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My night in a haunted castle

Famed for its ghostly apparitions, Co Meath’s Ross Castle is the sort of spooky place where visitors can expect an encounter with all manner of things that go bump in the night.

With that in mind, I spent a weekend with the Northern Ireland Paranormal Research Association (NIPRA) in search of the spirits which are said to haunt the rooms of this old country estate.

The five-bedroom stone castle was built in 1536 and is now run as a B&B by Benita and Sam Walker. During weekends when NIPRA visits, the family allows guests to have the run of the estate, although they do pop in to cook everyone breakfast and to check if there were any paranormal encounters the previous night.

I have never seen a ghost nor have I had a true paranormal experience. But not put off by my lack of ghostly expertise, NIPRA founder Warren Coates showed us around the castle on our arrival and joked that he’d removed all of the blood from the walls before our arrival.

He’s been visiting Ross Castle with groups from NIPRA for three years. He came across the castle by accident many years ago and has been coming back ever since. “So much paranormal activity happened the first time I stayed (at the castle),” Warren said.

We were given the quietest room in the small castle which was built on the foundations of the original chapel. I could feel the other half breathe a sigh of relief as we were told that no one had experienced any really serious paranormal activity in our room. Warren assured us that all we had to contend with were lights going on and off in the middle of the night and doors banging open and shut of their own accord.

Next door was the Whisper Room where Warren was staying. Guests who spend a night there often awake to hear voices whispering and the cupboards loudly open and close in the middle of the night.

After a quick tour we ended up in the top room of the castle where we learned about the estate’s infamous ghost. Myles ‘The Slasher’ O’Reilly spent his last night on earth in this bedroom in 1644 before he died defending the bridge at Finea. O’Reilly’s descendants then took over the castle and had it restored.

The spirit of Sabina Nugent, the daughter of an English lord whose Irish lover drowned in tragic circumstances in a nearby lake, is also said to inhabit the castle. She is believed to have died of a broken heart and several members of NIPRA have heard a women wailing on visits to the estate.

Warren and his colleagues began by conducting base line tests in all of the main rooms to establish their temperatures before the night’s main activities began. There were a range of devices used to constantly monitor the temperature in each room to see if sudden drops in temperature coincide with a paranormal experience. Digital cameras are also set up in most rooms to film any potential activity.

At around 8.30pm we gathered in the main room of the tower for a séance. A digital camera was set up to film the event in night vision as it was conducted in total darkness. Having never participated in one before I’m not sure what I was expecting, but calling upon the spirit world in total darkness wasn’t what I had in mind.

Not long into proceedings, one woman, who was also a newcomer, felt a hand brush against the back of her legs. Frightened by what had happened she soon left the room. “I had actually sensed a spirit standing right behind her just before she had her experience,” Warren later told me. “Usually when we come to Ross Castle we get a lot of activity.”

Taking a break in the main kitchen a little later on, Warren and Garry Waters, another long-term member of the group, said it was hard to always know what to expect at Ross Castle.

“We can never tell you what will happen before hand,” Warren said. “I’d love to be able to tell you that this will happen at exactly this time, but it doesn’t work like that.”

Much later on in the evening we went to one of the main bedrooms known as the cave room. The name comes from the odd shaped en-suite bathroom which has been built into a deep recess of the old castle wall. The room is less than two body lengths wide and the roof slopes down so that when you are lying in the bath, it feels like you are lying in a tomb.

Our group sat in this room, again in the dark, and asked the castle’s ghosts to make themselves known to us. The other half and I were sitting in the doorway to the cave room’s bathroom. We heard quite a few eerie noises and sounds coming from the bathroom as the spirits were called forth to contact us. “We saw crosses right above that doorway,” Garry said.

The NIPRA monitoring equipment for the evening showed a dramatic drop in room temperature from eight degrees to minus two at around the time one member heard a women crying. We soon retired to our chapel bedroom where we had a mostly quiet night’s sleep. The next morning, however, the door to our room popped open by itself and we heard a thud-like noise that seemed to come from nowhere. A wee bit spooked and tired from all the ghost hunting we decided to hit the road and put an end to our encounter with the spirit world.

If you are into ghosts and scary experiences, this is a great place to take a group of friends for what will surely be one of the weirdest nights you’ve had in ages. Even just driving up to the old stone-walled entrance is eerie – you feel as though you are entering another realm.

The castle itself is amazing and all of the rooms are decorated with period antiques that previous owners have collected over the years. There are lots of stuffed birds and small animals around the place, which adds to its old-world ambience. Walking in the grounds is also very enjoyable but be careful as the path is overgrown and can be quite slippery.

For the full ghostly experience request a room in the main tower as these rooms not only have their own bathrooms, they are also the site of most of the castle’s reported paranormal activity. A night at Ross Castle B&B will set you back €100 per room including breakfast, provided by Benita and her family.

NIPRA runs weekend tours to Ross Castle and other old homes an estates around the country. Their next trip is due to take place just before Hallowe’en. On the night itself the group will be taking part in a ghost vigil at Belfast’s Crumlin Road Gaol. The event is open to the public and will include scientific testing, a séance and a discussion of the building’s history. For more information about this event or NIPRA visit the group’s website at www.nipra.co.uk .