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The Haunting of Ballyheigue Castle and the Tale of Lost Treasure

The Haunting Of Ballyheigue Castle And The Tale Of Lost Treasure

One dark night, a Danish ship wrecked not far from Ballyheigue Castle. The ship carried silver and during a raid of the castle, the treasure was lost. What was the real reason for the ship being wrecked, and who was the ghostly figure in a picture taken centuries later?

On the Atlantic coast of Eire, in the serene village of Ballyheigue, stands the enigmatic Ballyheigue Castle. Conceived by the visionary architect Richard Morrison in 1810, this grand mansion was once the proud abode of the illustrious Crosbie family in its Tudor-gothic-revival style. 

Today, it stands as a mere shell of ruins as many of the old Irish castles and mansions, embraced by the lush green expanse of a golf course that was built in 1996.

Read More: Check out all of the ghost stories from Ireland

From 1890, parts of the castle were used as a Royal Irish Constabulary station. May 27, 1921, it succumbed to the flames of the Irish War of Independence, a casualty in the battle against British Imperialism. This was not so uncommon during this time, and many of the old castles and big houses met the same fate. 

Ballyheigue Castle: Now only the ruins stands of the former castle on what is now used as a golf course. It is believed that a ghost is haunting the place as strange figures have showed up on pictures of those visiting. //Source: Wikimedia

It is said that, before the castle met its fiery end, the community rallied to plunder its contents, an act of defiance before the torch was applied. What is true though is that only ruins and ghost stories are now left.

The Ghosts of Ballyheigue Castle

Ballyheigue, pronounced “baleyhigh,” bears the weight of its storied past, once a haven for smugglers who roamed the treacherous Irish coast. This comes to show in the ghost stories and legends.

In June 1962, Captain P. D. O’Donnell and his family went on a holiday in Ballyheigue. O’Donnell, later recounting his experiences in the ‘Ireland of the Welcomes’ magazine, published by Bord Failte Eireann (the Irish Tourist Board), unveiled a chilling chapter of Ballyheigue Castle’s history.

One afternoon during their stay, O’Donnell and his eight-year-old son, Frank, ventured into the crumbling remnants of Ballyheigue Castle. This once-proud fortress had belonged to the Crosbie family, who had wielded power over County Kerry for generations. After thorough exploration of the castle’s ruins, O’Donnell captured several photographs of the decaying walls before going home and developing his holiday pictures.

Curiously, upon developing the photographs, one image revealed an anomaly—a mysterious figure standing in one of the windows. This spectral presence held a sword and appeared dressed in what looked to be a sailors outfit. After checking out what they could, they concluded that this was no result of double exposure.

Alas, the sole print of this haunting photograph, along with the negative, vanished when he sent it to a friend. Despite extensive efforts, including newspaper advertisements and printed leaflets offering substantial rewards, the elusive image remained lost. 

Strangely, offers to purchase the Danish rights to the photograph poured in, even from as far afield as Copenhagen. Why were the Danes so intrigued by a ghostly picture?

The Wreckers of the Coast

As recounted in the ancient chronicles of Kerry, the Danish ship Golden Lyon, part of the Danish Asiatic Company’s fleet en route from Copenhagen to Tranquebar, was wrecked on Ballyheigue beach on October 30, 1730. 

The relentless fury of a storm had cast the ship off course, rendering it vulnerable to the opportunistic Crosbies—so the legends say. Dark tales persist of the Crosbies employing false lights attached to the heads of horses, drawing unsuspecting ships into perilous waters. This was done so the people on land could ‘salvage’ the goods the ships were carrying.  

Ballyheigue Beach: This is the beach that the Danish ship carrying silver wrecked. Perhaps on purpose on those on the beach coming from the castle. //Source: Wikimedia

Sailors on the ships at night were deceived by the bobbing lights that seemed to signal safe passage, and found themselves shipwrecked among the unforgiving Atlantic breakers.

People who did this were called ‘Wreckers’, and was a common story told across the coast and feared the same way ships feared pirates. There are also tales that the crews of these ships were slaughtered to leave no witnesses. 

Common law back then was that the goods from shipwrecks belonged to those residing on the shore it drifted in from and it could be a highly lucrative business of ships coming from far and bringing with them treasures and other goods. 

The Twelve Chests of Silver

The crew of the ill-fated Golden Lyon faced an unforeseen rescue mission, orchestrated by Sir Thomas Crosbie and his cohorts coming from Ballyheigue Castle. Amid the wreckage, they salvaged a substantial portion of the Danish ship’s cargo, including a cache of silver bars and coins concealed within twelve chests. 

The crew were welcomed to the Crosbies and stayed at Ballyheigue Castle. Did the Crosbies really wreck the ship on purpose? Or were they actually the helpful locals they posed as? It wasn’t long before Sir Thomas met an untimely demise, some suspecting poison at the hands of his own wife.

Lady Margaret, widow of Sir Thomas Crosbie, laid claim to a staggering £4,300.00 (equivalent to a princely £110,800.00 today) from Captain J. Heitman, master of the Danish ship, citing it as salvage and compensation for her husband’s demise, attributing him dying to the “labors and exertions on the night of the wreck.” Fearing for the safety of his twelve chests of silver, Captain Heitman transported them to the castle’s cellar, stationing a vigilant guard at the entrance until he could arrange for their return to Denmark.

The Raiding of the Castle

Soon after, there was a raid on Ballyheigue Castle and the chests of silver vanished under the cover of night. Authorities managed to recover a meager £5,000.00 of the total £20,000.00 worth of silver.

Lady Margaret’s name hovered ominously over the shadows of suspicion of her orchestrating the raid, yet she vehemently denied any involvement. Today, local legends weave intricate tales of the whereabouts of the stolen silver.

It is said that one of the sailors standing guard tried to stop the robbery of the chests, but was killed in the process. Could this be the ghost seen in the picture from Ballyheigue Castle O’Donnell saw?

The Death Anniversary of the Ghost

What is also an interesting, and perhaps a creepy fact is the date the picture was taken. Historical records chronicle the Danish Silver Raid transpiring on June 4, 1731. O’Donnell’s photograph of the phantom sailor was taken on June 4, 1962—was it a spectral tribute to this ominous anniversary?

Another legend of the castle is that the silver in fact, never left the building. According to this story, the stolen silver is still underground and the sailor is trying to let us know. Perhaps one day another one will be shown to were it is, who knows, perhaps it will once again be on the anniversary of his death? 

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References:

Ballyheigue Castle – Mysterious Britain & Ireland 

Ballyheigue Castle – Wikipedia 

Salvage Tradition, Law and Lore – Irish Maritime History 

(PDF) The Ghost of Ballyheigue Castle | Francis Martin O’Donnell – Academia.edu 



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