So off we went to Ireland, just OWN (‘Ol Weird Nancy) and I. We got on a plane in Nashville, TN on Saturday … stopped in Washington DC just long enough to change planes … and we were off to Dublin arriving the next morning. Tired. Picked up a rental car and were off to the wild lands of Northern Ireland. On the wrong side of the car and road, I might add. And along the way, we encountered round-a-bouts. LOTS of them. These Irish folks LOVE them some round-a-bouts. But ThOm … not so much.
We arrived (safely) at our intended destination … The Ballygally Castle Hotel. And it was nice. VERY nice. The castle overlooks the sea at the head of Ballygally Bay and was built in 1625 by James Shaw, of Scotland, who had come to the area and rented the land from the Earl of Antrim for £24 a year.
Over the main entrance door to the castle, leading to the tower, is the Middle Scots inscription “Godis Providens is my Inheritans” (God’s providence is my inheritance).
The castle came under attack, from the Irish garrison at Glenarm, several times during the rebellion of 1641 but each assault was unsuccessful. The castle was owned by the Shaw family until it passed into the hands of William Shaw in 1799. He sold the estate for £15,400. In the 1950s the castle was bought by the carpet tycoon Cyril Lord and was extended and renovated. It is now owned and run by the Hastings Hotels Group.
The bawn (a defensive wall surrounding an Irish tower house) and walled garden are registered as Scheduled Historic Monuments.
The castle is reputed to host a number of ghosts, the most active of which is the former resident, Lady Isobel Shaw, who has a habit of knocking on doors of the rooms and disappearing. She had reportedly fallen to her death from the window after her husband had locked her in her room and starved her.
The small room in the corner turret of the castle is known as “The Ghost Room” and is not used as a room in the hotel.
On Monday morning we struck out headed to Gleanarm, a short 5 miles, hoping to visit Glenarm Castle. It has been the ancestral home of the Earls of Antrim since the 13th century, and it is at the heart of one of Northern Ireland’s oldest estates. It is still used by the 9th Earl of Antrim, Alexander McDonnell, and his family as their residence. As such, it is only open on a limited basis … and the day we arrived was not one of those days.
As a measure of my displeasure at this news, I left word for the current Earl of Antrim to NOT expect a tour of our single-wide should he ever find himself in Hicksville Holler (Pop 2).
Undaunted, OWN (‘Ol Weird Nancy) and I loaded back into the car and stopped by the Glenarm Friary which dates from the mid-1700s. The adjacent cemetery dates to the early 1400s.
We then left Glenarm and headed back south. Our destination was a battlefield from 1318 and an adjacent cemetery containing the grave of an ancestor.
The Battle of Faughart was fought on 14 October 1318 between a Hiberno-Norman force led by John de Bermingham, 1st Earl of Louth and Edmund Butler, Earl of Carrick and a Scots-Irish army commanded by Edward Bruce, King of Ireland (my 22nd Great-Uncle). He was the brother of Robert Bruce, King of Scotland (my 21st Great-Grandfather). It was a battle of the First War of Scottish Independence and more precisely the Irish Bruce Wars. The defeat and death of King Bruce I at the battle ended the attempt to revive the High Kingship of Ireland. It also ended, for the time being, King Robert’s attempt to open up a second front against the English in the War of Scottish Independence.
We arrived at the beautiful Hill of Faughart and the views were stunning.
It was an amazing feeling to stand in a spot where an ancestor had 700 years earlier, badly outnumbered by better than 3-1, lost their life.
At the top of the hill lies a cemetery. I had researched on-line about King Edward I and had found photos of his grave in the cemetery. After less than 5 minutes of searching in a light rain, OWN (‘Ol Weird Nancy) and I had found it.
We wrapped up our ancestral visit and headed back to Ballygally for a wonderful dinner at the Castle Hotel.
Tuesday was set aside for the wedding rehearsal … the “real” reason for our trip. After arriving at the wedding venue, Castle Bellingham, we immediately decided to arrive early enough on Wednesday to get some photos prior to the wedding ceremony.
Bellingham Castle served as one of the ancestral homes for the Bellingham family from the 17th Century until the 1950s. The original castle was built around 1660 by Sir Henry Bellingham who was a cornet in the Army during the Civil War. He purchased the lands of Gernonstowne, Co Louth, from a fellow soldier who had been granted them in lieu of arrears of pay. The purchase was confirmed by King Charles II.
Castlebellingham was the ancestral home of the Baronetcy until the late 1950s. The last Bellingham to live there was Brigadier General Sir Edward Bellingham, born in 1879, who was the last Lord Lieutenant and Guardian of the Rolls (Custos Rotulorum).
Below is the original entrance gate …
The current drive with a view of the front of the castle …
Two views of the front from the adjacent stream …
Two views of the rear gardens …
A view of the rear of the castle …
And a selfie of two tourists …
The wedding was nothing short of amazing … a true storybook ceremony complete with a horse-drawn carriage for the bride.
On Thursday, we departed Ballygally Castle headed further north to Dunluce Castle, a now-ruined medieval castle in Northern Ireland dating to the 13th century.
The castle was immense. It was amazing just viewing the remains and trying to imagine the struggle to build it in the 1200s. The location was selected for it ability to be defended and it sat on an outcropping into the sea with steep cliffs leading down to the water far below.
Dunluce Castle served as the seat of the Earl of Antrim until the impoverishment of the MacDonnells in 1690, following the Battle of the Boyne. A local legend states that at one point, part of the kitchen next to the cliff face collapsed into the sea, after which the wife of the owner refused to live in the castle any longer. According to a legend, when the kitchen fell into the sea only a kitchen boy survived, as he was sitting in the corner of the kitchen which did not collapse. However, the kitchen is still intact and next to the manor house. You can still see the oven, fireplace and entry ways into it. It wasn’t until some time in the 18th century that the north wall of the residence building collapsed into the sea. The east, west and south walls still stand.
And of course, the proverbial selfie of the tourists …
Friday was our last day to play tourist, so we crammed in several stops.
The first was the Hillsborough Castle … the official government residence in Northern Ireland. It is the residence of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the official residence in Northern Ireland of Queen Elizabeth II and other members of the British Royal Family when they visit the region, as well as a guest house for prominent international visitors.
And … it was closed the day we stopped by. And again, I left word not to expect any tours of Hicksville Holler (Pop 2) should they ever visit. (HEY … it could happen).
We left Hillsborough and headed to Carrickfergus to visit the Andrew Jackson Cottage. Upon arrival, we began to wonder how these places stay in business since … IT WAS CLOSED!
The cottage is one of 12 built in this style when there was an influx of lowland Scots people into south-east Antrim. This cottage was built by the Donaldson family, and lived in by their descendants until 1979, when it was sold to Carrickfergus Borough Council. It has been restored to its original state, furbished with furniture and equipment of the period including an open fireplace with a daub and wattle canopy and hanging crane. The cottage has an impressive display on the life and career of Andrew Jackson (1767- 1845) 7th President of the United States of America whose parents emigrated from here in 1765.
We departed the Andrew Jackson Cottage and made our way about two blocks to the Carrickfergus Castle. We made it JUST as they were closing!
Carrickfergus Castle is a Norman castle on the northern shore of Belfast Lough. Besieged in turn by the Scottish, Irish, English and French, the castle played an important military role until 1928 and remains one of the best preserved medieval structures in Northern Ireland. It was strategically useful, with 3/4 of the castle perimeter surrounded by water (although in modern times only 1/3 is surrounded by water due to land reclamation).
As we left Carrickfergus Castle, we learned that my Great-Uncle Edward Bruce, the King of Ireland, who’s grave we had visited, had lay siege to the castle for a year between September 1315-1316. Small world.
We returned to Ballygally Castle for our last dinner and a restful night before returning to Dublin to catch our return flight.
All-in-all … what a great trip with awesome memories. We hope to head to Scotland in the future which is where the bulk of my ancestry originates.