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Truth that really is stranger than fiction. A great Irish Mystery. The Foxes of Gormanston Castle.

Updated on March 6, 2013


The mystery of Gormanston.

The foxes come to Gormanston Castle.

The foxes and Gormanston Castle through time.

Will the Gormanston Castle foxes ever come again?

The castle. The visitors, and one of the owners.

Gormanston Castle. One of the world's greatest mysteries is centred here.
Gormanston Castle. One of the world's greatest mysteries is centred here.
For centuries these animals paid respects to the dying Viscounts Gormanston.
For centuries these animals paid respects to the dying Viscounts Gormanston.
14th Viscount Gormanston. The foxes visited his death house in the city.
14th Viscount Gormanston. The foxes visited his death house in the city.

The mystery of Gormanston

The expression "truth is stranger than fiction" is a phrase that is much bandied about in our literature, and among people generally. Everything from the idea that Elvis is alive to the notion that the moon landings were faked is touted about under the "truth stranger than fiction" label. Well the story I am about to relate is true in every particular, and it undoubtedly is strange. I knew some of the witnesses to the strange occurrences that centred round Gormanston Castle, the ancient fortress of The Preston Family, as I was fortunate to have spent a very happy childhood not three miles from the location in Ireland where they occurred.

The foxes come to Gormanston Castle.

The year is 1860. In an ancient castle, not three miles from where I was brought up, a man lies dying. The family are gathered round his bedside. In the castle corridors, and down in the cavernous kitchen, servants silently weep.

For it is the master of the house that is preparing to breathe his last. Down in the stable yard and in the farmyard the chickens and ducks, whose forebears have provided meat and eggs for generations of the noble family that had inhabited Gormanston castle for close on seven hundred years, carried on with their avian preoccupations. The drama that was playing out heavily for all the human inhabitants of the estate did not affect their daily routine of laying eggs and mating. But something was stirring near the farmyard. The old cockerel, whose principal function was to give warning to the farmyard birds when danger approached, suddenly flew up onto an overturned cart and gave voice to one almighty series of crowing. Immediately the ducks and the hens started to mill about in alarm clucking and quacking in an ever increasing panic. Something deadly was approaching. The birds, who have a keener sense of smell than we humans do, knew the source of this deadly danger. They were more used to this enemy creeping into their house at night, than approaching the yard in the middle of the afternoon. But they knew what the end result was likely to be. There would be chickens and ducks scattered bleeding and dead round the farmyard, while one of their number would be dragged off to feed the voracious offspring of the deadly predator.

Suddenly two of the attackers came through the open gate. The farmyard fowl froze in silent terror, like thousands of their ancestors had done in the past, and like countless more of their descendants would do in the future. The two foxes, for such they were, trotted quickly through the stable yard, totally ignoring the terrified fowls. They disappeared in the direction of the castle, to be followed, not five minutes later, by at least a dozen more of their kin, who also totally ignored the easy prey that was on offer.

From out of the woods and fields that surrounded the ancient fortress they came. You could number them in hundreds. Some of them hung back under the trees that surrounded the lawns of the castle, but many of them sat down right outside the castle itself, especially beneath the windows of the room where the aged owner of the estate prepared to meet his maker. The foxes had come to pay their respects to the dying man, and to mourn his passing, exactly as their ancestors had been doing for his ancestors for over two hundred years.

In the principal bedroom Jenico Preston, 12th Viscount Gormanston lay. He did not have very long to live. I don’t know if his attendants informed the dying man that the castle was surrounded by foxes, but you can be sure, that if he was still conscious he would be expecting them to be there. They had been there in 1786 when the 11th Viscount died, and each time the head of the family expired, from that time in the seventeenth century when the foxes of Gormanston began their inexplicable ritual. They stayed until a week after Lord Gormanston died, howling their grief. They did not return to their marauding ways until after the funeral.

The foxes and Gormanston Castle through time.

The records don’t tell us exactly when the foxes first came to pay respects to the dying Lords of Gormanston Castle. The seventeenth century in Ireland was a turbulent and bloody time, forever stained by the memory of the depredations of such genocidal maniacs as Oliver Cromwell. But sometime in the midst of all that strife one of the Viscounts Gormanston was on a fox hunt. The hounds cornered a fox. But just before they tore it to pieces, somebody noticed that it was a vixen with cubs. The viscount immediately called off the hounds saying that it would be a shameful thing to deprive the young foxes of their mother, or even to kill the whole family. The foxhunt was called off for that day. Many years later when that young lord was on his deathbed the foxes came to mourn him, and they had kept up the tradition for each of his successors ever since until this day in 1860 when the 12th Viscount died.

Another story claimed that it also happened during a fox-hunt but ended in a different way. Apparently the then Lady Gormanston detested hunting. In the course of the hunt, she found a vixen. She hid it somewhere out of harm’s way until the hunting day was over. Then she released the vixen into safety. It was said that when she died, the foxes came to mourn her passing. I personally think the other story is the more likely.

In 1876 Edward Anthony John Preston, 13th Viscount Gormanston also passed away in the castle, and there was a repetition of the events of sixteen years earlier. The 14th Viscount died away from home in Dublin in 1907. But the foxes still came to the castle. Also in the city the house where Lord Gormanston died was surrounded by foxes, and this was in a time prior to the modern phenomenon of urban foxes. In 1925 when this lord's successor expired the foxes came again to mourn his passing.

The last time that this ancient ritual was played out was in 1940. Jenico William Richard Preston, 16th Viscount Gormanston was an officer in the Second World War. He died a long way away from his ancestral home, but before his family could be given the tragic news of his death they knew already, because once again the visitors from the woods surrounded the castle. In this way was the death of the head of the house announced to his grieving family.

Will the Gormanston Castle foxes ever come again?

Gormanston castle no longer belongs to The Preston Family. It was sold in the nineteen forties. The 17th Viscount Gormanston lives in England, and I hope he has many happy years of life left to him, but I do wonder what will happen when he goes to greet his ancestors. Will the foxes emerge to surround the family seat again? Will they seek him out in his new residence? Or will they decide that, now the direct connection to the castle has been severed, their tribute has been offered for the last time. Only time will tell.

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    • christopheranton profile imageAUTHOR

      Christopher Antony Meade 

      8 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

      Thanks for your very interesting comment William. I quite like your version. It has a very romantic ring about it. Thanks also for the link. I look forward to reading that article. Regarding the 14th Viscount, I said that the foxes surrounded the house in Dublin where he died in 1907. I read that somewhere years ago, but I am not certain whether it is the truth or not. If you know anything about it, I would love to hear. I left it in because it seemed like a nice idea.

      I live in Kent nowadays but my family still live near the castle and I keep in touch, so if there are any developments, they can let me know. I'm glad to hear that your father is alive and well. Give him my regards.

    • profile image

      william preston 

      8 years ago

      Charming rendition of this bushy tail (sic) - though the version i was told of how this strange phenomena came to pass, was that my ancestor, alerted to a commotion outside the castle and on opening the heavy oak door was greeted by the local huntsmen; "My lord, we've cornered our quarry, may we take it with us?"As he looked down, my ancestor saw a fox, cowering beneath him, with the horses and hounds of the hunt, whinnying and snorting impatiently at the base of the steps. "No you cannot, good sir, for as you know, be it human or animal, whoever should seek sanctuary on these grounds will be granted it". On saying this he opened the door further and invited the stricken animal in. It turned out to be a pregnant vixen and she bore her brood in front of the great fire in the grand hall, and was then released with her kits, back in to the wild. This story was alleged to have happened in the mid to late 15th century. Paranormalists visited and recorded the occurrence on the death of the 14th Viscount and tell an interesting account. Which is recounted by Jon Michell here, along with a picture of my father Nicholas, the current Viscount Gormanston, whom i pleased to say is still very much alive. But Christopher, if you are still local, will you please keep an eye and an ear trained for any fox related phenomena...!

    • christopheranton profile imageAUTHOR

      Christopher Antony Meade 

      10 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

      Hi Martie. I'm glad you liked it. It is true. Here is a link if you want to check it out.,_County_Me...

    • MartieCoetser profile image

      Martie Coetser 

      10 years ago from South Africa

      I almost missed this one! Beautiful story! Is it really, really true?

    • christopheranton profile imageAUTHOR

      Christopher Antony Meade 

      10 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

      What I do have to really wonder about is, how did the foxes always know? It is especially strange in 1940, because Lord Gormanston was killed in France, and the foxes knew before the humans. I hope that foxes and lords are all together now. Hopefully foxhunting, and chicken catching, doesn't happen in the hereafter.

      Thanks for commenting saddlerider1.

    • saddlerider1 profile image


      10 years ago

      What a truly amazing story and a tribute to the Lords of that castle. We often wonder what goes through an animals mind as we watch it in it's wanderings.

      I love foxes and my partner is a fine photographer and has captured exciting shots of them in the wild, they even have come right up to us and walked around our vehicles.

      I guess out of respect for not killing the vixen they showed their respect thereafter to the dying Lords. Hey maybe these deceased Lords are amongst them now:0) peace

    • christopheranton profile imageAUTHOR

      Christopher Antony Meade 

      10 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

      Thanks Nell, and smallperson for reading, and commenting. Animals have much more intelligence than they are given credit for. One of my neighbours had a cat that came home after being missing for ten years. Where was he? My Uncle saw the foxes at Gormanston castle in 1940 when they last came, so I suppose I have an indirect family connection with the story.

    • smallperson profile image


      10 years ago from Seabrook,Texas

      I enjoyed the story and your description of the events

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      10 years ago from England

      Hi, Wow, this is an amazing story! How lovely is that? I really enjoyed this, animals have a really strange sense of the unknown, I remember seeing a TV programme where a dog, I can't remember what type, it was a big dog, and it was playing catch with it's owner near a river, then all of a sudden it ran off and jumped in, the owner hadn't heard a sound, but all of a sudden around the corner of the river, appeared a man who was obviously in distress, he had fallen in the river. The dog grabbed him and dragged him to the side to be rescued. You might say that it was because the dog heard the man, but he didn't, the man was deaf and dumb! great story, thanks I enjoyed it, cheers nell

    • christopheranton profile imageAUTHOR

      Christopher Antony Meade 

      10 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

      Hi Petra. Foxes are indeed special animals. I came across one in the park once, that was so friendly, he followed me round for ages. I didn't attempt to stroke him, however, as he had very sharp needle like teeth.

      syzygyastro . animals are indeed very intuitive. I remember reading about the elephants at the time of the tsumani. It was amazing, nearly no large animals were killed, because most of them sought the high ground in advance.

      Thanks to you both for reading the hub.

    • syzygyastro profile image

      William J. Prest 

      10 years ago from Vancouver, Canada

      It is important to be watchful of animal signs. This extraordinary tale is a good example. Other examples are the reaction of fish, wildlife and even domestic animals two weeks prior to the deadly earthquake and tsunami of Dec. 26th, 2004. Sea gypsies noted changes in fish locations two weeks prior to the disaster. Just before the disaster, elephants ran screaming into the bush and highlands as did dogs and cats. Birds took off and refused to land. Then the disaster struck that took many people unaware and affected one sixth of the globe. Had the people listened to and watched their animal counterparts, most would have likely survived. Today, a disturbing new phenomenon has emerged and portends something terrible. Migrating birds are flying off in the wrong direction for the winter. I have witnessed many flying east instead of south and they are flying to certain frozen death instead of refuge in the warm south.

      First Nations peoples were always attune to animal signs and portents. They had to as they depended on them for their livelihood and survival. Should we do anything less. I would like to ask all readers if they have witnessed strange and atypical animal behavior in their locale. If so, write it up or send me the information so I can extend a hub I have written on the topic.

    • Petra Vlah profile image

      Petra Vlah 

      10 years ago from Los Angeles

      Aren’t foxes precious? They seem to know well ahead of time what’s going to happen – and that makes them closely related to your other favorite creature, the visionary cat.

    • christopheranton profile imageAUTHOR

      Christopher Antony Meade 

      10 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

      Hi suziecat7 and CP thanks for reading. I lived just a couple of miles from Gormanston castle when I was growing up, so I was well versed in the story from my earliest days. I knew some of the people who saw the foxes the last time it happened in 1940.

    • Christopher Price profile image

      Christopher Price 

      10 years ago from Vermont, USA

      I've always felt a kinship with foxes...decidedly canid, rather feline and sometimes almost human.

      We kept one for some time when I was a child. My father rescued it as a kit when its mother was shot by another hunter. I wish now I had had the presence of mind to treat it as something more than a curiosity. I remember well Sasha's excitement whenever my father would arrive home from work.

      It would not have been surprised if foxes had gathered when he passed. I miss them both now.

      This was a fine telling of an extraordinary tale.


    • suziecat7 profile image


      10 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Interesting Hub - I love stories like this.


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