Ireland’s best-known ghost story is about the “White Lady of Kinsale.” The tragic tale is worthy of Shakespeare. It involves a wedding and three funerals—all took place on the same day. The bride, the groom, and the bride’s father were those who departed. Read on for the location and legend of the lady.
Kinsale Harbor and Charles Fort
Kinsale Harbor is on the southern coast of County Cork. It was an important strategic location, the Siege of Kinsale having been the climactic battle of the Nine Years’ War between England and Ireland. Charles Fort was built on the east coast of Kinsale Harbor in 1682 on the site of an earlier stronghold, Ringcurran Castle. Designed by Sir William Robinson, the fort was named after King Charles II.
Every aspect of the fort was made to repel attacks from the harbor. It was star-shaped with walls up to 18-feet thick to resist cannon fire. Additionally, an underwater chain could be stretched across the estuary from Charles Fort to James Fort to puncture enemy ships. Charles Fort was a British barracks until it was surrendered to the Irish, following the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921. The fort was burned by retreating forces and fell out of use.
Ghost-in-Residence, the White Lady
Today Charles Fort is one of the best remaining examples of a star-shaped fort in Europe—it was declared an Irish National Monument in 1973 due to its part in Irish history. Even more than its military history, Charles Fort is known for its resident ghost, the White Lady.
The legend of the White Lady is the tale of Wilful Warrender, daughter of the commander of Charles Fort, Governor Warrender. She fell in love with an officer named Sir Trevor Ashurst, and soon they married. After their wedding, Wilful and Sir Trevor were walking the grounds of the fort.
Wilful saw beautiful flowers at the base of a battlement, and Sir Trevor decided climb down to get some for her. Then, an on-duty sentry volunteered for the job. Sir Trevor took the man’s place as guard, and he waited. Sit Trevor fell asleep when the sentry didn’t return.
Shot Through the Heart
Wilful’s father went on his nightly inspection and saw a sentry leaning against the wall. Governor Warrender had a reputation for enforcing a severe military code. When he saw the slumped sentry, Warrender called out a challenge. It went unanswered. Determining that the sentry was asleep on duty, Warrender shot him through the heart. He only realized afterwards that he had shot his son-in-law.
Grief-stricken, Wilful jumped from one of the ramparts, throwing herself into the icy waters below. Wilful’s ghost is called the White Lady because she wanders the fort in her wedding dress. Reputedly, she is looking for any sleeping sentries, wanting to awake them.
Sightings of the Lady
Wilful’s ghost is usually described as a beautiful soul, sad but kind. One local claims that he went for a run near Charles Fort one night. At one point, he stopped to retie his shoe. He put his hand on the fort wall for balance and felt another hand reach out from the wall to help him. In another instance, a nursemaid saw the White Lady standing over the bed of a sleeping child. Again, a sergeant’s child asked her father who the white lady smiling down at them was.
The White Lady is not always a gentle spirit. Many soldiers who served at the fort, mainly captains, report being pushed down the stairs by an unseen force. They also saw a ghostly woman walking through locked doors. The stories began shortly after Wilful’s death.
The Streets of Kinsale
The White Lady also wanders the streets of Kinsale, where she once lived. There is a hotel called “The White Lady” and Wilful’s ghost appears there every few weeks. One proprietor of the hotel claims to have seen Wilful on New Year’s Eve in the kitchen, making toast.
Some locals believe they’ve seen the ghost of Wilful’s father, Governor Warrender. After killing his son-in-law and losing his daughter, Governor Warrender, in despair, shot himself that same night. His ghost appears as a grief-stricken man, sobbing uncontrollably.