For hundreds of years, these parallel rows of beech trees have been gradually growing toward each other, creating the effect of a canopy—and a perfect place for ghosts to hide.
Question: What embrace of branches hid its most famous resident for 240 years?
Answer: Dark Hedges, County Antrim, Ireland.
In 2015, one of the most famous women of all Northern Ireland was finally captured on film for the first time in her life. Or, well, her afterlife. After more than two centuries of reportedly roaming the stunning stand of interlaced trees known as the Dark Hedges in County Antrim, the Grey Lady showed up in a photograph that made local headlines as the first recorded evidence of her existence.
The Dark Hedges are parallel stands of curvaceous beech trees planted in the late 18th century by the Stuart family as a way to dress up the long road to Gracehill House, the family manor. Long after the Stuarts were gone, the beeches continued to grow, 150 undulating sentinels whose upper limbs nearly entwine, yielding a spooky canopy over the road. It’s such a striking image that it was used as the King’s Road in the HBO series Game of Thrones; it remains Northern Ireland’s most photographed vista.
The most famous denizen of the hedges was never one of the Stuarts, but the spectral visitor known as the Grey Lady. Local lore says she’s the spirit of a disgruntled maid who was buried in a nearby abandoned graveyard. While countless sightings have been reported over the years, the Grey Lady eluded capture on film until an alleged appearance in a photo in 2015. After the image graced the local papers, there were naysayers who argued that there was no way to prove whether the wispy white dress seen floating in the photo was in fact the Grey Lady. Many locals, however, cheekily argued the flip side: that there was no way to disprove it, either.
5 More Haunted Women of Northern Ireland
- The Witch of the Cliffs of Moher: Poor Mal. Despite having magic at her disposal as a witch, she never did manage to cast a spell over the Irish hero Cuchalainn. Mal chased him across Ireland to the Cliffs of Moher, from which he leapt to an island. Mal tried to follow suit but fell to her death on the rocks now known as Hag’s Head. Some say she took on the form of the rock to warn off smitten lovers and you can hear her protest her fate in the crashing of the waves.
- Red Mary of the Burren: Oh how the mighty can fall! Red Mary McMahon, of Leamanagh Castle in the Burren, pretty much dominated the region in the 17th century, hanging onto her castle through three marriages and the birth of a dozen children. Nobody dared cross her: Her male enemies were hung from the neck until dead and her female foes were hung up by their hair until they starved. In the end, she was dethroned and sealed inside a hollow tree to die. At night, the moaning wind in the woods is said to be Red Mary begging to be released.
- The Ladies in White and Black at Galway: Galway is said to have been named after the drowned daughter of a local chieftain. Since at least the 1700s, stories have circulated about the Lady in White, a ghost who strolls along the Long Walk (the waterside promenade) and many assumed it was the drowned girl. But the ghost either changed color or a new ghost appeared: Last year, a series of daytime photos of the Long Walk captured a single image of a Woman in Black, who appeared and disappeared in the seconds between shots.
- The Dark Lady of Donegal: In the 1500s, Ineen Dubh was the very definition of defensive, knowing that her Castle Mongavlin was much desired by rebel leaders. She gathered 100 guards to help her protect the castle, but she was evicted, reinstated, evicted again, and lost to history. However, she didn’t disappear entirely: It is said that she is the Dark Lady who haunts the castle by midnight. No can be sure because when the ghost appears, she is always faceless.
- The Ghost of Ballygally: Not every ghost is ghastly. On the Antrim Coast, Ballygally Castle is said to be haunted by a cheerful spirit, which is surprising considering how she came to be a ghost. Her awful husband, Lord Shaw, snatched their newborn son moments after she gave birth, and then threw his wife from the tower of the castle. Despite her tragic end, she is said to be a very benevolent spirit, and Ballygally has kept a room for her ever since.
Enter the realm of legends and myths when you join us for O.AT.’s new Irish Adventure: Ireland, Belfast & the Northwest Counties.