Ghosts of Ireland: Spring Hill

Besides being the name of a treacherously boring town in Central Florida, Spring Hill is the name of a historic home in County Londonderry, Ireland. The house was built in the late 1600’s as a result of a marriage contract between William Conyngham and Ann Upton.  Her father had a clause written into the contract stating that her husband must build her a “convenient dwelling house of lime and stone, two stories high with the necessary office houses, gardens and orchards.” This is historic proof that fathers have for centuries been looking after the best interests of their daughters.

Spring Hill

The Conyngham family were originally from Scotland, but were given a land grant in 1611 during King James I’s reign. We shall not hold their non-Irish blood against them, after all, during the 400 years (2011 being the 400th anniversary of their immigration) I’m sure they had a wee bit of the Irish mixed into their veins.

The famous ghost of Spring Hill isn’t as ancient as the house, but is a good two hundred years more recent. During the Regency period, the owner of the house was Colonel George Lenox-Conyngham. The colonel served in the Irish Volunteers under Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh. According to legend, Conyngham received word that his children had been stricken with smallpox.  Beside himself with worry, the poor man waited day upon day to hear news of their health.  Finally in desperation, he abandoned his post to return home and see for himself how they fared.  On his way out he met Stewart, with whom he was good friends and who knew the condition of Conyngham’s children.  Conyngham felt that he could leave his post with impunity as Stewart was sure to understand, since he had been through a similar situation himself and Conyngham had supported him. When Conyngham arrived at Spring Hill he was overjoyed to find all of his children doing better, cared for by their mother Olivia.  Shortly after however, he received a double blow when Stewart turned him in for desertion and one of his daughters passed away.

In disgrace the colonel resigned his post and despite loving support from Olivia, sunk into a depression that sent him spiraling downward for the next two years. One night he brought a pistol back to his bedchamber and took his own life.  Olivia, somehow catching wind of his intentions, rushed desperately to him and was just beyond the bedroom door when he pulled the trigger. He suffered for two days before succumbing to his wounds. Olivia, heart broken recorded in the Conyngham family bible, “George Lenox-Conyngham being in a very melancholy state of mind for many months prior, put an end to his existence by pistol shot. He lingered from the 20th of November 1816 to the 22nd, and died, thanks to almighty God, a penitent Christian.”

Although it was George who experienced the sudden death that is often the precursor for a ghostly existence, it is Olivia who haunts Spring Hill.  And it seems, poor lady, she is reliving the moments prior to her husband’s suicide, when she was but seconds away from preventing such a tragedy. The Blue Room, where the suicide took place, is the most haunted in the manor.  Multiple family members and guests have seen her apparition standing at the door of the Blue Room, her hands raised in anguish. Others have seen her dashing to the doorway, only to throw her arms up with a heart rending look of hopelessness.

In the late 1800’s a house guest staying in the Blue Room awoke one night to witness the rushing and murmuring of a roomful of alarmed servants. Suddenly, from the wall behind the bed, a door opened and someone appeared and calmed the crowd. Silence once again descended and the bewildered guest fell back asleep, exhausted. In the morning she was disturbed and puzzled to find that there was no door on the wall behind the bed.  She recounted her experience to her hostess and she was advised that there was a door on the wall, but it had been papered over many years earlier.

Most sightings of Olivia occur in or around the Blue Room, but she is certainly not limited to that area.  She has been seen in numerous areas of the house, including the nursery, where in the 20th century, she was seen by a nursemaid standing over the children watching them closely, as if it ascertain that they were in good health.  Her anxiety dispelled, the apparition dissolved in front of the awestruck nanny.

The house stayed in the Lenox-Conyngham family until 1957 when its final owner, Captain William Lenox-Conyngham gifted the house, furnishings and all, to the National Trust. It is now open for tours.  If you would like more information on the home, please visit its page on the National Trust’s website: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-springhill.

I would like to thank Richard Jones for his excellent book Haunted Houses of Britain and Ireland, where I first heard of Spring Hill and its illustrious history and occupants.

Advertisements