BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

16 October 2014
your place and mine
Your Place & Mine Radio Ulster Website

BBC Homepage
BBC Northern Ireland
greater Belfast
contact ypam
about ypam

print versionprint version

Contact Us

Ballycastle's Black Nun

Talk to a Ballycastle person about the history of the area and one of the first people they mention is Julia McQuillan.
Article written by Brian Willis.

County Antrim
return to article


Kerri O'Kane - July '08
My family and I have just returned from Ballycastle (June 2008). Locals we met at the gravesite suggested we walk around the black nun's grave 7 times clockwise and 7 times counterclockwise and then place a hand through the hole in order to summon the ghost of the black nun. I just couldn't resist trying but I'm sorry to report that while I was totally creeped out we did not summon the ghost of the black nun. Have you every heard of this?

Conor - March '08
To be sure, to be sure! All you have to do is visit Bonamargy and Julia will talk to you, and if you wish she will bring a little bit of fear with her, but this is only to be expected as she has been dead for hundreds of years!But she is there and will leave you feeling content and at peace with yourself. When you visit just say 'Hello Julia' when you enter and let her know you are praying for her and all the souls there and she will look after you. Sometimes she may even make you a vision. Good luck and enjoy!

Stephen Lahey - Feb '08
My wife, Professor Julia McQuillan of the Sociology Dept at the University of Nebraska, is understandably interested in visiting, perhaps this summer of 2008. she married me, an Episcopal priest who, before going grey, had red hair. Maybe that helps with the prophecy?

christopher p mc caughan - Feb '08

I have had many reports of is a beautiful place and people have the feeling of being watched but it is a kind feeling.yes julia had second sight....a red haired priest was drowned at the panns rocks...ballycastle is becoming a major harbour port as she the end of the world the trees on the quay road would meet russians would arrive on our beach...knocklade old volcano would erupt the streets would run red with blood...a silk dress would lay on the green with no one to touch it.....people from ballycastle have a great respect for our julia she was one of us who was very holy but had this ability which may have caused her pain....but she now rests in peace.

Rebecca McQuillan - Dec '07
Hello there, my name is Rebecca Mcquillan, I may be able to shed futher light regarding the black nun prophesies. Julia Mcquillan predicted that a red haired priest would come from far away to say mass in the church at Murlock and would drown the following day at a place called the Devils churn (Pan's rock) near Ballycastle. 20th century, red haired Father James McCann, drowned whilst swimming off Pan's rock after saying mass at Murlock.
Other revalations about the future included "The time would come when we would'nt know the difference between winter and summer except for the leaves on the trees, others were similar to the Nostradamus 'Yellow race" prophesies.
The strange grave is said to have pointed to a 'treasure/map' when the sun shone through the opposite window and through the centre hole of the headstone, sound's very much like Indianna Jones stuff, but I think there is a secret to be found and that might be that the Black Nun secretly worshipped a sun god and was therefore skilled in the arts of divinatory, seems more likley, but who knows? Other odd facts about that church are, there is a grave stone with the Skull and Bones and a grave of a man who lived to 127yrs old.
The Mcquillan clan of Ireland have a very colourfull history, there are story's that would inspire the greatest of writers. The death of Fin Mcquillan and Laura Macdonalld is akin to Romeo and Juliet. The murder and betrayll of the whole of the Mcquillan bloodline expect a few and one Rory Org Mcquillan, is fasinating, to learn that most of my ancestors were wipped out in one single attack at a picnic, 'Each person that sat left of a Mcquillan was to stab them in the heart!'
The Mcquillans built and resided in other Castles in Ireland, most notably Dunluce castle Co.Antrim (which appears on Led Zepplin album cover Houses of the Holy). Towers at Dunluce were built by the Mcquillans and if your still looking for spooky ancestors we have one there too! Mave Rowe some say a Banshee waiting and preparing for the day when the Mcquillan's return. The Mcquillan's were also the 'Lords of the Route' before the massacre were no woman and child or livestock were left alive. The name Mcquillan is Irish in origin but not an Irish name, it was translated/changed from Huglin de' Mandeville who was from Royal Norman blood early 12th century. Although of foreign birth they went down in history "As Irish as the best and worst of them" and were welcomed and firm friends of the O' Neill clan.
I hope you find this interesting.
Rebecca Mcquillan.

Tiarna - Apr '07
As a child i many a time walked in the passages with my parents and many a time heard strange noises and footsteps perhaps Julia Mc Quillan is haunting Bonamargy!!!!!!!!!!

Nollaig 4 - Feb '07
A red haired cleric (Don't know what this is about- any ideas?)

The red haired cleric would drown at the Devil's Churn. The Devils Churn is situated at the Pans Rocks a local fishing spot on the strand beach

This turned out to be true as a red haired priest did drown at the churn his name escapes me at the moment this is not local folk lore but fact
This has been passed down to most locals through stories also when the wild geese fly over knocklayde and not around it as they do it would be the start of a great war that will end the world hope this helps

Reece Robinson - Feb '07
Is there a black nun in the bushmills area because i was in bushmills education centre with my class and a few people saw someone or something that fits the description of a nun they say it was a ghostly figure in black nun robes with a ghostly white face, she seems to have lost something it was also spotted another time with an accomplice

Connie Horner - Sep '06
Hello, I found this article very interesting as I am a media student and I was thinking of doing a documentary on this and at the minute i'm just researching. There is lots of information on this topic and i've known the place for years as i'm from the just outside Ballycastle area. I'm trying to find out a bit about the myths and where they arrived from, and the article was very handy. This documentary is a big part of my course. Thanks very much. It came in very handy.

Kimberley - July '06
People say that the black nun haunted Brea Street school in Kensington-Liverpool. Is it true and if yes how come?

Fiona - July '06
This was a very interesting article and I hope to find out more about 'The Black Nun'. I enjoy reading articles about people that lived in Northern Ireland long before me and I especially enjoyed the ghostly ending. After reading your article I have decided to go and visit Bonamargy Friary but I'll have to be careful I don't get hit by any falling rocks!

Joe - July '06
Cathy, after reading your comments about the "yellow race" ruling the world they may not rule the world in theory but certainly contribute to everyone's everyday life!!! They make our cars, tv's, household appliances, even chinese / indian cuisine is more popular than ever.
So from this you could say they DO rule the world!

Also, does anyone know of a programme on Living TV called 'MOST HAUNTED', were they visit haunted locations in UK and Ireland and conduct overnight vigils for supernatural activity. I reckon it would be a fantastic experience to get those guys to visit Bonamargy to make one of their programme's, just to see if they encounter anything!
Does anyone know how you would go about contacting them?

Cathy O'Hara - July '06
My parents came from Glendun and I often heard them mention Julia McQuillan. The prophesy I heard most often is not mentioned in your article but perhaps someone else has heard of it - 'The time would come when we wouldn't know the difference between winter and summer except for the leaves on the trees'. I have also heard the one about the "yellow race" eventually ruling the world and wonder as I have just heard on the news of the opening of the border between India and China who between them are set to be the most powerful economies in the world. Makes you wonder!

Ange - Feb '06
My late Mother grew up in the area and I have heard all these prophecies . She is also supposed to have said that the swathy race would rule the world! This has over the years (I am 41) confused me but makes more sense now we have probs with Iraq and Muslims over the world trying to impose their view and religion on us. Makes you think?

Michael Hamill
- Feb '06
No one killed her, she slipped on the seventh stone on the stairwell in bonamargy, and died on the fall. There was another story about a rock came crashing down upon her as soon as she stepped upon the seventh step. That's why most people forego the seventh when using the steps.

Julia McQuillan - Feb 06
Am absolutely fascinated since my name is also Julia McQuillan. Will no doubt be arranging to visit Ballycastle as soon as I can manage it.

Kenneth D McQuillan - January - '06
Does anyone know who killed the blacknun?

Amy Connolly - November '05
A red haired cleric : The black nun predicted that a red haired priest would come from far away to say mass in the church at Murloch and would die the following day.This did not happen until the 20th century when a red headed Father James McCann was drowned whilst swimming off Pan's Rocks near Ballycastle after saying mass at Murloch, the day before. Just to help you!

Cedric - July '05
I don't actually think that Julia Mc Quillan was a nun, she earned the name of "the black nun" because of the fact she always dressed in black clothing.

Nevertheless, it's an interesting story, and even though it may not have been a nun you saw, it could have been a ghost of one of the Franciscan monks who lived in the friary.

you never know???

Dylan Starrs - July '05
I can verify Stephen "stevie" Houston's story. When all the people met the next and recounted the story to a large group of friends. Some were interested and others were hugely sceptical. Being democratic and constructive we split up all of the people who had seen the black nun and then asked them all the same series of questions about the night. The questions were about the events of the evening before and after some relevant and some less relevant. We also asked them to describe her carefully.

All of the answers married, all of the descriptions were the same and all the descriptions matched Stephen's brothers sketch. This proves that they were not making it up. Indeed the people that saw her would have found no pleasure in making anything like that up. Maybe I believe them because myself two friends and a dog called herbie met her one night.

We saw her at a window on the gable wall as we approached the main part of the friary from the wee gatehouse. It was a dark and still evening. We were dandering along at a nice pace and then we all just stopped. A pale luminescent face with dark eyes and a habit peered out at us. It was silent. Deadly silent. She was moving but made no sound. We walked a bit closer and she dipped away but returned to the window.

We stood for quite some time just looking at her and each other and the dog with his cocked head and one pert ear. We were not scared. Indeed we all agreed afterwards that we were instilled with a feeling of well being. Feeling privileged at such a show we just decided we had seen enough and left. Weird but absolutely true. On returning in the daylight we noticed that the walls are so thick that it would have been physically impossible for a person to look out the window in the manner the black nun did. Simply, a person would needed to have been in the wall to look out the way this figure did.

Thomas P. O'Connor - July '05
I was in Ballycastle last night with my future wife and her two nieces. Mary [my fiancee] told the girls the story of the Black Nun as we passed Bonamargy Friary. Like most chaps from Belfast, I thought it would be wonderful if I started to tell the two girls ghost stories. After a run in the car, we decided to head back into Ballycastle. To cement their imagination with stories of Nuns and Ghosts, we pulled into the layby and walked into the Friary at around dusk [21.30].

We trooped around the ruins and came out into the Church via the side entrance. We walked up towards the Black Nun's grave and pass it to stand on the pathway. I stood facing my Fiancee and the two girls when they let out an almighty scream.

My first reaction was that Mary was attempting to startle me. She did. She then asked did I see 'it'. 'See what?', the Nun she replied. I looked behind me and could only see a plastic bag. I then looked around the corner and as clear as day, I saw a Nun running into the side entrance [where the famous stairs] are. She was dressed in a Nun's Habit and scandals and had a white face. I absolutely froze in shock. My first reaction was that it was someone messing around. The place was deserted except for ourselves and it was late [getting dark]. I asked myself why someone would dress up in a full Habit and scandals to play a prank particularly at that time of night. I didn't hear footsteps running.

The incident spooked the life out of me and I endeavored to leave as soon as possible. Bear in mind that I am 35, 6"2 and a big man - I was surprised that I didn't freeze with shock. I have attempted to rationalise what I saw today but the image still haunts me. Mary claimed that a Nun in white with blackened eyes stepped out behind me to face them. She didn't speak - Mary instantly suspected pranksters but..... they couldn't have covered the distance in lightening quick time.

Yours [still trying to rationalise the incident].

Tom O'Connor


Jason Horner - May '05
I was there i found a grave stone with skull and bones on it. i also found a grave, a man lived to a 127 years old. he breaks a guinness world record. i am only twelve.

Beth Mc Bride - May '05
Hi my name is Beth mcbride and i am from Ballycastle i am 11. Your story is very spooky but not as spooky as mine. when me and my family were there my brother con dared me to step on the black nuns death step. A day later my brother told me i shouldn't have step on it because you will have the black nuns curse.

Jason Horner - May 05
When my mum was a young girl she saw a black figure on the ground holding a old fasioned candle stick she was shouting at my granny and granda and pointing but they could not see it.

Whats the history of broombeg view?

Ann Marie - February '05
Anyone who has been to Ballycastle will know the house at the other end facing the golf course (it's yellow and white and now belongs to a youth club). The house is also said to be haunted, I have been in that house and can tell you without much doubt she is still there myself and 11 other witnesses saw the black nun standing in the large window to the right of the front door on the second floor. I have no doubt that we saw her and she has been seen before in the house.

Michael Curran - December '04
Before World War 1 when "The Irish Electric Power Co" was installing Light to the town by invitation from the Council, one of the workmen was inside the Water Wheel at the Old Mill where the Power House was to be based, the Water Wheel was to assist a "National Gas generating set". The wheel was started accidentally and the employee was injured, breaking a leg with other injuries. Was this the blood from the "Black Nun's" story?

'B'Castle - Nov '04:
I heard the one about the red haired priest drowning at the pans rocks, dunno if he had red hair or not but there was definately a priest drowned there.

Kay McKenna - August '04
How wonderful to see this article about Bonamargy after spending a vacation in Ballycastle in 2003. Staying at Collier's Hall B&B we had to pass the Friary each day on our way back from the town . Our group consisted of 6 women and we had heard about "the nun" and we had a great late night embellishing the tales as we had just heard at the Boyd's Arm, It was one of the things we shared with our families on returning to USA! Wonderful memories, will come again!

John - August 2004
I was once told that there was a ghost in the field beside Ramoan Church in Ballycastle. Apparently a local church goer was visiting the church was walking though the graveyard towards the way out. At the time a new housing development (Ramoan Court) was being built beside the church and a wall separated the two areas. The man thought he would go over and have a look over the wall to see how the new housing was getting on. As he was about to leave, he then saw a monk-like figure in a dark brown robe walking through the building site. As it was the weekend he thought it was an intruder on the site and climbed over the wall to challenge the suspected intruder.

As the man tried to get closer to the figure, it kept moving away, the man stopped his pursuit and stood still and shouted at the figure and just as the figure was about to turn around and face him, it disappeared! Very spooky!!!

Some say that the old marine hotel was haunted, I don’t know about the new building though. The old hotel was destroyed by a bomb during the troubles.

Another building which was known as "McEldowney's" was a really scary place. It was a large house which sat near the edge of the cliff on Clare road opposite the caravan site. Some folk say it was the most eerie place you were likely to come across. Although the building was recently knocked down the whole area still gives people the creeps! Me included!!!

Elizabeth Magorrian - August 2004
Do the Magorrian Boys live in ireland?

- August 2004
Actually she said that a red haired man would drown at fair head, and in the 40's or 50's a red haired priest drowned at the pan's rock, near to fair head.

Martin - 3 May 2004
They're strange fairie rings near Hannastown.

IGOR - August 2004
Re: Gerry Curran's Comments
The river to which the black nun referred was in fact the tow river in Ballycastle, however it has never been known as the hilltown river but may have been called the "Milltown" river from time to time as is is situated around what was known as the Milltown area of Ballycastle, near Fairhill street and Glentasie drive.

The tow river flows from outside the town towards the sea via the Margy river, which in turn is situated beside Bonamargy friary.

Another story is that the monks who were living in the friary hid gold chalices and various precious items somewhere up in the glenshesk area of Ballycastle.
I don't know if anything has ever been recovered though.

But I was once told that at a certain time of the year, if you time it right, that the sun will shine through one of the windows in Bonamargy and will reflect a beam up to Glenshesk and point to exactly where the treasure is hidden, sounds like something out of indiana jones but you never know!!!

Gerry Curran
(April 2004)
I noticed Brian's comment that 'The Hilltown River would flow with blood'--- My grandmother Maggie Curran, born in Hilltown Co Down in 1884, made reference to this quote many times in her lifetime. She also linked it with another one that she often said to me as a young boy.

"It is forecast that the Black-man would come to Ireland to bring the faith back to the Irish people as they would turn their backs on it"

I never paid much attention to the first one until the 1970s when a man was severely injured and then died after a booby-trap bomb blast. He died very close to the Hilltown River which is actually called the 'Owenglass River' and it is possible that the blood from that incident was hosed into the storm drains and then into the river.

Her second quotation is actually happening before our very eyes. Ireland has given up on its faith especially the young and vocations to the priesthood etc are almost nil. What will the next ten or twenty years bring---clergymen from other countries

Stephen Huston (April 2004)
I have spent many years in Ballycastle on holiday. On one certain night after midnight we went round to the grave of the black nun and then round to the seventh step. Myth has it this is how you see her. I had enough and went back onto the golfcourse but my brother and three others stayed. They returned a short time later shaken and swore they had seen a figure. The next day we met and discussed the night before. My brother being an artist pulled from his pocket a picture he had drawn of what he had seen. All the others agreed that was exactly what they had seen. I still have the picture and have no doubt that they did see the black nun.

Would it be possible to e-mail the site a copy of this picture? It would be wonderful to let others take a look at it. Perhaps someone else might recognise her. (Editor)

Sinead (2003)
A red haired lady would fall off Fairhead.

return to the article

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy