Myths & Legends
Settle in for a yarn. There are little people, lost souls and perhaps a drop or two of the black stuff. Our story telling is strong and oral histories passed down for generations.
Here are just a few to keep you company when a creeping mist blankets the countryside at dusk…
Ballygally Castle Ghost
For over 400 years, the ghost of Lady Isobella Shaw has said to have roamed the corridors of this old castle. Legend has it the Lady was locked in a room at the top of the castle as soon as she delivered an heir for her husband, Lord James Shaw. Desperate to find her child, the Lady fell to her death while trying to escape.
The castle is now a hotel, and while patrons have reported strange experiences of unexplained noises and eerie green mists, the spirit has shown its friendly side over the years. The owners have even given the Lady her own room, The Ghost Room, in one of the towers in the oldest part of the castle. Book this room if you are feeling brave.
Spanish Chestnut Tree, Cairncastle.
In September 1588, locals found the body of a young Spanish nobleman on the coast near Ballygally. He had drowned when his unknown Spanish Galleon had blown off course into Irish seas following the defeat of the Spanish Armada.
His body was given proper Christian burial in St Patrick’s Church at Cairncastle and the following year, locals noticed a sapling growing from the place where he was buried. Over the years the sapling continued to grow into a fine Spanish Chestnut tree, providing a sheltered and pleasant last resting place for the young sailor. Local legend has it that the sailor was carrying seeds in his pocket to remind him of home.
The tree has been dated and appears to originate back to the sixteenth century.
The Mermaid, Larne Lough
Larne Lough is home to a number of tall tales and local legends. In 571 AD it was claimed that a beautiful mermaid was caught in the net of one of the fishermen of St Comgall.
While this visitor to the Lough may have been rare,
it was not unknown for Vikings to use the area as a safe harbour for their long boats. They called the area ‘Ulfreksfjord’ and this gives us the local name of Olderfleet today. During the time of the Black Death more unwelcome visitors came to the lough in the form of a merchant ship which carried the plague. The ship was forbidden to dock and so dead sailors from the ship were buried on Swan Island in the middle of Larne Lough. Legend has it that the Black Death was caught in one of the sailor’s handkerchiefs and buried with them.
Islandmagee witch trials
In 1711 eight women were brought to trial in Carrickfergus Courthouse after a young girl called Mary Dunbar reported being the victim of poltergeist activity in a local house.
The women were found guilty of ‘causing harm by magical means’ and sentenced to a year in jail and forced to do time in stocks - a narrow escape from the death sentence. It is believed to be the last witch trial held in Ireland.
Gobbin Saor, Islandmagee
Gobbin Saor was a legendary giant who was reputed to have built and lived on the steep cliffs on the eastern coast of Islandmagee. In reality the name probably comes from the Irish for snout - ‘gob’ - with Gobbins literally meaning ‘little headlands’. The Gobbins cliffs and caves were also used by smugglers to store stolen horses and locally brewed whiskey known as poteen.
The last wolf in Ireland, Carnlough
As you travel along the beautiful Antrim Coast it is hard to imagine that this area was once heavily wooded and the howl of wolves could be heard as they hunted on the slopes of the Glens, terrifying locals and travellers alike. It is claimed the last wolf in Ireland was shot in 1712 in Drumnasole near the village of Carnlough and that the locals rejoiced to be finally rid of the beast which had taken their livestock and given their children nightmares.
As you make your way around the countryside, keep your eye out for a faerie thorn. These trees are usually gnarled hawthorns that stand alone in barren rocky fields against wind, rain and human development - for the simple reason that people are too superstitious to cut them down.
It is said that they are the homes for the little people and that bad luck will pursue the person who fells them – fields, golf courses and motorways have all been diverted for fear of the faerie thorn!