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The White Lady of Kinsale

It was a wedding that resulted in three funerals (the bride, the groom and the bride’s father) and all four events took place on the same day.  It was a tragedy worthy of Shakespeare.  And it is one of Ireland’s best-known ghost stories, the White Lady of Kinsale.

On the southern coast of County Cork, Ireland, lies Kinsale Harbor.  Kinsale Harbor was an important strategic location, the Siege of Kinsale having been the climactic battle of the Nine Years’ War between England and Ireland.  (James Fort, on the west coast of the harbor, was built in 1607 immediately after the war.)  While James Fort did its job admirably, continuing incursions into the harbor by Spanish and French fleets necessitated the construction of a new fort.

Charles Fort was built at the southern end of Summer Cove on the east coast of Kinsale Harbor.  It was built in 1682 on the site of an earlier stronghold, Ringcurran Castle, whose defenses featured prominently in the Siege of Kinsale.  Charles Fort was referred to as the new fort, with James Fort being the old fort.  Charles Fort was named after King Charles II and was designed by Sir William Robinson, Superintendent of Fortifications.

All the design elements of Charles Fort were created with an eye to repelling attacks from the harbor.  For example, Charles Fort was built as a star-shaped fort with walls up to six meters thick.  The layout was designed specifically to resist attack by cannon.  Additionally, an underwater chain could be stretched across the estuary from Charles Fort to James Fort to hole enemy ships.

Unfortunately, this focus on the seaward side of the fort led to some costly errors on the landward side.  Namely, the landward bastions of the fort are actually overlooked by higher ground.  This tactical error was useful to the Irish during the Williamite War in Ireland, when the fort was besieged in 1690. 

Charles Fort remained a working 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.  Today Charles Fort is one of the best remaining examples of a star-shaped fort in all of Europe.  And it was declared an Irish National Monument in 1973 for its part in Irish history.

But 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.  On the evening of their wedding, Wilful and Sir Trevor were walking along the grounds at Charles Fort.  Wilful commented on some beautiful flowers at the base of a battlement.  Sir Trevor took note of this and prepared to climb down to get the flowers for her.  A sentry on duty volunteered to climb down for him.  Sir Trevor agreed and, not wanting to leave the sentry’s post unattended, took the man’s place.  The sentry was gone for more than an hour, much longer than Sir Trevor expected be covering the man’s post.  Eventually, Sir Trevor fell asleep – he was exhausted from the day’s wedding festivities.

Wilful’s father came along on his nightly inspection shortly thereafter and saw a sentry leaning against the wall.  Governor Warrender was a strict commander with a reputation for sternly enforcing the severe military code of the day.  Upon seeing the listing sentry, Warrender called out a challenge, which went unanswered.  Determining that the sentry was asleep on duty, Warrender immediately shot him through the heart.  He only realized afterwards he had shot his son-in-law. 

On learning of her husband’s death, the 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, so that she can ensure the same terrible fate does not befall them.

There have been numerous sightings of the White Lady at Charles Fort.  Wilful’s ghost is usually described as a beautiful soul, sad but kind.  For example, one local claims that he went for a run one night out near Charles Fort.  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 and interlock fingers with him.  Additionally, the nursemaid of a soldier living in the barracks claimed to have seen the White Lady standing over the bed of a sleeping child.  The child of a sergeant asked her father who was the white lady smiling down at them. 

However, the White Lady is not always a kind and gentle spirit.  Many soldiers who served at the fort, mainly captains, told tales of being pushed down stairs by an unseen force.  They also saw a ghostly lady walking through locked doors.  The stories began shortly after Wilful’s death and continued until the fort’s abandonment in 1921.

The White Lady also wanders the streets of Kinsale, where she used to live.  There is a hotel called “The White Lady” where Wilful’s ghost allegedly appears every few weeks.  One proprietor of the hotel claims to have seen Wilful himself on New Year’s Eve in the kitchen, making toast.

And some of the locals believe they have also 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 usually appears as a grief-stricken man, uncontrollably sobbing.

If you want to visit Kinsale Harbor and see if you can encounter the notorious Lady in White, considering booking an Ireland vacation with your friends at Authentic Vacations. We work with all budgets in creating a customized itinerary rich with activity on par with what the locals do.