Ireland is a strange land, enveloped in ghost stories, legends and myths. It is a land both mysterious and frightening, a land where myth blends with reality and the lines between real life and fiction are often blurred. Much of it is dotted with ancient castles and ruins, and thus is the perfect backdrop for a spooky ghost story.
10 Most Haunted Castles in Ireland
10. Charleville Castle
Charleville Castle is situated near the town of Tullamore, in county Offaly. It is a fine example of a gothic castle and is surrounded by an oak tree forest which was once a ritual site of druids. The castle was built in 1798 by Ireland’s leading architect of the time, Francis Johnston, as requested by Charles William Bury, Earl of Charleville.
The castle is said to be haunted by a young girl named Harriet, the daughter of the third Earl of Charleville. According to the legend, one evening in 1861, Harriet, who was eight at the time, was sent upstairs to wash her hands before dinner. On her way down the staircase, Harriet thought it would be fun to slide down the balustrade. Unfortunately, she fell to the ground and died. It is said that Harriet’s singing, screams and laughter can be heard in the castle up to this day. And indeed, many guests of the castle claim to have either seen Harriet, or sensed her presence on the staircase or the rooms of the castle. According to these guests, Harriet wears a white and blue dress and has blue ribbons in her golden hair. Others swear they have captured her on their cameras and insist that the shadows or the mist appearing in their photographs is nothing else but Harriet herself.
9. Leap Castle
In 1532, after the chieftain of the O’Carroll clan, Mulrooney O’Carroll, died, rivalry and disputes between two O’Carroll brothers arose. Both of them desired to become the chieftain of the clan and neither wanted to give in to the other. Thaddeus, the older brother, was also a priest and was holding a mass in a room which is known today as the ‘Bloody Chapel’, when his brother, Teige O’Carroll, burst in through the door and plunged his sword into Thaddeus, bleeding him to death. The priest’s spirit is said to be the earliest ghost to haunt the Leap Castle.
However, the castle’s horrors do not end there. Sometime in the 1900s, workmen were hired to clean out the dungeon of the castle. It was there that they made a ghastly discovery – human skeletons piled on top of each other. It took three cart loads to remove them. It is now known that unfortunate visitors of the castle were pushed down into the dungeon eight feet below, where they fell onto sharp wooden spikes and were punctured to death.
However, the most intriguing ghost of castle has to be ‘The Elemental’. It is not exactly clear when or how ‘The Elemental’ first appeared, and various theories and myths to explain his presence exist.
According to the earliest belief, ‘The Elemental’ was put there by druids in order to protect their sacred site, long before the castle was actually built.
Another theory suggests that ‘The Elemental’ is the spirit of an O’Carroll member who died from Leprosy.
However, the most popular myth explaining the appearance of ‘The Elemental’ concerns dabbling in the occult. In 1649, Leap Castle was passed on to the Darby family, and it is widely believed that the frightful spirit was brought on by one of the Darby’s. In the early nineteen hundreds, occult was a popular pastime and Mildred Darby would often engage in séances and automatic writing. It was also around this time that the bodies in the dungeon were discovered by workmen. The emotional energy linked to the spirits from the dungeon and Mildred Darby’s séances could have been enough to provoke ‘The Elemental’.
According to the description Mildred Darby gave to ‘The Occult Review’ in 1909, ‘The Elemental’ had an inhuman face with two black holes for its eyes, saliva-dripping jaw and no nose. The whole face was a sickly shade of grey. Thankfully, ‘The Elemental’ only seems to appear when provoked.
8. Ross Castle
Ross Castle is located in County Meath and is situated on Lake Sheelin. It was in 1536 that the 12th Baron of Delvin, Richard Nugent, had the castle built. Richard Nugent was an English Lord who was also known as the Black Baron, due to his ill-temper and his mean streak. He had a daughter named Sabina who was of ill-health but nevertheless extremely beautiful. She often took walks beside the lake and was well-liked by the village folk. At times, Sabina was accompanied by a governess but she also managed to sneak away on her own too.
On one of such solitary walks, Sabina met a young man named Orwin, who was the son of an O’Reilly chieftain. They talked for a while, and realizing how much they enjoyed each other’s company, decided to see each other again. They had to meet in secret because it was not proper for the daughter of an English Lord to be seen in the company of an Irish chieftain. Needless to say, they soon fell in love.
As the love that Sabina and Orwin felt for each other grew, so did their desperation. Their families were enemies and they knew that they could never have a happy married life. Thus, they decided to run away together and seek happiness elsewhere. One night, they boarded a boat and started to row across the lake. However, as they were rowing, a sudden storm came and threw them of their track. Sabina and Orwin struggled to turn back but the storm overturned the boat. Orwin drowned while Sabina was rescued. However, she did not wake up for three days and when she did she fell into a deep despair upon the realization that her lover was dead. She refused to eat or drink and locked herself up in the tower. She eventually fell into a deep sleep and never woke up. Up to this day visitors claim to have encountered Sabina’s ghost, as well as the ghost of the Black Baron, grief-stricken over the death of his only daughter.
7. Leamaneh Castle
Leamaneh Castle can be found near Kilinaboy, in County Clare. In the late 1400s, the tower house was built there first by Turlogh O’Brien and one hundred and fifty years later, a four storey mansion house was added on to the tower house by Conor O’Brien and his wife, Mary McMahon.
Mary McMahon, or Red Mary, married Conor after her first husband died. However, it wasn’t long until Conor passed away too – in 1651 he was killed by the Cromwellian forces. Shortly after Conor’s death, Mary put on her best clothes and set off for Limerick. She desperately wanted to keep hold of her land and estates and thus offered herself in marriage to any willing Cromwellian officer in exchange. She soon married Captain Cooper, however, it is said that their marriage was short-lived – during one of their arguments, Mary pushed Captain Cooper out of a third-storey window. According to the legend, Mary had twenty five husbands in total, all of whom she killed.
It is said that if Mary McMahon was dissatisfied with her servants, she would hang them by their hair from the castle’s corbels. According to others, she used to cut off the breasts of her maids.
Finally, the myth ends by saying that after Mary killed her last husband she was captured by her enemies and sealed inside a hollow tree. The red-haired ghost still haunts the castle up to this day.
6. Dunluce Castle
Dunluce Castle is located in County Antrim and was first built in the thirteenth century. In the sixteenth century, the castle was taken over by the MacQuillan clan. Lord MacQuillan had a daughter named Maeve Roe (thought to be his only daughter), who he wanted to marry off to her cousin, Rory Og MacQuillan. However, Maeve was in love with another man, Reginald O’Cahan, who was the son of a clan leader at war with the MacQuillans. As such, Maeve was absolutely set against the idea of marrying her cousin Rory Og, and Lord MacQuillan was absolutely set against the idea of Maeve marrying Reginald O’Cahan. Thus, Lord MacQuillan locked Maeve up in one of the turrets of the castle, intending to free her once she agrees to marry Rory Og.
Of course, Maeve’s love, Reginald O’Cahan, eventually came to her rescue. He scaled the tower and together they made away in a boat. However, that night was a stormy one and their boat was tossed around savagely by the rampant sea. Eventually, their little boat hit the rocks and they sank to the bottom of the sea. According to the legend, neither Maeve’s nor Reginald’s bodies were ever found. Up to this day, visitors of the castle claim to hear cries and wails coming from the tower where Maeve was locked up. Today, the tower is known as the ‘MacQuillan tower’, and Maeve is known as ‘the Banshee of Dunluce Castle’, forever waiting to be rescued by her one true love.
Another legend has it that during one stormy night in the 1600s, the castle’s kitchen fell into the sea. At the time, Katherine Manners who was an English lady, and her husband, Lord Antrim, lived in Dunluce Castle. Lady Katherine decided to have a lavish party one December night and invited the noble families over for an evening filled with extravagant food and entertainment. However, their pleasurable evening was cut short by a huge rumbling noise which seemed to come from the north side of the castle. They rushed towards the noise and were shocked to find that the kitchen had fallen down a 100 feet below, taking the lives of nine servants as well as some valuables with it. According to the myth, a gypsy whom Lady Katherine had refused earlier that day was standing in the only safe spot of the kitchen. It was believed that she had put a curse on the castle. Shortly after, Lady Katherine and her husband left for Waterford. However, paintings of Dunluce castle from the 18th century portray an untouched kitchen.
Recently, Dunluce Castle has been portrayed in the famous HBO series ‘Game of Thrones.’ It is also believed that the castle, Cair Paravel, in C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia was also based on Dunluce Castle.
5. Ballygally Castle
Ballygally Castle, nowadays called “Ballygally Castle Hotel”, is situated in County Antrim. It was built in 1625 by James Shaw, a Scot, who came to Ireland in order to seek his fortune in the Ulster Plantation. Shaw rented some land from Lord Antrim and then built a castle atop this land.
It is believed that Ballygally Castle has as many as three ghosts, but the one we know most about is undoubtedly that of Isabella Shaw, the wife of James Shaw, who has been haunting the castle for over 400 years. Legend has it that James Shaw killed his wife after she gave birth to his heir (something he really wanted) by locking her up in one of the towers of the castle. Lady Isabella tried to escape from the tower window in order to search for her son but killed herself in the process. Another theory says that she was pushed out of the window either by Lord Shaw himself or one of his henchmen.
Lady Isabella is considered to be a “friendly” ghost who does no harm. Apparently she likes to knock on doors and some guests claim they have felt her presence during their stay there. Strange noises and an unnatural green mist over the castle have also been reported.
4. Kilkea Castle
Kilkea Castle is located in County Kildare and is now a hotel with a golf course but its history goes back for centuries. In 1181, Sir Walter de Riddlesford built the original mound with a stronghold and the enclosed courtyard. The castle was soon inherited by the Fitzgerald family through marriage and remained in their hands for over 700 years.
The most fascinating resident to ever live in the castle had to be Gerald the 11th Earl of Kildare who lived there in the 16th century. He was sent to Europe to study and when there he became interested in alchemy. When he came back to Ireland, his neighbours believed that he possessed magic powers and thus named him the ‘Wizard Earl’.
According to the myth, the ‘Wizard Earl’s’ wife constantly asked him to show her his magic powers, seeing as she had heard so much about them. Thus, one day, the Earl agreed, but said that if she got scared she would never see him again. His wife reassured him that she would not and therefore, he decided to test her.
He first made the stream rise up all the way to her mouth, yet she was not at all frightened. He then made a man who had died years before appear in their house and shake his wife’s hand. Still, she was not scared. Finally, he conjured up a snake which wrapped itself around his wife’s body and hissed in her face, yet she did not even flinch and thus passed the test. The Earl then told her to close her eyes and keep them closed until he stomped his foot three times. When his wife heard the stomping, she opened her eyes only to find the Earl has disappeared. Instead, a small bird was sitting on her shoulder, whistling a beautiful song. But a black soon appeared and the Earl’s wife fainted with terror. When she woke up, the Earl was gone and she never saw him again. It is said that the Earl sleeps under the moat of Mullaghmast and only appears every seven years on a magnificent, white horse.
3. Clonony Castle
Clonony Castle is located in County Offaly and was built by the MacCoughlan clan in the early 1500s. In the 17th century the castle was given to King Henry VIII who then gave it to Thomas Boleyn in order to secure his daughter’s, Anne’s, hand. After King Henry got bored of Anne and had her beheaded, it was no longer safe to be a Boleyn in England. Thus, Anne’s cousins, Mary and Elizabeth Boleyn, were exiled to the Clonony Castle in Ireland. After the two sisters died, they were buried under a hawthorn tree in the castle grounds.
The main ghost associated with the castle is that of a man who can be seen standing at the top of the tower, shrouded in mist. His figure is tall and skeleton-like and he wears old fashioned clothes. Passing motorists often see him at night, as well as an eerie glow which seems to surround him. Visitors of the castle have also claimed to have seen a figure of a man on top of the tower. Perhaps it is his mysterious identity that makes him so appealing. So next time you are in the area, keep your eyes peeled for a strange, mysterious man enveloped in mist!
2. Killua Castle
Killua Castle can be found in County Westmeath. The building we see standing today was built in 1780 and was then converted to a gothic castle in 1830. The castle once belonged to the Chapman family who came into lots of land in Ireland from their connection to their cousin Sir Walter Raleigh. Benjamin Chapman received Killua Castle after he became captain in Cromwell’s army during the Cromwellian Wars. The last of the Chapman family, Thomas Chapman, married a member of the Rochford family but the marriage soon came to an end. He then fell in love again in England and married a young woman named Sarah Dunner. Thomas Chapman then changed his name to Thomas Lawrence. Together with Sarah Dunner he had six children, one of them later became known as the famous Lawrence of Arabia.
The Castle is reputed to be haunted by Sir Benjamin Chapman’s land stewart from the late eighteenth century who cheated him out of a large sum of money. It is said that he was a small, crafty man with weasel eyes who used to sit at the foot of the dinner table playing the bagpipes for guests. According to the legend, he spent the money he cheated out of his master on drink and soon after, drowned himself in the lake. It is said that he still haunts the ruins of the castle and can often be seen wandering around aimlessly through the grounds.
1. Ardgillan Castle
Ardgillan Castle is located in County Dublin and was built in 1738 by Reverend Robert Taylor, a man who is famous for paying his workers in free accommodation and whiskey! The castle remained in the Taylor family until 1962. Twenty years later, it was purchased by the Irish state and another ten years later it was officially opened up to the public by the current President of Ireland at the time, Mary Robinson.
The Taylor family was very friendly with Louisa Connolly, the wife of Baron Langford. One day, the Baron was away in Scotland and Louisa was invited to stay over at the Ardgillan Castle. Now, Lady Louisa loved swimming and the fact that it was a cold November’s day hardly mattered t her – she decided to go for one last swim, seeing as it was her last day at the castle. So she ordered her servant to bring her her swimming clothes and together they set off towards the stone-stepped bridge. Her servant was slightly worried though as the sea seemed rougher than ever but Lady Louisa laughed it off and went in anyways. However, the sea was indeed rough that day and before she knew it Lady Louisa was drowning. Her servant tried to save her, as did a couple of workmen nearby, but to no avail. An hour later, Lady Louisa’s body was pulled out from the sea, lifeless. She died at the mere age of 31 and left behind a young family.
Lady Louisa’s death was witnessed by her cousin, Maria, who watched helplessly the unfortunate event unfold from the cliffs above. She later claimed to have had strange hallucinations whereby she could not look at any face without Lady Louisa’s semi-face appearing in front of her.
Today, the stone stairs where this tragedy occurred over 150 years ago still stand. They are known a ‘The Lady’s Stairs’ and serve as a railway bridge. Many say that on dark nights, a white figure of a woman can be seen emerging up the stone steps from the beach and wandering off towards the Ardgillan Castle.
List Created By: Laura Martisiute