The stunning Ballyseede Castle is steeped in a long and bloody history, built back in the 16th Century. Just three miles outside of Tralee. Covering some 30 acres and approached from the road via a sweeping drive, the Castle is now a majestic four-star hotel and favourite wedding venue, however, its current status is far removed from the dark and violent history for which it has notoriety. It is little wonder that it ranks so highly among in the world’s most haunted hotels.
Built by the Fitzgerald family, the castle was their garrison for what became known as the Geraldine Wars during the late 16th Century. Gerald Fitzgerald, 16th Earl of Desmond joined the Rebellion in defiance of the English and the Fitzgerald family openly refused to swear their allegiance to the Queen.
After years of fighting, Gerald was captured in Stacks Mountains, the range that dominates the Tralee skyline. Charged with treason to the crown, on 11thNovember 1583 he was taken to the Demesne at Ballyseede and beheaded by the local executioner, Daniel Kelly. As a warning to others not to disobey Queen Elizabeth, Gerald Fitzgerald’s head was taken to London and was exhibited in a cage at London Bridge.
The Crown instructed the Governor of Kerry, Sir Edward Denny to lease what was then 3000 acres of estate at Ballyseede over to Thomas Blennerhassett of Cumberland, England in 1590. The unique annual rent was six pounds and a single red rose to be picked from the Castle gardens on Midsummer’s Day.
Although remaining in the Blennerhassett family, the once proud castle fell into disrepair until the early eighteenth century when William, son of the former lessee, took it upon himself to build the current imposing structure. Upon William’s death, the entire estate was bequeathed to his son Arthur, who at the very young age of 21 was appointed High Sheriff of Kerry, leading to a successful political career. It was during this time that the castle was expanded and the grounds landscaped further.
Arthur married the daughter of the Knight of Glin from the neighbouring county of Limerick and they had a daughter called Hilda who went on to become a nurse. During the First World War she was awarded the 1914 Mons Star, an honour usually given to male officers, however, Hilda was one of a few nurses to receive the medal for her work in France and Belgium.
Hilda, however, had not seen the last of the bloodshed and horror of war. In 1923, just two years after the Irish War of Independence and just one year after the death of Michael Collins, a quartermaster of the IRA issued an order for the death of Free State Army Lieutenant Paddy O’Connor.
On 6th March the unsuspecting Officer was decoyed to Knocknagoshel and a mine trap where he and five of his unit were killed outright. Outraged, the Free State took immediate retaliatory steps. IRA prisoners were being held at Ballymullen Barracks in Tralee, so shortly before dawn the following day, nine were removed and taken to Ballyseede Crossroads, close to the castle.
The road itself had been barricaded with rocks, tree trunks and explosives. The prisoners were bound, then forced to stand against the blockade, at which point the command to detonate was given. Not satisfied that all the prisoners were all dead (except one, unbeknownst to them), a further order was given and the mutilated men were subjected to machine gun fire in the shadows of Ballyseede Castle gates.
A cross stands at the gates in their memory and a bronze memorial known as the Ballyseede Monument stands further along the road in honour of Irish Republicanism.
Hilda herself died in 1965 and was buried next to her family members in nearby Ballyseede graveyard. In keeping with her persona, there is a simple cross marking her grave. Hilda was the last of the Blennerhassett bloodline and the estate was put up for auction. The single red rose that had kept Ballyseede Castle in the Blennerhassett family for almost four hundred years was no more.
The Castle was converted into a hotel, however, one particular member of the Blennerhassett family was checked in as a permanent ghost. Hilda has regularly been seen and indeed conversed with in the hotel, particularly in the Crosby room, which had been hers. Legend has it Hilda appears on 24th March each year.