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Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Ram's Island

It has been a dream of mine to visit Ram's Island, a small island in the middle of Lough Neagh. For years it was almost impossible to reach, unless one had a boat, and even then the island had become overgrown and neglected. In recent times, Michael Savage has been at the helm of a conservation project and along with a band of volunteers and charity funding he has lovingly restored the island to its former glory.

We set sail on Saturday 9 September on Island Warrior, the ferryboat used to take visitors and volunteers to the island. The weather was dreadful, but it was a smooth crossing. When we arrived Michael invited the group into a renovated barge, which now serves as a clubhouse, for tea and coffee. The island is around one mile long and one mile wide, and so it is very walkable. It belonged to the O'Neill family, and in the 19th century it served as their summer retreat. As I said before, it is a woodland, and as such it is well sheltered from the elements. A lot of the ancient trees were vandalised by American soldiers during WW2, and you can still see their carvings in the bark (they were stationed at Langford Lodge in Crumlin). Although I was attracted by the wildlife and nature aspect, I was excited to visit the ruins of the O'Neill summer house and the remains of a round tower, dating back to an ancient monastery settlement.

We'll definitely be back!

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Cairndhu House

Our visit to Cairndhu House consisted of two trips, which you can see from the photographs below. A lot of stories surround the house itself, ranging from 'the most haunted house in Northern Ireland' to the actual purpose of the building - Victorian country house, WW2 base, asylum - only two of which are true. While I've heard it was an asylum, I believe this has been embellished throughout the years - it was a convalescent hospital from the 1950s until its closure in 1986. Of course its main purpose, when built in 1875, was to serve a country house for a rich textile industrialist, a Scotsman named Mr Stewart Clark. I don't believe Stewart Clark actually commissioned the main building of the house (as you can see from the photos it is fashioned in a semi-circle) but he certainly added to the building in the late 1800s, adding several blocks to the back of the house. Locals will be interested to know that his daughter, Edith, married Sir Thomas Dixon, and she and her husband became the latter day owners of the house. Lady Dixon gifted the property to Larne council in the 1940s. Today the house is a shell of its former glory, and although the exterior is still intact, the interiors have been ransacked by vandals and looters.

On our first visit the atmosphere was very spooky. I, personally, did not know what to expect, having heard the old story of an abandoned asylum. The house itself surprised me, as I have not seen a structure like it in Northern Ireland. It is typically Victorian without any Edwardian touches (despite having been added to in that era). A porch wraps around the front, its metal work a nod to the Gothic design so popular in that era, along with oriental touches. It looks like an American mansion, which is probably why it was used in Ridley Scott's horror film, Morgan. The security gates have been opened, and so it was easy to approach the building. We heard voices (Cairndhu Golf Club is next door) and were astonished to see a group of young people walking around the corner, dressed as skeletons. I should add that Cairndhu House attracts a lot of people, from curious explorers to individuals interested in the dark arts (as the graffiti outside and inside can attest) so please do not visit or enter inside on your own!

To enter the house we walked around the corner and discovered two windows which had been opened - the others are either boarded up with wood or bricks. The windows are very high, despite being ground floor, but there were shutters and other things underneath for us to stand on. At first we climbed through the second window, which leads to the back of the house, as that was easier to negotiate. If you are too scared to go inside, you can easily look through the window and see a few rooms. Most of the interiors have been stolen or torn apart. The back of the building was the hospital wing, and a former servants quarters, and so the walls and floors are clinical. The led on the roof has been stolen, so water dripsonto the floor and the noise is disgusting, along with ferns growing out of the walls. It is very dark in this part, so do bring a torch. On our first visit we did not venture very far. We climbed out and walked around the grounds, and could hear a brass band from the neighbouring Carnfunnock Country Park playing Edwardian tunes. This added to the spooky atmosphere. We spent a lot of time exploring the grounds, which are very overgrown, sitting on the porch looking out to sea (you can see Scotland) and then staring at the opened windows upstairs, thinking every smudge and flicker of light was a ghost! We then plucked up the courage to enter through the first window, leading to the front of the house. The room which we climbed into has fake blood splattered on the walls and some menacing writing underneath the sill. This room was light but as we walked through the hallway it became very dark and we decided to leave.

Part of the spooky atmosphere came from not knowing what to expect. It can be very disorienting and so I advise you to research the layout before going inside. We did a bit of investigating and decided to return.

On our second visit we had much more success. We brought a torch and dressed appropriately (remember, the floor is wet, there is glass everywhere, litter etc). We decided to enter through the first window and explore the front of the house, and I am glad we did. It is dark for a moment, but once inside the great hall it becomes light, thanks to the ledless roof! Some side rooms are pitch black, because the windows are bricked up. There is a phonebox, and some reading material, along with abandoned baths.The main staircase no longer exists, but there is a small wooden staircase close to the front window, so we went back and climbed up it. Please be careful when doing this, there are pieces of wood missing and no banister, so we stayed close to the wall. Parts of the landing has floorboards missing and the floor is also damp, so again that is a hazard. We explored some of the bedrooms and were surprised to see some of the original wallpaper still intact. The third floor is very dangerous, so I don't advise you walk on those floorboards. There are massive holes in the floor and the drop is very high. We left the front of the house and went into the second window to explore the hospital wing. This part has a sinister feel, there are occult symbols on the walls and the rooms are very dark. There are wooden stairs, some in better shape than others, and we walked up as many as we could, leading to the attic bedrooms which would have been servants' bedrooms.

On this second trip we also found the stables and a way to get inside. You must walk around the side (closest to the golf club) and fight through various brambles and bushes before seeing an opened window. The stables are quite interesting, but again they have been looted.

As for the overall feeling of the house. I don't think it is haunted, and we never felt scared on our second visit because we knew our way around. It definitely has an energy about it and I feel very drawn to the place. We will be returning closer to Halloween, which should be fun! Like I said, the house itself is fine, it is the people it attracts.