Ardgillan Castle in County Dublin is a beautifully restored, 18th-century country house surrounded by beautiful gardens and blessed with panoramic sea and mountain views. As with most castles and grand old houses in Ireland, the stories inevitably involve a ghost.
Ardgillan Castle in Dublin is haunted by The White Lady, who is known also as The Lady of the Stairs. She is believed to be Louise August Connolly, Baroness of Langford, and her story is tragic. The husband of this woman was a keen swimmer and one day he went for his usual swim but never returned. His heart-broken wife searched in vain for him and waited day after day and week after week for him on the steps of the railway bridge from which she gazed out to sea.
Ghosts of Ardgillan Castle
It is believed that anyone who dares to cross the bridge called the Lady’s Stairsla during the midnight hours of Halloween dooms themselves to be killed by the hand of a woman ghost. This bridge stands at the borders of a Ardgillan Castle
The castle itself has a reputation for being haunted too. It is the ghost of the Reverend that still roams the hallways of this castle well after his death. Some would have you believe that his spirit (known as “Uncle Ned”) returns to the castle and walks the corridors, looking for his misplaced holy book. His form has also been encountered in the garden walking among the yew trees on several occasions. Also, the ghost of Louisa Augusta Connolly is said to moan in and around the castle after she drowned at the private beach belonging to Ardgillan Castle..
History of Ardgillan Castle
In 1653, Thomas Taylor came to Ireland to work with the Irish Commission on a
survey and valuation of the land confiscated following Cromwell’s campaign in
Ireland. In 1658, the year the Down Survey contract ended, his father John Taylor died. Thomas inherited the family land in Sussex, and in the same year married Anne Axtell, daughter of William Axtell of Berkhampstead, Hertfordshire. Thomas had not been an ‘Adventurer’ and was not entitled to receive any land grants from the Commonwealth
Government, however as many Adventurers and ex-soldiers sold their newly
acquired estates Thomas capitalised on the opportunity to acquire large amounts of land in Ireland. In 1660, he sold his property in Sussex and bought approximately 21,000 acres of land in Ireland. This included 7,443 acres in County Meath, near the town of Kells where he bought the townlands of Kenlis, Brownstown, Bedfordstown, Armagh and Bregagh.
When Charles II ascended the throne at the Restoration in 1660, Thomas Taylor had established himself as a substantial land-owner in Ireland, and he went on to hold a succession of public appointments under the Crown. Thomas Taylor’s estate was inherited by his only surviving son, also called Thomas, who consolidated his father’s wealth and elevated the family’s status in Irish society, serving as the Member of Parliament for
Kells for 15 years during the period 1692 to 1736. In 1704 he was created a Baronet of Ireland, and later, in 1726, appointed a member of the Privy Council. This second Thomas Taylor married Anne Cotton of Combermere, Cheshire, in 1682 and they had 11 children, 6 sons and 5 daughters. Their second son Robert, built Prospect House, which later became known as Ardgillan Castle.
Robert Taylor was born in Chester on 22nd May 1689. He studied for Holy Orders at Trinity College, Dublin and in 1714 was appointed Archdeacon of Kilmacduagh in the Province of Tuam. It is possible that his appointment was related to the position of his brother-in-law Dr. William Fitzgerald, the then Bishop of Clonfert. In 1722 Robert was appointed the Precentor (Director of Music) of Clonfert and four years later, in 1726, he was advanced to the position of Dean of Clonfert, but resigned from the prebendary of this position that same year.
In 1721, Robert Taylor had bought parts of the townlands of Ballymad and Leytown lying between Balbriggan and Skerries, in North County Dublin. In 1737, Robert bought more land in North County Dublin, purchasing the townlands of Ardgillan and Baltry, adjacent to the lands which he had bought in 1721. The Down Survey, 1658, indicates that in 1641 the townland of Ardgillan Having now accumulated a considerable holding of land
Robert was ready to build his house’ Prospect House was built on Mount Prospect, in the townland of Ardgillan, a wooded hill overlooking the coastline between Balbriggan and Skerries. Indeed, it is from this feature that the name Ardgillan comes, being derived from the Irish “Ard Choill”, meaning High Wood.
The Ardgillan Castle at that time was heavily wooded and it was necessary to clear it before building could commence. The labour was provided by out-of-service soldiers and itinerant workers from Bangor, County Down, who were paid a penny a day, provided with sleeping accommodation, one daily meal and a tot of rough whiskey purchased from
Bushmills at the cost of two shillings and tuppence per gallon.
Although houses during the 18th century became more classical and palladian in their design, with elegant exteriors being matched by equally elegant interiors, Prospect House was a simple, modest country house with two-storeys built over a basement. The design of Prospect House was however a departure from the fortified buildings which had typified architecture prior to this period as, since the Treaty of Limerick, 1691, the Anglo-Irish had enjoyed a period of assurance. Ascendancy confidence and prosperity found material expression in their architecture, and Prospect House was one such example of this.mIt is possible that Prospect House was built without the aid of an architect, as given the turbulence of the preceding decades it is not surprising that Ireland have very few professional architects.
Interior of Ardgillan Castle
According to this 1795 inventory, Ardgillan Castle consisted of a main hall, a drawing room and dining parlour; six bedrooms, two with dressing-rooms; and a study with an adjoining powdering-room. There was a large nursery, a servants’ barracks and separate rooms for the steward, housekeeper, cook, maid, manservant and coachman; two kitchens, a scullery, a dairy and a wine cellar. The Ardgillan Castle was comfortably furnished throughout. The drawing-room had two stuffed sofas and eight stuffed armchairs which were covered in red and brown cotton covers. There were a number of bamboo chairs and two armchairs, the room contained two mahogany bookcases with drawers, an inlaid piano, a mahogany side table and a mahogany sugar chest. A large carpet and a mat covered the floor and the fire-place was surrounded by a brass fender.
In the green carpeted dining parlour, there were two large mahogany tables and eighteen mahogany chairs and a number of smaller tables which included two made of marble and a round oak table. The large side-board and the two dumb waiters were also made of mahogany and the room contained several buckets for plates and bottles, and various trays for holding glasses, knives, and bottles. The fender in this room, as in many of the rooms, was made of brass. At least three of the bedrooms are listed as being on the ground floor and by their size would appear to be the principal bedrooms. They were furnished with a mixture of oak, mahogany and bamboo furniture.
The colour schemes in many of the rooms were combinations of green, white and red, with some pink and there is only one reference to blue. The fabrics used were striped, checked or flowered cottons. The featherbeds were dressed with both English and Irish blankets, bolsters, white fustian pillows and white Manchester’ quilts. The floors were carpeted or had bed mats, and each bedroom had a fire place. The large bedchamber on the ground floor was obviously a gentleman’s room as the adjoining dressing-room contained a mahogany shaving stand with a looking-glass. The closet or dressing-room next to another of the ground floor bedrooms was decorated with pink cushions on the bamboo sofa and pink curtains on the window. The carpeted study was furnished with mahogany and bamboo furniture which included two wardrobes, a six drawer writing table and reading
desk, a ladder, a large bookcase made of deal and three large framed maps.
‘The furniture in the main hall of Ardgillan Castle included three large mahogany tables and two card tables, eight rush seated bamboo chairs and two sets of fire-irons, which would suggest that there may have been two fireplaces in the original hall. The nursery contained four small oak beds, two of which had flowered cotton curtains, the others having red and white check curtains. There was also a child’s deal bed, a looking-glass and three or four chairs.
The account of the servants’ rooms suggests that there were a dozen servants
working in the house. There was a maids’ room containing two oak beds dressed
in blue, and a manservant’s room with one bed curtained in red and white
check. The cook had an oak press bed and the coachman a bed made of deal. The
servants’ barracks contained five deal beds, and Farrell, who may have been the
butler or steward of the house (he was one of the witnesses to the official signing
of the tenancy agreement between the brothers Thomas and Clotworthy Taylor)
had a room with an oak bed with red and white curtains and a green quilt.
Ardgillan Castle had two kitchens. The old kitchen contained a large dining table
and two ‘forms’ (benches) and may have been the servants dining room. The
other kitchen contained all the essential cooking utensils such as stoves, a Dutch
oven, skillets, pots and pans, boxes of flour and salt, a chopping block, a tea
kettle and pewter dishes and plates. There was also a coal box, a warming pan
and sets of candle-sticks.
The basement of Ardgillan Castle contained a larder, kitchen, scullery and wine- cellar. The well stocked wine-cellar held one pipe and one hogshead of port, half a hogshead of claret, four dozen bottles of Madeira, thirty dozen bottles of sherry, four dozen bottles of hock, twenty dozen bottles of cider and four dozen bottles of Alicanti, mead and different kinds of sweet wines. The Ardgillan Castle had its ‘own dairy, a chicken-coop and on the estate there was a herd of 104 milch cows.
A number of items listed in the outhouses suggest that renovations may have
been carried out on the house prior to this period. There were several old doors,
an old chimney piece and some old weather cocks. Four boxes contained squares
of glass and there were twenty old sashes and both old and new items of
furniture including a new large hall table.
Later use of Ardgillan Castle
In 1962, Ardgillan Castle was sold to Heinrich Pott, a German industrialist
who maintained the Castle and estate, using it as a second home. On his death
in 1966 Ardgillan Castle passed onto his family, and was used by his sister
Gertrude Dierksmeier and her family as a holiday home. However, by 1981,
the Dierksmeiers had decided to leave Ardgillan and the Demesne was once
again for sale.
Ardgillan Demesne was bought by Dublin County Council for a number of
reasons, but principally to satisfy the need for a Regional Park in the northern
area of the county. The Castle had been well maintained by Richard Taylour
since his arrival at Ardgillan in 1939. He had employed both a stone-mason
and a handy man to ensure the up keep of Ardgillan Castle and similarly,
Henrich Pott had continued to maintain the building. However by the early
seventies the fabric of the Castle had started to deteriorate. The purchase of
Ardgillan Demesne by the County Council ensured the eventual restoration
and conservation of the Castle and the Estate.
Since the purchase of Ardgillan in 1982, three phases are apparent in the development of the Castle as a recreational and educational facility. Firstly from 1982 to 1986, the Castle was secured to prevent further decay and the grounds were developed for public use. A new entrance and car park were constructed at Blackhills, to the south of the Castle; old walks were re-opened and new avenues created; landscape work was carried out throughout the estate and a water main installed. The grounds of Ardgillan were opened to
the public in 1986.
Secondly, in 1989, the process of restoring the Castle commenced. The restoration was undertaken by the County Council in conjunction with FAS, the Irish Training and Employment Authority and the Skerries Development and Community Association acted as sponsor. The renovations included the removal of unsafe ceilings, the securing of the roof and the rebuilding of walls.
Some of the interior work carried out included the restoration of the elaborate stencil work on the drawing-room walls. The intricate carving on the panelling in the Dining Room was repaired, and a matching carved and panelled sideboard was built. Although little of the original furniture remains, the Castle is today furnished with generous loans of eighteenth and nineteenth century furniture from privately owned collections.
The third phase in the development of the Demesne began in May 1992 when the restored Castle was officially opened to the public by the President of Ireland, Mary Robinson.