James Stuart was born in 1743 in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. He was the son of vicar Irwin Stuart (and his wife Elizabeth) from whom James inherited a picturesque piece of land handed down through a century of generations. In 1775 James started building a home for himself and his cherished wife Grace [Lynn] from Co. Tyrone, the daughter of a doctor in Stewartstown. He named this estate Gracehill.
James built a long and impressive avenue to the house, which he lined with 150 beech trees. This road, while no longer part of the original estate it still exists and is aptly named “Dark Hedges”, today visitors can find it by travelling along Bregagh Road between Armoy and Stranocum in Co. Antrim.
Over the years the tree canopy has arched menacingly over the road. The branches have become intertwined creating an atmospheric corridor of ancient beech trees. The road has become one of the most photographed ethereal natural phenomena in Northern Ireland.
Most recently it has become a popular tourist site after a 17 second shot featuring the road in the wildly popular Game of Thrones series. It is also a must see destination for ghost hunters and those with an appetite for more eerie sightseeing.
Dark Hedges with it’s dramatic entangled branches not only makes the road a magical place of dancing light during the golden hour, but dusk brings with it many specters of times past.
Legend has it a grey lady has been seen floating through The Dark Hedges, disappearing once she reaches the last tree. It’s been speculated the ghostly woman is perhaps a maid who centuries past lived nearby, and died under suspicious circumstances. Others claim the wraith to be the restless spirit of jilted woman who died of a broken heart. Many believe it is James Stuart’s daughter, Margareth Stuart or Cross Peggy, which is thought to be a nickname, walking the land where she once lived.
Whoever the Grey Lady once was, every year on “Oiche Shamhna” Halloween night, it is believed the graves of forgotten souls in a nearby abandoned graveyard open up. The Grey Lady is then joined in a walk of the unremembered dead, along the long misty road of “Dark Hedges”.