BREDA Duggan from Ardfert, Co Kerry has been ghost hunting for over a decade.
“I’ve always been interested in the paranormal. When I was younger I used to love sitting around the fire listening to ghost stories. I think that sparked my interest initially. Then a group of us decided to visit haunted Ross Castle in County Meath. It’s famous for the ghost of a girl whose father was an English lord. It was a really exciting experience and I was hooked,” she says.
Duggan soon found like-minded people and established Ghost Hunt Ireland to accommodate the growing interest in ghost hunting in Munster.
“Right now we have seven full-time members, six are from Kerry one from Wicklow. We all come from a variety of backgrounds, from sales to carpentry to childcare but we are all passionate about the paranormal,” she says.
As more and more people embrace all that goes ‘bump in the night’, Tim Kelly, one of Ireland’s best-known ghost hunters, talks about his experiences in some of the nation’s ghostly haunts.
“ We’ve seen so much activity but one that really sticks to mind is the Grand Hotel in Wicklow town,” says the radio broadcaster who heads up the Dublin-based Irish Ghost Hunters. “They were having apparitions of a child. Staff at the hotel saw a child walking in the night but when they checked there were no children staying. The staff member who saw the child said it seemed 100 per cent real and there were a lot of reports of strange shadows. We set up our equipment, including the infrared cameras and sure enough, it showed a really clear shadow of a child,” he says.
Kelly warns ghost hunting is not child’s play and involves a lot of work and careful attention to detail.
“You have to do a lot of research on the places you investigate, it’s important to know the history of the place to get a feel of what might be ahead. We get invited to different places from B&Bs and hotels to jails and castles,” he says.
Television programmes such as Ghost Hunters are inspiring a new generation of Irish ghost hunters but Duggan and Kelly both agree it is a long process using high-tech detective equipment.
“The equipment can be costly but for most people start out with a basic €70 electromagnetic field meter. These fields operating all around us, if there is a change it will show up on a meter and it’s a cheap introduction. We use high tech broadcast and night vision equipment that produces broadcast quality images giving us the best pics available. When we go in to investigate, we set up a myriad of cameras, steam thermometers, we check the heat signatures, thermal images, heat sensors, EMF readers, moisture readers and high-quality voice recorders. It’s a huge amount of equipment but it’s essential to exhaust all possibilities,” Kelly says.
After a night of monitoring the huge amount of equipment necessary to be a top ghost hunter, Ireland’s paranormal investigators get down to the nitty gritty by sifting through hours of surveillance footage.
According to Duggan, this can be the most challenging part of being a supernatural sleuth.
“The research and surveillance is only part of it, then you have to observe hours of footage to see anything usual. Some places you go several times and you might find nothing. At another, you can see something straight away. It’s really down to the ghosts themselves,” she says.
Kelly agrees: “It can be really challenging work, but it’s worth it when you find something. The methods we use are scientific and evidence-based. We only report on our exact findings and it’s sometimes fruitless. It’s a tough job and there’s no magic or hocus pocus involved. We stick straight to the facts,”he says.
Kelly and Duggan have investigated countless haunted sites around the country. One popular site for ghoulish activity is Bel Air Hotel in Co Wicklow.
One of Ireland’s oldest hotels, it has apparently been visited by a number of ‘spirits’ since the Murphy family bought it 74 years ago.
Noni Law, whose grandparents bought the hotel in 1937 says these ghoulish guests have added much to the hotel’s character.
“You can sort of ‘feel’ the people who were here before and I know it sounds weird but it’s not creepy, it’s comforting,” she says.
Law, whose room as a child was a favourite for the paranormal residents, became used to the invisible guests.
“My room was was full of activity. Even though we always slept with the door locked, when you woke up the curtains would miraculously open themselves. Unexplained things always happened. Once when a friend stayed, she asked me why I was sitting on her bed, but I was in mine on the other side of the room!
“When I looked over we saw a shadow get up and disappear up the chimney. After that I always slept facing the wall,” she says.
According to Law, many of the human guests have met their spooky counterparts.
“Mainly people report seeing women, noises or little light orbs and sometimes a slight physical presence, like once I felt a hand on my hand. It’s common enough here,” she says.
After years of living with ghosts, Law decided to call in Kelly and his band of ghost hunters to investigate the hotel. According to Kelly, the experience was full of unexplained mysteries.
“We went on a night when there were no guests in the hotel to allow us to set up our equipment and carry out our investigations properly.
“You get a feel of a place when you’ve been doing this as long as we have and you become aware of good or bad energy.
“The energy in Bel Air is just fantastic. The first night when we were setting up we saw an arm moving out in front of the camera. It was totally bizarre and in keeping with some of the sightings people reported,” he says.
Law says the ghost hunters were a welcome addition to the hotel’s motley crew of guests.
“We were delighted to have the ghost hunters in. It was very strange — we have a big clock that hasn’t chimed in over 30 years and it randomly rang out while they were here,” she says.
For Law, growing up with the phantom guests has meant she feels right at home with the invisible guests.
“I’ve known these ghosts all my life. We worry more about the living than the dead in Bel Air,” she laughs.
Teeming with castles and old houses, Ireland is a ghost hunter’s dream and that, coupled with our love of ghostly lore has spurred on new ghost hunters throughout the country.
“ Ghost hunting is taking off here in a big way. I think it’s in our DNA,” says Kelly. “There are so many ghost hunting programmes on TV now, it’s really whetting people’s appetites.
“These teams are giving people an outlet for this curiosity,” she says.
“Ireland has a strong oral tradition of ghost stories and we’ve always been a very haunted country. It’s no surprise we’re embracing the supernatural with gusto.”