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Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 | Day 8 - Haunted Illinois goes on a supernatural tour of Ireland

Day 4:

After waking up, I was anxious to get outside and take some pictures of the castle and surrounding coastline. We had gotten to the hotel so late the previous night that it was too dark to get any decent shots.

Unfortunately, it was raining pretty hard that morning. I only ventured outside for a minute, before having to run back to the hotel, to avoid getting the camera completely waterlogged. Luckily, by the time the bus was ready to leave, the heavy rain had subsided, making picture-taking a little easier… and less hazardous for the camera.

Up until this point of the trip, we really hadn’t seen much rain and what we did see was short-lived. That was definitely a surprise, since rainy weather is something that Ireland is famous for. Actually, we didn’t really see a lot of rain the entire week… or at least not as much as I thought we would. There was some inclement weather during the second half of the trip, but most of the storms that we encountered came and went while we were riding on the bus. I guess we really lucked out.

Ballygally Castle Hotel

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Our first stop of the day was Crumlin Road Gaol, also known as Belfast Prison or “The Crum”. Designed by Sir Charles Lanyon, the jail was constructed from 1843 through 1845. Built in the shape of a dial, it has four wings radiating outward from a central point. This central area is known as “The Circle”. With each wing standing up to four stories high, the prison was large enough to hold up to 500 prisoners.

Crumlin Road Gaol was one of the most advanced prisons of its time. It was the first penal institution in Ireland to utilize “The Separate System”. This was a type of prison architecture that was intended to isolate prisoners and prevent them from communicating with one another.

Directly adjacent to the jail stands the Crumlin Road Courthouse. The two structures are connected by a long underground tunnel. When the prison was operational, the tunnel was used to transfer prisoners to and from the courthouse. New prisoners were taken to the D-Wing. Over the years, many of the newcomers took their own lives, which may be why the D-Wing is said to be the most haunted area of the jail. From 1854 through 1961, a total of seventeen prisoners were executed, then buried on-site in unconsecrated ground.

When we arrived at the jail, we were told that the tour wouldn’t start for a while, so many of us took advantage of the extra time by buying some souvenirs. After we finished our shopping, the tour guide met us in the gift shop and kicked off the tour with a brief history lesson. From there, we continued on, through the underground tunnel and into the prison. As we moved through the different cell blocks, he told us more about what life was like at “The Crum”. In one area, there was a row of cells that had been refurbished. Each cell was labeled with a different time period, ranging from 1845 to 1980. The 1845 cell was pretty empty. It only had a thin pad mattress on the floor, a short stool and a bucket. The 1980’s cell had bunk beds, lockers, winter jackets and personal effects like photographs and musical instruments. It seemed a bit more livable. Although it wasn’t as primitive as the 1800’s cell, at that time, they were still using chamber pots in the cells and they had no running water. That row of cells really helped illustrate how living conditions at the prison had changed over the years.

One area in the prison that seemed to have a big impact on our group was the execution room. Hanging from a wooden beam that spanned the length of the ceiling, was the original noose that was used for the jail's 17 executions. Below the noose was a large opening in the floor leading down into the drop cell. For the safety of tour-goers, they had covered the opening with a thick panel of glass, so no one could fall through. In an area near the drop cell, there was an old wooden coffin and a large flogging rack that was used to torture prisoners.

Returning back to the central area between the cell blocks, we were greeted by some surprise celebrity guests. Ghost Searchers Ireland, a local paranormal investigation group, stopped by to be our guides for the rest of the tour. After the initial introductions, they took us into the D-Wing for a paranormal investigation.

The Ghost Searchers asked several volunteers to join hands and form a circle. One by one, each person asked a question out loud. In response to one of the questions, there was a loud bang at the far end of the cell block! There wasn’t anyone in that area, so what made the loud sound? I guess we’ll never know!

After that, more than half of the people in our group volunteered to help with another experiment. Everyone broke out into several small groups, with each group occupying their own prison cell. After a short period of quiet observation, my girlfriend and a few others witnessed something odd. Strange shadows had materialized in one of the corners of the cell and an unexplained force blocked the path of one of the women who tried to leave!

Crumlin Road Gaol

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After we got back on the bus, Richard and Danny told us an interesting story. Originally, the management at the Crumlin Road Gaol wanted to give us their normal historic tour of the premises, with no paranormal elements. Since we were on a Ghost Tour of Ireland, our tour company tried to convince them to change their minds. When the jail’s tour guide heard that we wanted a paranormal tour, instead of the educational kind that he normally gives guests, he got so angry that he resigned!!! How crazy is that?

While continuing down the road toward the center of Belfast, we were presented with a choice. We could either visit the nearby Titanic exhibit or spend some time in downtown Belfest. A few people did decide to go to the exhibit, but most of our group opted for the latter option. As it turned out, the bus driver decided to stop and let us off right next to the Europa Hotel. We weren’t aware of it at the time, until Richard Felix pointed it out, but the Europa Hotel is known as the most bombed hotel in Europe. In fact, it had been bombed 28 times! Hearing that didn't exactly put me at ease!

Anyway, with the understanding that we had to return to the Europa Hotel area at a designated time, everyone went on their own way, to explore Belfast. Looking for a place to have lunch, we found a nice pub called Brennan’s Bar. We lucked out and were able to score a semi-private corner booth that was labeled “Reserved. Book By Appointment Only”. Apparently, we got there at just the right time. After fueling up on some tasty Irish fare, we ventured out in search of souvenirs. Unfortunately, there was only time to hit a few shops, before we had to return to the bus.

Around Town in Belfast

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Hotel Europa - Hotel Europa, the most bombed hotel in Europe.
Hotel Europa

On The Road In Ireland

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After a two and a half hour drive, we arrived at our last stop of the day, Cabra Castle. I found it really interesting that, throughout the years, there had been two structures in Ireland called Cabra Castle. The original Cabra Castle, which is now in ruins, dates back to the mid 17th century. It had changed hands a couple of times, before being inherited by Mervyn Pratt. When the castle was destroyed during the Cromwellian Wars, the Pratt family moved to a proximate residence they called Cabra House.

In the early 1800’s, Colonel Joseph Pratt bought nearby Cormy Castle, which was encompassed by about 400 acres of surrounding land. In 1820, Pratt renamed it Cabra Castle, which is what it is still called today. The castle remained under Pratt ownership until the late 1950’s, when it was inherited by the Sheppard family. Due to high tax rates, death duties and maintenance / repair costs, the Sheppard family had to sell the estate to the Brennan family in 1964. Shortly thereafter, they converted the castle into a 22 room hotel. In 1986, ownership changed again and it was used as a private residence. In 1991, it was purchased again and re-opened as a hotel. Since then, it has been refurbished. The most significant expansion project was in the courtyard area, increasing the total number of available rooms to 80.

Shortly after we arrived at the palatial estate, we were greeted by members of the hotel staff, who took our bags and delivered them to our rooms. After getting our room assignments, we went to freshen up before dinner. With about a half hour of spare time, we decided to wander around the castle a bit. Cabra Castle is amazing! It was, without a doubt, one of my two favorite castles in Ireland. In the past, I had seen some converted castles that were over-modernized, but not this one. When they were restoring the castle, I could tell that there was a concerted effort to keep all of the stonework, furnishings and fixtures as period-correct as possible. It was truly an amazing place. While wandering through the hotel lobby, we met Oscar, the hotel’s resident wolf hound. I think it is safe to say that he is one of the largest dogs I have ever seen! Despite his intimidating size, he was very tame and friendly. After exploring a little more, we decided to join the rest of the group for dinner, which was served in a very elegant private dining room.

Earlier in the evening, Richard Felix had told us all about the castle’s haunted history. The main ghost is a girl named Sarah. She was a maid and serving girl in the castle. In the 1740’s, she had a liaison with one of the sons of the Pratt family, which resulted in her pregnancy. After she gave birth, the Pratt family seized the baby, then they took Sarah out into the woods where they hung her from a bridge. Ever since, her ghost has been seen wandering around near the servant’s quarters and the stable, apparently searching for her abducted child. There have also been reports of guests hearing a baby crying, even when there were no children staying at the hotel. Some guests have reported feeling a strange presence in the vicinity of the servant’s quarters. Richard told us that, according to the hotel staff, a lot of the paranormal activity has been witnessed near rooms 75-79.

Cabra Castle

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