Haunted Ireland – Leap Castle, County Offaly

I visited Leap castle curious about the castle itself as much as its reputation of being the “most haunted castle in the world”. I was pleasantly surprised from the moment I was greeted at the door by its current owner, Sean Ryan, who  graciously shared with me some of the history of the castle, his efforts in sympathetically restoring it and of course his experiences with the spirits that is said to haunt the ancient building.

After equipping me with a flashlight, instructions on where to find light switches and a request to close doors upstairs, he left me to explore the castle unaccompanied.

The first thing I noticed about the castle, which Sean also pointed out, is that the atmosphere in the building, in spite of the activity and its reputation, is very “friendly”, for lack of better term. I at no point felt unease and the first sign of anything amiss was when I photographed the famous “bloody chapel”, which is situated on the third floor.

One of the gruesome murders to take place in the castle occurred in 1532 in this room. Aiming my camera at a window, I was surprised to find after numerous attempts, I failed to capture a clear shot, my camera instead capturing blurry, out of focus, images, which is unusual, as it’s set to automatically find and focus on subjects and has always been very good at doing so. A little surprised, I turned and took a picture of the smaller doorway leading out of the room, when I noticed a small blue light on my camera’s viewfinder, the moment I took the pic. Suspecting a rogue light beam or reflection on my camera’s lens to cause this, I took a few more shots and found the same round, blue “orb”(?) appearing each time. (To my disappointment it did not appear on any of the photos I’ve taken.)

Heading down the narrow passageway sans camera, I found a nest of juvenile rooks and when attempting to take a photo of them, found my cell phone camera unwilling to cooperate. I headed back to the chapel after a minute and walked across the room to take more photos with my camera, this time seeing the same blue “orb” appear again, close to the opening, but this time on the wall. When querying Sean later about all of the above, he said “it happens all the time”.

According to history Leap castle is thought to have been built around 1250 over an existing site previously occupied by druids, who used the property for initiation ceremonies. Leap Castle was originally named Leim Ui Bhanain which means “Leap of the O’Bannons” which leads to the origin of its name.

The castle was the principal seat of the fearsome Ely O’Carroll clan. Following the death of the chieftain Mulrooney O’Carroll in 1532 a bitter dispute arose between his sons over the leadership of the clan. A dispute which was brought to an end by a brutal murder in the now aptly named “Bloody chapel”. ‘One-eyed Teige O’Carroll’ who as mass was being celebrated in the room, stormed in chanting holy rites, before driving a sword into the back of the priest, who was also his older brother, Thaddeus. The fatally wounded priest fell onto the altar in front of his family and breathed his last.

The priest’s spirit is said to have haunted the Bloody Chapel since. Even centuries later, when the castle laid in a state of ruin, passers-by have seen the window of the room light up suddenly late at night and his spirit is said to have been seen in the chapel and the staircase below.

In 1922 workmen at Leap Castle found an oubliette in a secret dungeon hidden behind a wall in a corner of the Bloody Chapel. When they explored the sinister dark hole further they made a horrific discovery: a large number of human skeletons amassed on top of wooden spikes. The remains took 3 cart loads to remove them all. Prisoners, or unfortunate “guests” of the O’Carrolls would have been dropped down through the hidden trap door above the oubliette, before being punctured by the wooden spikes below. There they would be left to die a horrific death, within earshot of the merry making of their hosts and other, perhaps more welcome, guests  in the hall below.

Another infamous and most treacherous killing that took place at Leap Castle was when about 40 members of the northern McMahon clan had been hired by the O’Carrolls to train them in new methods of warfare. The McMahon men attended a feast at the castle in celebration of a victory over a rival clan of the O’Carrolls. However, their ruthless employers had poisoned their food so as to avoid having foot the bill. The ghosts of the unfortunate McMahon clan are said to haunt Leap Castle to this day.

In the 1600s the ownership of Leap Castle passed to the Darby family, when the daughter of the O’Carroll chieftain fell in love with an English Captain Darby. Their son, Jonathan Darby, hid vast treasures in the grounds of the castle during the English Civil War. The two servants who helped him hide his riches were later murdered to guarantee their silence. Darby however was later imprisoned for treason and when released years later, the turmoil of his time in captivity was such that he was unable to locate his treasure. It is said that the riches remain undiscovered to this day.

During the 18th century Jonathan’s great grandson, also named Jonathan Darby, had the castle remodelled to give it a Gothic appearance.

It was one of the Darbys, Mildred, who is believed to have brought the most infamous and evil spirit to Leap Castle. In the early nineteen hundreds the occult was a fashionable pastime for the gentry and Mildred begun dabbling in the black arts in Leap with terrifying results. She is credited with unleashing an Elemental spirit into the castle, a type of primitive ghost that attaches itself to a particular place. It can be malevolent, terrifying and unpredictable.

This Elemental made its presence felt within the castle with a ferocious intensity for much of following century.

Leap was burnt out and destroyed in 1922 by the IRA while the Darbys were living in England. It was briefly occupied by a friend of the Darby family, before being left to lay dormant until it was purchased in the 70s by an Australian historian, Peter Bartlett, who was actually an ancestor of the founders of Leap Castle, the O’Bannons. Bartlett did extensive restorative work for fifteen years and claims to have witnessed poltergeist activity through much of it. His renovation efforts were tragically cut short when he died in 1989. In 1991, musician Sean Ryan and his wife Anne purchased Leap Castle and resumed its restoration, which is still ongoing.

What is it like to live in such a haunted home? For most I think the experience would be unnerving, but Sean told me they leave each other in peace. They (he and his wife, Anne, who I did not get to meet) live peacefully along their predecessors and “don’t bother each other”. When asked about his experiences in the castle he told me they see and hear things near daily. Voices coming from the next room, which seem to move away on investigation, he said “you cannot get to it”, doors opening and closing, which “are not our doors”, footsteps and apparitions, as clear as a living person, seen on many occasions.

I really enjoyed my visit and time spent at this wonderful castle and would highly recommend it to visitors, not just for the ghosts!

Haunted Ireland – John’s Bridge, Kilkenny

John’s bridge is one of two main bridges in Kilkenny city, situated on the edge of the city center, it offers a spectacular view of Kilkenny Castle and Green’s bridge, a sort distance upriver. John’s Bridge was first built in or around 1200 and has since been rebuilt many times. The current structure has stood since 1910.

During the flood of 1763, Green’s Bridge, a short distance upriver, succumbed to the force of nature and collapsed. Not knowing or perhaps not considering the dangers, a small group of spectators gathered and stood transfixed on John’s Bridge, to observe the events unfolding upriver. Tragically John’s bridge then also collapsed, plunging all who stood on her into the murky, swollen Nore below. Sixteen people died.

Since that tragic day many locals and visitors have reported seeing ghostly shapes, leaning on the walls of the new structure, gazing in the direction of Green’s Bridge, or scrambling in the water below, attempting to mount the river banks.

Few people nowadays, when pausing to enjoy the views offered from this vantage point, know that the bridge played part in a tragedy many years ago. A tragedy that still haunts the city to this day…

Haunted Ireland – Malahide Castle

In 1185 King Henry II of England built Malahide castle for his dear friend Sir Richard Talbot in the pretty seaside village of Malahide, Co. Dublin. The castle has been occupied and used as family homes for around 800 years and over that time collected at least 5 known spirit residents and gained a reputation as one of Ireland’s most haunted spots.

The best known of these apparitions would be the former jester, Puck. In the 16th Century the Talbots always had a jester among their retinue of attendants. One of these jesters, “Puck” by name, was also at that time the resident caretaker, his main function when not entertaining to keep watch and sound the alarm in case of attack. He lived in a turret of the Castle, now known as Puck’s Staircase, where he carried out his duties as watchman. According to legend Puck fell in love with a kinswoman of Lady Elenora Fitzgerald, who was detained at the Castle by Henry VIII at the time, because of her rebel tendencies. One December night the jester was found close to the walls of the castle stabbed through the heart, still dressed in his gay jester suit and cap and bells. It is said that before he died he swore an oath that he would haunt the castle until a master reigned who choose a bride from the people, but would harm no one if a male Talbot slept under the roof.

It is said that Pucks spirit continued living on in the castle, appearing at numerous times over the years when the castle was in danger. His dwarfish figure has appeared in a number of photographs taken in the castle and grounds and many a Talbot family letter makes reference to his continued protection of the castle. Puck’s last appearance were reported during the sale of the contents of the Castle in May 1976.

Another resident spirit said to haunt the castle is the spectre of young Lord Galtrim, Sir Walter Hussey, son of the Baron of Galtrim, who in the 15th Century was killed in battle on his wedding day. It is said that Lord Galtrim wanders through the castle at night, groaning and pointing to the spear wound in his side. It is said he haunts the Castle to show his unhappiness towards his immediately widowed bride, who wasted little time marrying Lord Galtrim’s rival after the lord himself lost his life in defence of her honour and happiness.

Lord Galtrim’s widow, Lady Maud Plunkett is said to haunt the castle as well, but as she looked in later years, when she married her third husband, a Lord Chief Justice. During this time she had become notorious as an un-equalled virago, and her ghostly appearances chases her husband through the corridors of the castle.

Another of the castle’s ghosts is that of Miles Corbett, the Roundhead to whom Cromwell gave the castle and property during his protectorate. At the Restoration Miles was relieved of his property and made to pay the penalty of the many crimes he had committed during his occupancy, which included the desecration of the chapel of the old abbey near the castle. He was hanged, drawn and quartered and when his ghost first appears it seems to be a perfectly whole soldier in armour, which then falls into four pieces before the eyes of anyone who has the unpleasant experience of meeting it.

The 5th recorded ghost is that of the unnamed White Lady, of whom a painting hung in the Great Hall of the castle for many years. Nobody appears to know her identity or the identity of the artist who portrayed her. According to legend from time to time she would leave her painting and wander through the castle in the quiet of the night. Many people have reported sightings of this mysterious lady’s ghost.

In the castle grounds is a field known as Our Lady’s Acre, which is also reputed to be haunted. On a few occasions two grey-haired, sad-faced ladies have been seen on the field, wandering aimlessly. Some sources suggest that they are ghosts of Danish women who never found rest after the Norman Talbot drove the Danes from Malahide.

Haunted Ireland – Kilkenny Castle

Kilkenny Castle plays host to a number of ghost stories, unsurprising really, given that there has been a castle on the site in one form or another since 1195 and, like most of the ancient buildings in Ireland, it has seen its share of deaths and tragedy.

Kilkenny Castle was home to the Butlers of Ormonde until it was sold to a Castle Restoration Committee in 1967, before being passed into the hands of the OPW. There are as many as 41 ghosts rumored to roam its grounds, many of them said to be of the Butler family. The most frequently sighted being the castle’s “white lady” who has often been seen roaming the castle’s gardens and adjacent river banks below. She had also been seen wandering the corridors and staircases and is speculated to have been inadvertently photographed in 2010 by two teenager visiting the castle, shortly after a reported sighting by a young boy in the same spot. Kilkenny residents believe this spirit to be that of Lady Margaret Butler, who was born in the castle in either 1454 or 1465. She married Sir William Boleyn and through her eldest son Thomas, was the paternal grandmother of Anne Boleyn, second wife of King Henry VIII of England.

More discreet hauntings include an electronic counter in the Parade Tower, used for counting visitors to the thirteenth century part of the fortress, which continues to count up to a hundred visitors during the night hours, while the tower is locked and out of public reach. The tower sits over what was formally a dungeon, where it is said many poor souls would have been imprisoned before passing away.

Also see:  Haunted Ireland – John’s Bridge, Kilkenny