Romantic Tryst at the Dark Hedges

Bregagh Road, Ballymoney: tall dark grey beech trees both sides of a long county road
I went to the Dark Hedges near Armoy at the weekend, and in the course of updating my photographs, tuned in and met the spirit of the lady who visits (haunts) this place. Many people assume that a haunting is because the spirit person is unhappy – not this lady!  (More of that story later). The so called ‘Dark Hedges’ are actually are a row of very beautiful and ancient beech trees that line the northern section of the Bregagh Road. This very striking avenue of beech trees was planted by the Stuart family in the eighteenth century.  This road is one of the most photographed locations in Northern Ireland. It has a haunting and mystical air about it, and a feeling of stillness is there, even when other people are around. The trees and branches form delightful shapes above your head, and intertwine to form a tunnel that is spectacular at any time of the day.  It is particularly intriguing and mysterious at dusk, and this is the time a figure known as the ‘Grey Lady’ appears at dusk among the trees. She silently glides along the roadside and disappears as she passes the last beech tree.

I was intrigued by the story of this spirit, for other than her presence, very little is recorded about her.  Almost as soon as I got out of the car, she walked up to me and began to tell me her story, I will call her ‘Sarah’.  Sarah lived near here at the turn of the last century.  The daughter of a poor family and without much by way of skills or education, she eked out a living in domestic service. At the age of nineteen, Sarah was very attractive, slim build with long dark wavy hair usually tied back in a bun. She liked to get out in the fresh air as much as possible, and it was during one of her walks she met the man who was to become her first love. Robert was slightly older than her.  She says she was very shy, but they hit it off immediately and enjoyed each others company. However, there was a bit of a hitch.  They were from different sides of the religious divide, and in these parts, it was something that was not encouraged, in some cases, downright forbidden.  And moreover, whilst Sarah was from a poor family, Roberts family were comparatively well off, he had the benefit of an education, and his family expected great things of him. The very thought of him associating with a poor Catholic girl would have been frowned on.  Her family would equally have been horrified at the idea of her associating with someone that was “not one of their own”

But the friendship blossomed into love, and the pair met in secret, every evening they could, on the road known as the Dark Hedges.  This was their time together, away from the cultural barriers of their families, and the prejudices of their respective communities. Here they could be themselves, and it was here, among the quiet of the trees, and hidden away from prying eyes, they could spend time together. It was a first, and innocent love; they were courting. Both of them knew that this was not going to be permanent; both somehow knew that for one summer only they could be together and enjoy each others company. And so it was. Like all first loves, they eventually moved on, Sarah married someone else, and in time, emigrated with her family to seek and a life in the New World.  Robert also married, she heard that he fought in the First War, and died at the Somme.

So why does Sarah come here?  After emigrating, she didn’t see the Dark Hedges for the rest of her earthly life, though she treasured the memory of the place.  A first love is also very special too. So, she likes to revisit a place that holds so many happy memories for her.  A place where, for a little while at least, love could transcend cultural and religious barriers.  A place where there were so many happy memories for her.

Not all spirits ‘haunt’ a place for negative reasons.  Many like to return to favourite places, to ‘check in’ to see what is happening, and who visits there.  Sarah, a beautiful spirit, is one of these.

Directions: Bregagh Road, Ballymoney, BT53 8TP

Grid Reference: NW 20887 91002  Lat: 55.134488    Long: -6.3808250