St. Patrick's Day - Famous Haunted Irish Castles
Though no castle graces the hill of Tara, some visitors to Ireland claim to feel the presence of the spirits of the long-dead High Kings who once ruled these Emerald Isles. Legend says the Tuatha De Dannan, the first kings to sit upon the throne at Tara, still rule their lands from the Underworld.
In a land renown for lucky four-leaf clovers, "the little people," as leprechauns are also known, and the formidable banshee, harbinger of death to all who hear her eldritch shriek, it would not be at all out of place for a ghostie or two to be disturbing the quiet nights of the peaceful countryside. Such ghostly presences are felt by many a visitor to some of the world's best known haunted castles.
Purported to be one of the most haunted in all Ireland, Leap Castle was built in 1250 in County Offaly by the O’Bannon family. Like many Irish castles, Leap Castle has a long and bloody history of battles, feuds, massacres, and murders.
One of the most remarkable took place in 1532. During a feud between the O’Carroll family and neighboring clan, two brothers in the same family turned against each other. One of the brothers, a priest, was murdered while holding mass in the castle chapel. While he was praying, his brother walked up the alter and plunged his sword into the priest's chest, leaving him to die on the floor in front of the their family.
The O'Carrols also kept an oubliette, a dungeon-like room at the bottom of a steep shaft. There, enemies of the family were left to die. The bottom of the shaft was filled with sharp upward-pointing spikes that impaled any who were unlucky enough to be dropped down it to their doom. It was reported that some days the castle echoed with the screams of the dying. When workmen carrying out repairs to the castle uncovered the oubliette, it was said they cleaned out three cartloads of human skeletons.
Many modern visitors to Leap Castle have heard strange moaning and weeping at night, and often lights are seen at the top of the Castle. From the safety of distance, across the fields, people would watch amazed as the windows of the “Bloody Chapel” would suddenly blaze to life as if with the light of hundreds of flickering candles.
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In 1536, Richard Nugent, 12th Lord of Delvin, caused the castle we today refer to as Ross Castle to be built at the edge of the pale, the Anglo-Saxon dominated heart of medieval Ireland. Its position was strategic, at the top of a steep hill, on the shores of Lough Sheelin, and overlooking the enemy O’Reilly’s to the north.
The renown Ross stonemasons worked several years to quarry the stones and erect the towers. The entrance gate has survived the centuries, a tribute to their extraordinary workmanship. It is rumored that beneath the castle's flagstones lie yet-to-be discovered underground grottoes and
The 12th Lord was possessed of a reputation for an evil temper which earned him the name of the Black Baron. One of the stories told of him was when he and his men, returned from an unsuccessful hunting foray, heard that a beggar had stolen a loaf of bread. In fact, the bread had been snatched by a hungry dog that had dropped the loaf in his flight.
Though the beggar protested his innocence, the Black Baron had a gallows built on the spot and hanged the poor fellow. Later, the town's people found the missing bread, and erected a cross at the place where the gallows stood. After 500 years, the spot is remembered to this day.
The Black Baron had a daughter, Sabina. who grew into a beautiful, young woman. Legend has it that she met and fell in love with a handsome young man, Orwin, son of an O’Reilly chieftain.
As the feuding of their two families grew worse, these two star-crossed lovers decided to
elope, boarding a boat to row across Lough Sheelin. A sudden storm blew up, capsizing their small craft. Sabina was
rescued but Orwin drowned. Once she recovered enough to realize her lover was drowned, Sabina fell into deep despair. She finally locked herself in the tower, neither eating nor drinking until she finally died.
To this day, Sabina haunts the castle’s walls. Visitors and guests often encounter her spirit, still searching for her lost love. It was believed that Sabina’s fate was retribution for her father’s cruel deeds. His soul, too, is doomed to never rest because of his victims, and his grief for the loss of his only daughter. The Black Baron’s spirit continues to roam the castle and its grounds.
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Charleville Castle is a picturesque castle begun in the 6th century, and added to in the 18th century by the Earl of Charleville. Fourteen years were required to create the beautiful Gothic structure that stands today. Over the centuries, the castle has stood at the center of historic battles in the protection of Dublin City.
It is believed by many that later owners have succeeded in awakening the restless spirits within the castle. Some of these, the ghosts of children, are often heard playing together in what was once the nursery. However, they are not completely benign, as these mischievous spirits are said to have locked living children in the nursery cupboards.
Overnight visitors to the castle have been awakened in the night by the voices of drunken men speaking a long-lost form of English. The Blue Lady is one of the most beautiful yet tragic ghosts that walk within the castles walls.
Her real name was Harriet. One day, on her way downstairs, while playing with the children, one of them dared her to slide down the long, castle banister. Harriet failed and fell to her death.
Many visitors claim to have seen the Blue Ghost sliding down the banister, reliving her failed attempt.
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Dunluce Castle was built in the 13th century by the Earl of Ulster on the cliffs above the sea. The dangerous shoals and rocks below the cliffs claimed one of the ships of the Spanish Armada, the Girona. One of the cannons salvaged from the Girona was installed in the gatehouse, and the rest of the cargo from the foundered ship eventually sold.
During a later storm, the kitchen of the castle collapsed into the sea. According to legend only one kitchen servant survived that night - a small boy who was hiding in the only corner of the kitchen that did not tumble into sea. The wife of the then owner refused to live there any longer, insisting her family immediately leave Dunluce's crumbling splendor.
The white lady, one of Dunluce Castle's most famous ghosts, is said to wander the roofless halls and rooms of the castle. Believed to be the daughter of a family that once lived there, she fell in love with a young man. Her father refused to allow her to marry him though, and locked her in her room. The girl fashioned a wedding dress from her bed sheets, telling everyone that she was sewing her funeral shroud. When the night finally came for her to elope, she climbed out of her window to meet her love. Unfortunately, the hem of her wedding dress tangled her feet, and she fell to her death.
Another ghost is that of the unfortunate Peter Carey, one-time the constable of the castle. When Sir John Perrot decreed that Sorely Boy should once again be constable, Sorley celebrated his return to power by hanging Carey, his rival, from the Southeast Tower. Peter Carey’s ghost is seen in the tower with his long dark hair tied back, and wearing a flowing purple cloak.
Carrickfergus Castle was founded in 1185 by Norman adventurers. One of them, John de Courcy heard a prophecy that Ulster would be conquered by a white knight, riding a white horse and with two golden birds of prey upon his shield. De Courcy became obsessed with the legend, convinced that the prophecy referred to him. He formed an army and led a bloody, but ultimately, ill-fated campaign to capture Ulster.
Carrickfergus Castle's best-known ghost was a most unlucky fellow. In the 1700s, Robert Rainy, a soldier, was stationed at the castle. He was a wild fellow, of bad reputation, until he met and fell in love with Betsy Baird. He vowed that he would give up his wild ways if only she would marry him.
Rainy did not know that Betsy was involved with the brother of his commanding officer. When he discovered her infidelity, he flew into jealous rage, and ran her lover through. Without waiting 'til the man expired, Rainy simply left, returning to his quarters to wash the blood from his sword.
Also stationed at the same castle was a soldier called Timothy Lavery, who looked enough like Robert Rainey to have been his identical twin. The commander's brother lived long enough to relate what had befallen, but he mistakenly named Lavery, not Rainy as his attacker.
Unlucky Lavery was tried and hanged for the murder of the commander's brother, despite his protestations of innocence. Rainey confessed to the truth many years later but the ghost of Timothy Lavery continues to haunt the castle grounds.
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