Is it ‘ghost tourism’ – or is it really a spirit that wanders the halls of Ballyseede Castle?

It might fit my story, but to use Cork parlance, I wasn’t really haunted by time. Arriving at Ballyseede Castle, a four-star luxury hotel just north of Tralee, I walk up the property’s oak-veiled avenue as a deluge of rain buckets fall in my wake. Oh and what’s that to my left? The Ballyseede Pet Cemetery, which immediately adds a Stephen King weirdness upon my arrival. Kerry’s famous getaway and wedding venue soon reveals itself through my windshield wipers and its ivy-covered Gothic structure with turrets, parapets and crenellated wings strikes a rather imposing sight. The first sight of many, hopefully?

Almost all the more imposing is my welcome at Ballyseede’s doorstep: nine-year-old Irish greyhound, Molly. Although his presence is far more docile than his calf-like stature suggests. After a few ear rubs and tentative maneuvers, I make my way inside the hotel’s ornate lobby where Doric columns flank an elegant staircase that goes up and down to the story floors. Finnish receptionist Hilla greets me before escorting me to my West Wing room via Paddy’s Way, a labyrinthine ground-floor hallway festooned with shields of medieval-style armor and signage. “You know, one of our employees once heard voices here when he was working here,” she casually announces to me, presumably filling me in on the stories to come. I was staying in the McAleese room in Ballyseede, named after the former president. who once stayed there, although without any paranormal encounters, I understand. plush armchairs to admire… or perhaps marvel at. to… the estate outside.

Molly, the Irish wolfhound who resides in the hotel, walks in the park. Photos: Domnick Walsh © Eye Focus LTD

And Ballyseede – ghostly introductions – is an area steeped in history. It was here that the Blennerhassett family, a wealthy noble family from Cumberland in England, first built a property in 1721. They had obtained the land after the previous owner, the Earl of Desmond, refused to swear allegiance to the Crown and literally lost her mind. However, it is not the hapless Earl who would wander these lands, but rather a Hilda (not to be confused with Hilla) Blennerhasset. Hilda, the last surviving member of the Blennerhassett family in Ballyseede who worked as a nurse in France during World War I, would still appear in Ballyseede to this day, usually wearing a rose and appearing in a black Victorian dress.

The Ballyseede Castle Hotel in Tralee Co Kerry is ready for Halloween.  Photos: Domnick Walsh © Eye Focus LTD
The Ballyseede Castle Hotel in Tralee Co Kerry is ready for Halloween. Photos: Domnick Walsh © Eye Focus LTD

“A lot of guests expect the ghost to be from hundreds of years ago…so they’re surprised when I tell them that Hilda died in 1965.” These are the words of Tim Mahoney, the bar manager at Ballyseede Castle whom I meet that evening in the hotel’s Pappy’s Bar. “You can have a lot of fun with the stories here, but you also have to be careful how far you push,” he adds. “Once I chased two girls! Americans,” he tells me. “I told them that Hilda had died in the room they were occupying and one of them was so scared that she refused to go back. So we had to find them another room…in Tralee!” When asked if his ghost stories could get him in hot water with directing, Tim’s sense of divilment comes to the fore. “I thought I might be in trouble, but there were no problems…plus, I figured if we ever sold too much of a room, I could always get to work on a couple …”

Stairs to bedrooms at the Ballyseede Castle Hotel in Tralee Co Kerry.  Photos: Domnick Walsh © Eye Focus LTD
Stairs to bedrooms at the Ballyseede Castle Hotel in Tralee Co Kerry. Photos: Domnick Walsh © Eye Focus LTD

Temperamental reactions to Hilda are rare, however, and guests seem largely uninterested in her story or show positive curiosity. American visitors, however, appear as a common denominator in many accounts. Tim produces a black and white photograph taken by an American couple a few years ago which, when developed, revealed a female figure in the background straight out of The X-Files. “See her over there at the window?” And can you read what’s under the windowsill? Tim asks me. “The letters RIP? I respond, feeling like the North Kerry version of David Duchovny. But Ballyseede is actually no stranger to his X-Files moments. An English film crew once visited the hotel to detect paranormal activity, while the hotel also made headlines in 1989 after three guests from Connecticut abandoned their stay early after being spooked.

These stories of Hilda do not fall into my ears that evening. Even without my own Spanish Inquisition, and as if perfectly orchestrated by this TV production team, Hilda becomes the main topic of conversation in the bar. Whether it’s curious guests as they walk in, or the chef at Ballyseede suddenly popping up to announce “of course she’s always stealing stuff from the kitchen shelves”. Even the local priest, fresh from a wedding there, joins in the reflections. “Oh the ghost? Of course, she’s been at it for generations,” he jokes, with a nod and a wink.

Tim Mahony tour guide at the hotel
Tim Mahony tour guide at the hotel

As for Tim, he remains skeptical but respectful of Hilda and her influence. “A few of us lived here at the castle many years ago, which was quite normal in those days when a lot of people didn’t have cars. On some days when the hotel was closed, I stayed here by myself and walked up the avenue, with the cemetery on one side and the pet cemetery on the other, the castle appeared before you black as night. he tells. “And I will tell you, when I walked into my room that night, I couldn’t come out. I guess I’m not a fan of ghosts, but when you’re here all alone, the sounds all take on a different meaning.

Having survived my night in Ballyseede and without any disturbing noise that evening (does the alliance Wagon Wheel count?) the next morning I had breakfast downstairs and I was treated to a conversation with the tour de force of the facade, Esther McCarthy. Esther, who has enjoyed a 47-year career in the hospitality industry, saw some things in her time. And she’s pretty sure Hilda Blennerhassett is one of them. “Oh sure, it’s definitely haunted,” she reveals to me with a wink.

One of the dining rooms
One of the dining rooms

“I remember being here alone one winter night when the hotel was empty. I came to do an inventory, you know, check the curtains and things, see what needs to be replaced. And the TV lights weren’t on in Hilda’s room when I arrived. Things took another turn the following night when Esther smelled the scent of the roses surrounding her on the stairs. “Hilda was known to make her presence known with the smell of roses and what is odd is that there is no rose garden on the grounds.”

As for owner Marnie Corscadden, whose family has been Ballyseede Castle’s newest guardians since 2005, running a hotel with a resident ghost has proven an unlikely blessing. “Well, there’s definitely an aspect of ghost tourism driving all of this,” she tells me. “A lot of guests are definitely drawn here by the ghost. I would say 5-10% of our US market. Plus we also get a lot of visitors from Cork. I think it must be a very curious county. Marnie points out that Hilda’s presence is a benevolent force: “A lot of the noise here is due to the old building which rebels a bit and I think most guests have a little fun with it.”

A room in the castle
A room in the castle

As a farewell to Esther, Tim, Molly and co, I may have failed in my anti-ghosting mission but nonetheless left enriched by the macabre legacy that pervades Ballyseede. While Halloween, spirit legends and ghoulish attractions play a multi-million dollar role in Irish tourism these days, it’s clear that our innate fascination with spirits plays a dormant but still whispering engine in the world. industry. Hilda and her legacy certainly added to the character of my stay and even though I had no sightings, it’s safe to say that my stay still smelled like roses.

  • To experience the ghostly legacy of Ballyseede Castle or perhaps even spot Hilda yourself, you can check into the hotel from €160 per night. The hotel is also one of the most popular wedding venues in Munster.

About Bobby F. Lopez

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