 'I just love it - it's the best job in the world. It's a complete and absolute privilege and not really a job at all - that's how I see it.

'It really is a wonderful place to work.'

Tom said the castle has largely escaped the affects of the recession and has continued to grow its visitor numbers and its revenue since 2010.

He said: 'Business is great. We are completely on an upward trajectory and have been since about 2010. We haven't really felt the affects of the recession and that's down to the local people who come here and recreate and we provide them with a cup of tea when they do.'

The Fingal County Council heritage property is managed by a company set up by the local authority to carry out that task and what has emerged is a park and house that is at the very centre of community life in north Fingal and a truly invaluable resource for the people of the entire county.

That community-based ethos that is evident to even the most casual visitor at Ardgillan is very important to Tom and something he wants to preserve as long as he sits at the helm. This is a very special place, and the man responsible for running it, knows that.

He concluded: 'The vibe in Ardgillan is incredible. It is something I've never experienced in any other heritage property. You can't describe it, there's just something about Ardgillan. We cater for a very wide demographic and you don't have to be into history or gardens or wide open spaces, there's something for everyone here.