The ghost of Ballygally Castle

by Karen Edwards
Audio version recorded by Karen Edwards

Ballygally castle was built in 1625 by James Shaw from Scotland, who rented the land from the Earl of Antrim for £24 a year.

            The best known of all the Castle Ghosts was Lady Isobel Shaw, James’ wife, who came to live in the Castle following their marriage in the 1600s.

            At the tender age of 16 years, Isobel left home and family, sailing to Ireland with her new husband James, who lived in a castle in the small coastal village of Ballygally, overlooking the channel between Ireland and Scotland.

            Time passing taught Isobel of the dark, cruel streak her husband possessed and she often sought refuge up on the battlements of the Castle, shedding salt tears as she strived to catch a glimpse of her Scottish homeland.

            James treated Isobel like a servant, barely speaking to her civilly. It swiftly became completely clear to Isobel, that the sole purpose of her marriage was that she should bear an heir to carry on the Shaw line.

However, the likelihood of that was slim. James drank too much. Often in the morning the servants would find him, unkempt with his head on the table surrounded by empty bottles. On the rare occasion when he was in a fit state to exercise his conjugal rights, James handled Isobel roughly and she was often left weeping quietly, when after having his way with her, he left her to continue drinking in a separate room.

            By some miracle, within the year Isobel found herself pregnant and all her unhappiness floated away at the thought of having a child to shower with her love, so unfulfilled in respect of her cruel husband.

            An old midwife from the village tended Isobel through the birth and before long a robust baby girl was placed on her breast.

Suddenly, a drunken James, incensed by the fact that she had failed to produce a boy, crashed through the door, snatched the child and left Isobel sobbing on the floor. On James orders, the distressed girl was dragged to the turret room of the castle, locked up and given the most meagre of diets.

            James’ cruelty is a mystery. Some say he had a mistress who couldn’t bear children and that was his sole purpose in marrying Isobel, or he thought his wife was deranged because she constantly pined for home. We will probably never know but soon Isobel could bear it no longer. On a cold December night with nothing to eat but a thin gruel, she climbed onto the window sill, opened the window and threw herself from the battlements.

            It’s said that the ghost wears a long flowing ivory wedding dress as that was the last occasion on which Isobel experienced any happiness, but that if you look carefully you can see shots of red through the silk, as if it was tainted with blood.

Karen Edwards