Beautiful Ballygally and Ballintoy, County Antrim

Updated On: March 07, 2023

Ballintoy Harbour, Northern Ireland

Beautiful Ballygally and Ballintoy, County Antrim are lovely little finds that we wanted to share with you, from Ballygally castle to Ballintoy harbour where the highly popular Game of Thrones has been filmed here. County Antrim is full of beautiful things and this is just two of them.

Also, check out our 360 Degree video experience of Ballintoy Harbour.

Have you seen the beauty of Northern Ireland? It is too magnificent to ever miss out on it. The country is laden with vast areas of green fields, forests, beautiful mountains, and uneven coastlines. With such views, you can easily immerse yourself in the world of George RR Martins; this time it’s physically. Visit the country and pass by Ballygally Castle in Antrim County where it all took place. No wonder the city has rapidly become among the highly visited destinations, thanks to the fans of the Game of Thrones. Among all the locations where GoT took place, the town of Ballintoy is included. Apparently, there is a lot in Northern Ireland that you wouldn’t want to miss. Keep on reading to learn about the perfect destinations to head to.

About the Town of Ballintoy

Ballintoy is a small village, townland, made over around 275 acres; it is also a civil neighbourhood in County Antrim. Just one kilometre away from the town lies Ballintoy Harbour. This harbour is quite small that people use for fishing. It lies at the narrow end of a steep road after Knocksaughey hill. The road passes by the entrance to Larrybane and Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge.

Every year, the harbour hosts a dawn service for celebrating Easter. Despite the beauty of the village, it hasn’t witnessed much development for so long. In fact, the population kept declining through the early 2000’s.  Formerly, the Irish first built this village around just a single street that separated the strip fields from the inland pastures. Those strip fields actually run all the way through the sea.

Currently, the village has become a touristic destination. It possesses several facilities that are both social and commercial. The facilities include restaurants, small shops around, and tourist accommodation as well. Besides, there are two significant churches that sit around the village. The most significant one is the distinctive white Ballintoy Parish Church. It exists right above the harbour and sits over a hill.

The Etymology of the Name

Ballintoy is actually the modern version of the Old Irish word Baile an Tuaigh. A lot of Irish words changed into simpler forms. Anyhow, the literal meaning of Baile an Tuaigh is the Northern Townland. Apparently, that is where the name comes from; it wasn’t a coincidence.

The Story of Ballygally Castle

In the village of Ballygally lies the beautiful Ballygally Castle in County Antrim. It is more than just a magnificent-looking castle. There is an amazing story behind that castle. It lies around three miles away from Larne and overlooks the sea just at the head of Ballygally Bay. It has been around since the 17th century and probably the only surviving building since then in Northern Ireland. Well, there are other buildings that date back to that era; however, not all of them are used for residential purposes.

Right now, the castle serves as a hotel that attracts people from all over the world. Its popularity has significantly increased in the past few years as it’s the location of filming GoT. Definitely, all the fans would love to see by themselves the place where their favourite show took place. This must be a thrilling fact for all GoT fans; however, being popular for housing ghosts isn’t quite as fun. The castle is actually deemed to be the most reputed haunted place around the county.

History of the Ballygally Castle

Back in 1625, James Shaw of Scotland had decided to build up this castle. He arrived in the area and paid around 24 Euro/per year for the Earl of Antrim to rent the land. As soon as you enter the door of the castle and work towards the tower, there’s an apparent inscription. The inscription belongs to the Middle Scots and it reads “Godis Providence is my Inheritance.”

Moreover, the Shaw family owned the castle for very long years. However, William Shaw sold it as soon as he got his hands on it. During the 50’s, Cyril Lord – who was a carpet tycoon- bought the castle. He renovated and extended it, making it look different from how it originally did. Currently, the Hastings Hotel Group is the one who owns and runs it.

It is amazing how this castle is actually the only residential building from the 17th century to have survived. Not only to become the filming location of the world’s popular show but also because it went through a lot. Attacks had come to destroy the castle for more than a few times throughout the rebellion period, starting from 1641. The Irish garrison at Glenarm were the ones behind the brutal attack. However, the castle managed to survive through each assault and become a prominent tourist destination.

A House for Ghosts

That is what legends always claim about the Ballygally Castle; it is home to ghosts. People believe that ghosts resided in the castles for years. They say that those ghosts belonged to people who used to reside previously. However, there is a female ghost that people claim to be the most active of all of them. That ghost belonged to Lady Isabelle Shaw, from the great Shaw family. According to the spread stories, this female ghost has the habit of roaming around to knock the doors and then vanish.

Some sources claim that Lady Isabelle’s ghost is still around due to the gruesome death she had. Lady Isabelle’s husband is said to have locked her into her room, letting her starve to death. In despair of what she was through, she threw herself out of the window only to fall to her death.

However, it seems that this is not the only ghost that roams around the hotel. Madame Nixon is another one; she used to live in the 19th century. People claim that she walks around the hotel in her silk dress and that they can hear when she’s coming. There is even a small room in the castle that lies in the corner steeple that is always empty. It is called The Ghost Room and no one ever dare to reside in it while in the hotel.

Are the Ghosts Real?

Hearing about such supernatural things, like ghosts and zombies, is usually destined to be joked about. It is hard to believe that those things that we see on the big screen are actually true, right? What if the movie starts with “Based on a true story”? Well, that would make the story even scarier, but doesn’t necessarily mean that people believed it. However, Olga Henry, the former manager of the hotel, narrated some stories that made people question their beliefs around ghosts. He also claimed that believing in ghosts was never his thing, but something was off about the hotel anyway.

Stories Narrated by Olga Henry about Actual Ghosts in the Hotel

In 2003, Henry claimed that one of his guests had a ghostly experience. That guest resided in the tower that lies just beneath The Ghost Room. He woke up in the middle of the night and believed he was home. He believed that as he actually felt one of his children laid a hand on his back. However, he realized that he was in the hotel room upon waking up. Still, he heard a child running and laughing, but saw no one; he had to flee his room in terror.

Later in 2003, Henry set up a new room in the tower, known as the Dungeon Room. He ordered for a table to be neatly prepared as he was expecting guests. The room was locked after being fully prepared. However, when he came back to check it out, things were a bit different. The table was so far being neat; the napkins were unfolded, and filthy glasses were circled over the table. Who could possibly have done that after he ordered it to be neat and spotless?

Places to Visit While in Ballygally Castle

Aside from the ghosts’ stories, Ballygally castle should be on the list of your to-go. The castle lies on the Causeway Coastal Route and overlooks the Irish Sea. That, in itself, is a good enough reason to go and enjoy an eccentric scenery. However, there are a lot of stunning places to explore while being there.

The good part is that you get to explore the place on foot as well. Some tourist attractions lie within a walking distance. Besides, you can enjoy a light stroll on the beach just across the hotel and enjoy the picturesque scenes.

Old Bushmills Distillery

It is one of the most prominent distilleries in Bushmills, County Antrim. Apparently, this distillery is the one behind the Bushmills brand that sells fine whiskey. Moreover, the water used in the production actually comes from Saint Columb’s Rill. It became a tourist attraction thanks to the fine whiskey it produces. People love knowing all about their favourite drinks, so they go and see for themselves.

Founded in 1608, the building used to serve different purposes. It became a distillery only in 1784, when a company bought it and built it that way. However, all the Bushmills brand labels read 1608 as the original date. But, it only refers to the date when the building first appeared. The distillery closed down for long years, but it was open for once again after 1885. That date refers to the fire that took place in the building. Thankfully, it still survived and has been operating ever since.

Carrickfergus Castle

If you’re staying in Ballygally Hotel, you should definitely pay Carrickfergus Castle a visit. It’s a Norman Irish castle and one of the most significant in Northern Ireland and in County Antrim, in particular. The castle’s name comes from the Irish version cairn of Fergus or Carraig Ḟergus; Fergus literally means Strong Man. Probably, the reason behind its name was the fact that it played a significant military role for long years.

Besides, it is among the structures that has been sturdily surviving since the medieval era. Currently, the waters that used to surround the castle is definitely much less. Before land reclamation, water surrounded most parts of the castle.

John de Courcy was the builder of the castle; he built it back in 1177 as his headquarters. He actually defeated Eastern Ulster back in 1177, the year he built the castle. Afterwards, he became the ruler for almost three decades. In 1204, Hugh de Lacy, another Norman adventurer, was capable to exile John de Courcy.

Whitepark Bay

You should never miss out on such an eye-pleasing site as Whitepark Bay is. If you resided in Ballygally Castle, you will definitely hear about it. It is nearby and most of the residents pass by there for a magnificent experience. The amazing bay features a vast area of golden sands that stretch along the coast of North Antrim. It sits right on the Causeway Coastal route and is about an hour and a half away from the hotel. The sandy beach is not only a tourist attraction but also the locals happen to adore it as much.

Above and beyond, the location plays a great role in making Whitepark Bay as popular as it is. The place is quiet and relaxing, even on busy days, there is room for everyone to enjoy the tranquillity. If you are so much into strolling around sandy beaches and exploring the shoreline, you must go there.

A Game of Thrones Tour Around Ballygally Castle

We have already mentioned it before, but doing so over and over is quite entertaining. The cast of Game of Thrones has stayed in this hotel for days to film the show. A lot of scenes took place within the castle itself. However, there are other locations around where scenes were filmed. Check out the top locations where the thrilling scenes of our favourite show came to pass.

Audley’s Field and Castle in County Down

Apparently, Northern Ireland seems to possess more than a few castles. And, they are all equally magnificent. Around 1210, a Norman family arrived in Northern Ireland and resided there. After them, the Audley’s Castle got its name. Near Audley’s Castle lies another one known as Castle Ward; it is just five minutes away from one another.

The Audley’s Castle made an appearance in Game of Thrones when Robb Stark hid his own army. He used this fortification to keep his army away while preparing them to face the Lannisters. Beside the Castle, there is also Audley’s field. Remember the battle of Oxcross? It took place in that field right beside the castle. On the same field, Talisa and Robb met, eventually the notorious Red Wedding happened.

Ballintoy Harbour

We have already mentioned the beauty of Ballintoy Village and its significant role in the famous TV show. The village lies on the coast of County Antrim and possesses a harbour where many scenes took place. Down Knocksaughey hill and at the end of a steep road, you can find the small harbour. It made an appearance exactly in season two of Game of Throne. That was when Theon Greyjoy returned to his home at Lordsport Harbour. Yes, it was exactly that place if you still remember that season. The harbour is just 75 minutes drive from Ballygally Castle, so you should not miss it.

Binevenagh in County Londonderry

Binevenagh contains many steep cliffs and a plateau. Those cliffs extend for a quite long distance – around six miles- and pass by the villages of Bellarena. They also dominate the skyline over Castlerock, Benone Beach, and Downhill. Besides, they reach the peninsula of Magilligan.

This location appeared in the show in season five, known as the Dothraki Grasslands. It is the place where Drogon rescued Daenerys Targaryen when she was running away from the Sons of the Harpy in the Meereen Battle.

Carnlough in County Antrim

Carnlough is another scenic harbour located in County Antrim. It is only 15 minutes away from Ballygally Castle; you can drive there in no time. The harbour contains a stony staircase that goes down and leads to the sea. This location appeared in season six. You can see it in that scene when the Troublesome Waif stabbed Ayra. She had to crawl up while drowning in her wound. In fact, she was climbing up those staircases made of stone in that scene.

Castle Ward in County Down

Castle Ward sits close to Audley’s Castle; it overlooks Strangford Lough. Since the 16th century, the castle has been home to the Ward family, apparently, hence the name. Around the castle, there are gardens and woodland that are about 820 acres. Walls surround them and the place is open to the public all through the year. The castle appeared in the very first season of the Game of Thrones. It served as Winterfell- which was the home of the House Stark.

Cushendun Caves in County Londonderry

Between the Glendun and Glencorp valleys stands the village of Cushendon Cave. It sits on an elevated beach at the edge of the River Dun. You can walk from the village and all along the coast to reach the caves there. They are so easy to recognise.

Those caves made an appearance in Game of Thrones in season two; they served as a cove in the Stormlands. One of the most memorable scenes of the show was that when Melisandre gave birth to the shadow creature. It took place inside the Cushendon cave. You can drive to that cave from Ballygally Castle in just 45 minutes. There is also a nearby bar that serves people and provides them with food and drinks.

Dark Hedges in Stranocum in County Antrim

Driving for an hour away from Ballygally Castle can get you to the Dark Hedges. The place is popular for taking the best photos all around Northern Ireland. Dark Hedges is an avenue that houses a lot of beautiful trees. Back in the 18th century, the Stuart family planted those trees in an attempt to capture the people’s attention. In Game of Thrones, Season Two, the site served as the Kingsroad. It was that place when Arya Stark travelled in a cart with Hot Pie, Gendry, and Yoren. That was back when they were the new recruits of the Night’s Watch.

Downhill Beach in County Londonderry

Another charming beach to walk by while in Northern Ireland. Alongside the Downhill Beach lies a vast area of sand. There are more than a few activities there; they include scenic walks and water sports. The beach is 80-minute-drive away from Ballygally Castle. This eye-pleasing beach appeared in season two of Game of Thrones. The scene that took place there was when Stannis Baratheon rejected the Seven Gods of Westeros. He also allowed Melisandre to burn the status of those gods and offer them as a sacrifice to the Lord of Light.

Have you ever visited Ballygally or Ballintoy? We would love to hear any experiences you may have!

Also, don’t forget to check out other places and attractions around Northern Ireland: Amazing Game of Thrones Tapestry| Game of Thrones Filming Locations in Northern Ireland|The Glens of Antrim| Belfast Peace Walls| Best Tourist Attractions in Northern Ireland|

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