Ross Castle offers visitors an authentic castle stay in Ireland that isn’t anything like its famous five-star castle hotels, Dromoland or Ashford. While those properties do provide plenty of luxuries and the chance to live out your dreams of being treated like royalty, Ross is not only more affordable, it offers a more unique experience that feels like the real deal. It was the kind of adventure I was looking for: accommodation in a medieval castle that was built nearly 500 years ago in 1533, with a long history of reported hauntings.
My visit to Ireland that year happened to be planned around Halloween, so there was really no better time to book than on the holiday itself.
YOU'RE ALL SET!
Look out for our newsletters in your inbox soon.
As there are two Ross Castles in Ireland, one in Killarney and this one in County Meath along the shores of Lough Sheelin, County Meath near Oldcastle, many get the two confused, but they could not be more different. Killarney’s Ross Castle is a tourist attraction in Killarney National Park and while it’s open for public tours, it doesn’t offer overnight stays.
My visit was slightly before the new and current host Jackie arrived and did a great job polishing up the place, and although it wasn’t that long ago, GPS still wasn’t readily available on smartphones, and finding it, virtually in the middle of nowhere, wasn’t easy, trying to navigate roads where street signs were either non-existent or turned around, pointing travelers in the wrong direction. If it was dark, finding it would be difficult if not impossible, so I was lucky that I managed to get there just before the sun set.
I walked through the gate, looking for signs that someone was here and saw nothing other than noisy crows soaring overhead, so I made my way to big red door at the entrance, hoping there would be someone around to welcome me in while wondering what I’d gotten myself into. Was I heading into some kind of Stephen King horror story?
Finally, a young teenage girl opened the door and said her parents were away but would be back soon. I was the only guest booked for that night, there was no one else there. It was at that moment I was thankful my Irish cousin, who thought I was crazy for wanting to stay in one of Ireland’s most haunted places, had supplied me with holy water and salt that she insisted I use for protection.
The girl pointed me in the direction of the stairs with very steep, narrow, winding and seemingly endless steps that lead to my tower room at the top. I heaved my overpacked, 50-pound suitcase up – it felt like a never-ending ascent, occasionally stopping to catch my breath while reminding myself, this was the reason packing so much, especially for a trip to Ireland, is never a good idea.
I noticed a few spider webs, but that just added to the authentic feel that I was stepping back into medieval times. And when I got to my tower room, I knew I was in for an unforgettable experience. The tower was completed in 1537 – who stayed in this room before I wondered, and what would it have been like back then?
I quickly realized that due to the thick stone walls, there was no cell signal or Wi-Fi in here – and I was staying alone in this tower room, at the top of the castle without the ability to connect with the outside world.
But it was cool, if a bit creepy. The original narrow slit windows where still there – the very same ones that used to serve as a way to protect it from attackers. Harmful substances from rocks and arrows to scalding water, tar or boiling able were thrown at the would-be invaders from these “murder holes” back in the day.
Guests, who write their stories down in the castle’s visitor book, frequently mention waking up at various times during the night, hearing the sounds of doors shutting on their own and the whispering of voices, even when no one else is in the castle. A few say they’ve even felt the presence of someone or something sitting next to them in bed, though nothing harmful has ever occurred, at least in modern times.
My hosts arrived soon after I’d settled in, and I was somewhat relieved to find that they were at least staying on the castle grounds. Their farmhouse is just down the road, but it had been damaged in a fire and was being remodeled. The husband invited me to relax with him in the sitting room before dinner – he asked me about my travels and was perhaps overfriendly, suggesting it would be a great idea if I could come back someday and even live with them for a while. Nice, or a bit over the top? I’m still not really sure, and as he and his wife left the castle soon after, leaving Jackie to take over the next year, I’ll probably never know what happened to them.
As the castle is somewhat isolated, two-course and four-course dinners, are offered, allowing guests to dine with the family – even the dining table and chairs are centuries old, with mine featuring a gold plate engraved with the date 1390. They recounted tales of the paranormal, all about Richard Nugent AKA Black Baron, Myles Slasher O’Reilly as well as young lovers Sabena and Orwen, who are said to still linger in the place. Lonely Planet has even ranked Ross Castle as one of the “Ten Lesser Known Haunted Places in the World,” and there were plenty of reasons to believe that was true, which is why I was a little nervous returning to my tower room alone.
I laid down on the bed, with thoughts of those stories swirling through my mind. I couldn’t sleep, so I turned the light on in the bathroom, not wanting to be in total darkness. Still I ducked under the covers not really wanting to see if a ghostly image would appear. While the family wasn’t all that far away, I was still alone in the tower. During the night, the heavy door to my room managed to open on its own. Whether a spirit or some type of other energy is responsible is anyone’s guess, but that was the only real out-of-the-ordinary experience I had.
The caretaker’s teenage son had a more harrowing night, though he slept in a cottage adjacent to the castle. Apparently, it hasn’t escaped the presence of the spirits because in the morning at breakfast, he looked visibly disturbed. I asked if he’d slept well, and clearly shook up, he explained that he felt a presence sit right next to him on the bed as he tried to sleep, failing miserably with the thought of “something” right there. He told me that was the last time he’d be staying here.
There is no doubt in my mind that something is going on in that castle that most of us humans here on Earth can’t see. If those walls could talk I’m sure they would have some fascinating stories to tell.
As I said my goodbyes to the family, with the husband hugging me a little too tight as he handed me his phone number to call whenever I was ready to move in, I got back into my rental car telling myself that someday I would visit again, but next time, I would bring someone else along.