Viscountess Massereene, the ghost expert

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Society beauty, Jean Barbara Ainsworth, the 12th Viscountess Massereene, claimed to be an expert in ghost lore, so it must have thrilled her, and fueled her imagination, when she moved into her husband’s family seat, Antrim Castle. Although the only remaining artifact from the castle is the Italian tower, the castle and its surrounding grounds has long been associated with stories of hauntings, gruesome endings, and mystical goings on. The most prominent ghost story was founded during her time as chatelaine of the castle.

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Viscountess Massereene, brought Antrim Castle to life with lively parties, mixing the aristocracy with artists and musicians. It was during a party, on the day of her son, John’s, 7th birthday in 1922, that Antrim Castle was set alight. Guests escaped by jumping from windows and stood on the lawn in their nightclothes. Diana and John, the Viscountess’s children, managed to hide in a stairwell until they were ushered to safety. Their pet cat’s fur caught alight and they watched it perish. A servant, Ethel Gillingham later died from smoke inhalation. It is said that Ethel Gillingham’s spirit haunts the castle grounds, and she is known by locals as ‘the white lady’.

The interior of the castle was completely destroyed with various heirlooms going up in smoke — it was the end of an era for the Skeffington family. Following the fire at their family home, the Skeffingtons took shelter at their hunting lodge on the deer park. The family then moved to private apartments created within a wing of the 10th Viscount’s coach house (Clotworthy House). The Viscount dreamt of restoring the castle, and in 1930 he commissioned Belfast architects to design plans. That same year a bitter blow fell upon the family when their only daughter, the Hon. Diana Skeffington, died of typhoid at the age of 21. The plans were scrapped, and the Viscount lost heart.

Below, is a newspaper clipping in which the Viscountess describes her experiences with ghosts.

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I wonder if her spiritual beliefs was a small consolation to her following the untimely death of her daughter? The Viscountess died relatively young in 1937. I have only just discovered that the Viscountess contributed to the 1919 supernatural novel, ‘Ghosts I have Seen’ by Violet Tweedale. You can read the book by clicking here.

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