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History Ballygally Castle

Built: 1625

Ballygally Castle was originally built in 1625 by James Shaw and his wife Isabella Brisbane. Scottish native Shaw came to Ireland in 1606 to seek his fortune. He received a sub-grant of land from the Earl of Antrim in 1613, and this is the land on which the castle was built. The castle’s original purpose was to serve as a refuge for Protestants during the Civil Wars. Ballygally’s last squire, William Shaw, inherited it in 1799 after it had been handed down through many generations of the family. In the early 1800s, the Agnew family acquired the estate after the Shaw family lost all of their wealth. It served as a coastguard station for several years before becoming the family home of Reverend Classon Porter and his family. Afterward, it was purchased by the Moore family who then sold it to a textile millionaire, Mr. Cyril Lord, who refurbished it into a hotel in the early 1950s.

The Story of Ballygally Castle

With a unique history steeped in conflict, intrigue and ghostly happenings, Ballygally Castle was built during the Plantation of Ulster – an incredibly turbulent time during which thousands of English and Scots were confiscated from the Gaelic Irish chieftains. Located in the village of Ballygally, County Antrim, this notably haunted castle overlooks the Irish sea at the head of the atmospheric Ballygally Bay. This mystical area is now best known as a location for Game of Thrones, with a number of scenes having been shot in the castle’s majestic surroundings. 

Built in 1625 with defence in mind, this robust structure is the only 17th century building in Northern Ireland that is still in residence today. The castle’s original owner, James Shaw, a native of Greenock, Scotland, travelled to Ireland in 1606 to seek his fortune. Alongside his wife, Isabella Brisane, Shaw built the castle in a Scottish architectural style, comprising a steep roof, high walls, corner turrets and dormer windows. In order to ensure his family’s security, the castle walls are five feet thick and studded with narrow vertical slits through which muskets could be fired. 

The castle’s history is, quite literally, written in its walls, as the original inscription over the main entrance survives to this day, reading ‘Godis Providens is my Inheritans’, or ‘God’s providence is my inheritance’ in Scots. Conflict and confinement is also somewhat embedded into the fabric of the castle, as it is thought that some of the stones used in the construction of the castle were raided from the ancient Cairn Castle where – legend has it – was built by the King of Antrim to confine his beautiful daughter, Claovala, from an unwelcome suitor. Fortunately, the King did not succeed and, allegedly, Claovala escaped. 

The conflict surrounding this building began towards the end of the 17th century as, only a short number of years after its construction, it was captured by the ‘Tories’ of Londonderry – a group of dispossessed Irish chieftains who had lost everything following the 1641 rebellion. Despite a nearby Irish garrison controlling the surrounding countryside, the inhabitants held their ground, although they did not all survive the bloody uprising. 

During this tumultuous time in Ireland’s history, Ballygally Castle was handed down through the generations of the Shaw family, until they lost their wealth and were forced to sell the estate to the Agnew family. The castle exchanged hands throughout the 18th century, until textile millionaire Mr. Cyril Lord renovated the property and it began its life as a hotel. All refurbishments and developments have carefully preserved the castle’s distinctive characteristics and original architectural features. 

Despite its modern renovations, Ballygally Hotel is still thought to be haunted by ghosts of its beguiling past. The original owner, Isabella Brisbane, is said to be one of the castle’s most regular ghostly visitors. The story goes that John Shaw only married Isabella in order to produce an heir and so, once their son was born, he took their child and locked Isabella in a room at the top of the castle – now known as the Ghost Room. In a desperate attempt to escape, she dramatically plunged to her death, and her aggrieved Ghost is thought to wander the hallways to this day.

In spite of the castle’s somewhat volatile history, this atmospheric gem on the Antrim coast has been turned into a tastefully decorated hotel offering spectacular panoramic views, original and imposing architecture, and rooms that exude character and charm.