Ballygally Castle Hotel’s Ghost Room

March 18, 2008 — Every bar, restaurant, and hotel older than you is haunted.  It’s not hard to figure out why.  The longer a place is around, the more of a chance that a mortal tragedy of the kind that results in a ghost or two will occur...or ghosts are just good for business.

Now, judging by every ghost story I’ve ever read, the opposite should be true.  In those tales, the person who patronizes a haunted establishment ends up either dead under mysterious circumstances or running white-haired and jibbering into the night.  In reality, though, the person who patronizes a haunted place of business just gives them business.  Of course, the legitimacy of your spiritual infestation claim might go up a little when your establishment is located in a country whose organized history goes back thousands of years and is Siamesed with a 400-year-old medieval castle...oh, and you keep a permanent room set aside just for the ghost.

Such is the case with the Ballygally Castle Hotel in BallyGally, Northern Ireland, a village about a half an hour above Belfast on the coast of County Antrim. About four hundred years ago it was built as a defensible residence by a Scotsman named James Shaw.  A few years later his wife Isabella Brisbane Shaw either fell, jumped, or was pushed out of a tower window.  At some point after that her ghost started appearing.  Fifty years ago it was expanded and turned into a hotel.  A week ago I spent the night there.

I way lucked into this little experience, folks.  Originally, Ballygally was just a place to hide from night.  It was stuck on my itinerary by a travel agent to be a nice change of pace after three days straight in small beds and breakfasts.  However, a week or so before the trip, I was perusing some books on a Barnes & Noble table and came across a book entitled The World’s Most Haunted Places. Guess what was in there?  Yup, the Catacomb Museum in Paris, France.  But the Ballygally Castle Hotel was also on the list.  Upon further research, what should have been just a night of recuperation and BBC watching turned into an O.T.I.S.-worthy event all its own.  I didn’t mean the word event there at all.

The castle hotel touches Ballygally Bay on the Irish Sea, as the waters of the bay lap against the wall of its parking lot.  In the distance you can see a lighthouse winking suggestively and cursing the inventions of radar and satellite that turned it from a lifesaving tower vital to coastal life to a thing to be painted by the likes of Thomas Kinkade and to be forever subjected to the word quaint

From the outside, the hotel looks exactly as I’ve already described it and even more exactly like the picture of it in this article.  At one end is a tall, thin stone castle that, much like most of us, is probably a remnant of its original self, and stretching away from the castle like an inhaling accordion is a white, two-story hotel.  The interior of the hotel just looks like the interior of a hotel, except that if you walk too far to one end, you’ll end up in a castle tower.  More importantly, though, you’ll also miss the hotel bar, which is located at the opposite end of the hotel.

Although I never really checked the manual to make sure, I was pretty sure that there's no reason to visit a ghost room during the day, so we didn’t go check it out right away.  We spent some time in our own non-ghost room and then ate a leisurely meal at the hotel restaurant, the décor of which featured the mounted head of some large cervid, a fireplace, and a suit of armor.  I had the venison, she had the salmon, and you get a heaping portion of irrelevant facts.

Finally, back in our room, the window panes turned night-colored, and we were ready for our foray.  It was strangely exciting considering that up to that moment the most stimulating thing that I’d ever done in a hotel is to make an ice run.  The Ghost Room is, of course, located in the castle tower part of the hotel.  But even if you didn’t have the logic of that already worked out in your head, you just have to follow the sign.  That’s right.  The sign.  Rooms 201-212 this-a-way, Ghost Room that-a-way.  More or less, anyway. 

It’s exactly that moment when I first saw the sign that I felt cheesy.  Up to that point I had convinced myself that I was about to undergo something on the more obscure end of touristy and that I might even have to bribe hotel staff to find the room and gain access.  The sign told me otherwise.  As did the place’s website before that, but I just didn’t pay any mind at the time. 

Part of me (my left arm and my only kidney) wishes that I hadn’t known in advance about the Ghost Room, and that I would have just stumbled across the sign in the hotel.  That would have made it more of a revelation, and that, along with scruples and a giant moon-bounce, is one thing my life decidedly lacks. Other parts of me that have been with me longer know better that I probably would have missed the sign entirely, as my hotel tunnel vision usually only has one eye for the bed and the other for the bar.

Despite the obvious external demarcation of the castle tower from the hotel, thanks to modern plaster and paint, the interior of the two section don't seem to be separated at all.  The castle is even wired for electricity.  You can end up there by accident.  Which, I should mention to protect me from copyright issues, is the actual state slogan of Indiana. 

There are no locks, no posted policies, and you don’t have to get permission or pay a fee.  Unrestricted access for all, apparently.  Hotel pools usually have more rules.  You just go to it like it was the vending machine room. 

In the tower are located a few special rooms with alliterated names like Glenariff, Glenaan, Glencoy, and Glenarm that guests can reserve. I was in the much less romanticized but still adequate Room 212 in the hotel portion.  Once we entered the tower, we found a door that opened onto a spiral staircase. We headed down it first, and it deposited us at the Dungeon Room, which by the looks of it is set up for meetings and private gatherings.

After that we went to the top of the stairs, which ended a small door that opened onto another, smaller spiral stairway that ascended to the Ghost Room.  Outside of this door is a plaque explaining the history of the haunting and the purpose of the Ghost Room.  Here is the text of the plaque in full. I'm not sure why "friendly" is in quotation marks instead of about a dozen other more likely words.

Every castle has to have a ghost of some kind, and the ghost of Ballygally has been around for the better part of 400 years!  The popular theory is that the ghost is that of Lady Isobella Shaw, wife of Lord James Shaw. Lord Shaw wanted a son, and when his wife delivered his heir, he snatched the baby from his wife and locked her in a room at the top of the castle.  While trying to escape to search for beloved child, Lady Isobella fell to her death from the tower window!  Another theory is that she was actually thrown from the window by the cruel Lord Shaw or one of his henchmen!

Lady Isobella’s ghost is reputed to be a ‘friendly’ spirit who walks the corridors of the old Castle.  Over the years many guests have reported strange experiences and have felt a presence in their rooms!  There are also endless stories of unexplained noises in the night, and an eerie green mist over the Castle.  The hotel is so fiercely proud of their permanent resident they have even given her a bedroom, ‘The Ghost Room’ here in the tower in the oldest part of the Castle.

The Ghost Room itself is small and furnished with antique-looking pieces including a bed, a desk, a couple of chairs, and a chest, all of which have seen better days but shouldn’t complain because if they weren’t furnishing a ghost room they’d probably be junked in a landfill somewhere.

The ceiling is painted black with a white compass design in its center, and the room itself has a pair of windows.  Just off the room, like a small closet, is the interior of a cylindrical turret with another window, the outside of which you can see in the first picture of this article.  The infamous tower window inside that cylinder is tiny, and while a human being can fit through there, they’d have to be determined to the point of desperation, which is actually how some of the stories of Lady Isabella Shaw go.  Then again, there’s no evidence that this room is the exact room where the tragedy happened.  Then again, there’s no evidence that the tragedy happened.  Then again, when was evidence ever relevant to a good ghost story. Or a bad one.

The only other bit of notableness in the room is that on the wall is a pencil drawing of a severe-looking woman that I assume is supposed to be of the Lady Isabella, although it wasn't labeled.

For those of you who are wondering, even though I saw the room part of the Ghost Room, I didn’t get to see the ghost part.  In fact, I saw no ghosts during my stay at Ballygally Castle Hotel at all, Lady Isabella or otherwise (the place is also supposed to be haunted by other ghosts from its history). My patronage of the hotel establishment only resulted in an exchange of money that made me curse the American dollar and a complimentary rubber duck.  It's too bad, though.  I've always wanted to run white-haired and jibbering.


  1. Sorry but I think you got the ghost story wrong!

    The king guy (whatever his name is) Had a wife (dunno her name either) who was going to have a baby. King guy wanted a boy (for obvious reasons) but it was a girl. King guy locked the mother and child in the tower.

    Now here is the weird bit.

    They were starving or just dying so the mother threw the child out the wondow (that was daft!) and thought it would fly or live but it just landed in the sea/some rocks.

    The mother died of hunger or something i guess because the story ends here but now the ghost room was the tower that the baby was flung out of and you can hear a crying too....the wind through a crack probably.

    1. Fun story...BUT that is NOT what the Hotel is saying !

  2. LOL I'm from belfast and love paranormal stuff so I stayed in the Glenarm room for three nights... and went into that ghost room about four times all at night... didn't see nothing strange... took lots of pictures and had a few odd looking orbs.. one good looking thing near the treasure chest... I also said to the hotel staff if legend goes.. how did lady isobella fit that ass of hers through that window.... I heard no baby crying or anything.. got lots of orbs my pictures on command which was odd as I told one of the 'orbs' to move to the left for the next picture and it did... was heading straight out the door... Think everyone on those pictures in that castle look miserable!... My room was suppose to be the most haunted room.. it wasn't.. I thought I was getting a little bit of paranormal activity when the bathroom door started banging when i was randomly asking questions... turns out the window was open and couldn't be shut.. tut... The only scary thing that happened in that hotel will be for the staff when they see the state me and my friend left the room in.... red wine staines on a white valen sheet and duvet will be hard... thanks for your review on the castle... thought it was true and hilarious... ive a few good pictures with strange light orbs in my pictures oh and another strange picture of this beautiful butterfly that just happened to fly through the bathroom window, up in the tower... at basically midnight... anyway.. I think I will try another castle... btw does anyone know what that thing on the ghost room ceiling means?

  3. I think that's a good experience. People who want ghost adventures should consider that hotel. I personally love going to historical hotels. I'll probably go there sometime.

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  5. My husband's seventh Great-Grandmother, Sophia Gault is descended from the Shaws who built Ballygally castle. Thanks for the great info.

    1. I am a descendant of the brisbanes but the shaws took over our name and became brisbane. So then I guess my male lineage would be shaws I can et it back to reginald shaw 1200 and then no further history.

    2. Hi Angela. My 10th great-grandmother is Sophia Gault. Would love to know how Sophia is directly related to the Shaws that built Ballygally Castle. I hope one of us can figure it out one day

  6. My husband's 8th great grandfather, Robert Gault, is also connected with Ballygally castle - so the story goes, the castle provided protection for the family during a siege. We plan to visit one day, ghost or not!

  7. theres no ghost at the castle this is just a hook to make them win some easy money i was there in the ballygally castle and there was nothing paranormal so this is just a fake

  8. I should resent that remark about Indiana, as I live there. But it's true, so I don't.

  9. The comments on this article is a whole Ballygally castle reunion.

  10. We also stayed at the Ballygally Castle..last year, 2013..and had NO Ghost experiences...BUT......We we stayed at the Shakespeare Hotel, in1996; in Stratford -on-the-Avon..and YES, I definitely had a couple of ghost experiences there. They had to put us in a room at the end of a Hall far away from any other guests, as they ran out of rooms for the Tour Block. We heard a very active Party going on; through the walls of our room! We thought that was strange after they told us it would be very quiet in our room. We later retired and as I was drifting off ; I had a sudden blast of very cold air on my face....primarily on my Lips. I was terrified and my husband was snoring away...instead of waking him I turned my face into his back---EYES SHUT!--- and finally went back to sleep. I told the waiter of my experience the next morning. He gave me such a devilish smile and acknowledged there "are" indeed Ghosts here !

  11. I stayed in the castle last tuesday the 10th of june 2014 and stayed in the same room 212 as the writer of this article. It is a loverly hotel i stayed there on business and now i'm going to take my family there. My children are really looking forward to it, and looking for the ghost. It is a great story for kids even if they don't see anything (i can make them scared) lol. The staff are really friendly i would say go there and judge for yourself make your own horror it's more fun with kids.

  12. This was an interesting read. Hailing from that very small village, the castle was a feature in our childhood. They used to have tennis courts out the back where we would play and most Halloweens we would tottle down to visit the Ghost room. For us as kids there was always something magical.
    Most notably perhaps was the find of a dead swallow on the spiral stairs, beautiful even in death. We asked for paper napkins, wrapped it lovingly and took it home to be buried, always curious as to his it came to be there in the first place.

  13. Stayed in the Ballygally Castle on our honeymoon in 1998. We were driving along the shore looking for a place to stay, when we happened on the Ballygally Castle. We loved travelling without reservations, which gave us flexibility to explore. We entered and went to the receptionist, who told us there was only one room left and it was below the ghost room. It was our last night in Ireland and we were tired. We turned on the TV and National Lampoon's European Vacation was on. We watched the movie to the end and then the TV turned off. My wife laughed and said "Hand me the clicker." I told her I didn't have it. She didn't believe me until I pointed it out on the dresser next to the TV. We looked at each other and decided the ghost wanted us to go to bed.

    At breakfast the next morning we told our waiter what happened, and he said the ghost turns off the TV sometimes.


  14. Personally, I think it is sad that they are using Lady Isobel Brisbane Shaw to make money. Think about it from her perspective. Strange thought I know but how would you feel if your former home was turned into a place where people came in and changed everything and added things just to make money and you witnessed this. There wouldn't be as much attraction to it if it wasn't for the mention of her "haunting" Ballygally. They're my 11x grandparents but regardless of that fact I still believe that it's sad that they use that. I believe that about any place that is "haunted". I plan on visiting Ireland and Scotland but for the sole purpose of visiting where my ancestors lived not because of a haunting. They should want people to visit there for the history of the "castle" not a haunting. I also hate that they renovate these castles and homes to hotels. That's just my opinion on it. Oh and if James Shaw did that then he's an asshole :)