Charleville Forest Castle
Nr. Tullamore, County Offally

A sense of genuine antiquity prevails over the sylvan landscape that cradles Ireland’s most enigmatic and impressive Gothic revival castles in a protective embrace.

It is approached via a long and pitted drive that meanders through sinister tunnels of massive oaks whose crook-necked shadows dance before you, their writhing forms beckoning you onwards.

Then, as your nebulous escorts fall suddenly away, you find yourself confronted by an awesome vision of breathtaking splendour as unyielding walls, punctured by mullioned windows and crowned by towering turrets, loom gracefully over you.

Built between 1798 and 1812 by Charles William Bury (1764-1835), the first Earl of Charleville, and designed by Francis Johnston, Charleville Forest Castle is a proud testimony to Johnston’s vision and the sheer extravagance - unhindered by the constraints of their purse strings - with which successive generations of the Charleville family enthusiastically embraced life.

Every so often, the pressure of living beyond their means would necessitate the temporary closure of the castle, although subsequent re-openings would often be marked by a suitably flamboyant gesture, such as engaging the talents of William Morris, much of whose exquisite dining room ceiling work, amazingly, still survives.

But the family’s inability to curb their excesses sounded the castle’s death knell, and periods of occupancy became more intermittent until, by the early 1960’s, it had been all but abandoned.

It is now owned by Bridget Vance – a charismatic American - who is slowly rousing the castle from its slumber and, with the aid of local craftsmen, restoring its echoing rooms to their past grandeur.

But, as her family go about their task, the spirits of bygone residents have begun to stir, and an abundance of ghosts now wander the what has recently been dubbed "Ireland’s spookiest castle."

The silence of the early hours is sometimes shattered by the playful whoops of children, enjoying a phantom game in what was once the nursery.

It may be these same children who were responsible for once locking Bridget’s daughter, Kate, in a dark cupboard in their playroom.

Older revenants appear to have been to blame for disturbing Richard Hayes who, following a party at the castle, placed his bedroll on the floor and settled down to sleep. Next morning, the children asked Bridget why he had slept with the door open and the lights on? He told her that, just as he was nodding off, two elderly English Men - who, from the style of their speech, were evidently of another era – had struck up an animated conversation, interspersed with the downing of copious amounts of alcohol and, although he could hear them close-by, he could not see them!

I too experienced an unexplainable occurrence when I visited the castle. I was talking with Kate Vance, who asked me if I had ever seen a ghost. Just as I began to answer, the huge chandelier above our heads suddenly switched on and, at the same moment, a radio in the room next door – which was definitely empty at the time – began blaring out classical music.

The wraiths of both Charles William Bury and Francis Johnston have also been seen here.

One morning, at around 3am, Bonnie Vance, awoke to find them leading a ghostly cavalcade across her bedroom in the tower. It consisted of a woman in a black hood, a little girl and a group of around seventeen "monks or druids" who encircled her bed and appeared to bestow a blessing upon her.

But the most poignant of all the spectres that walk this most haunting and atmospheric of castles, is that of the little girl in a blue chiffon dress, whose shimmering shade has been seen many times on the great, winding staircase, the faded walls and creaking boards of which are imbued with a decidedly chilling aura.

Her name in life was Harriet, and one day she was sent upstairs to wash her hands. Having done so, she was playfully sliding down the balustrade when she suddenly lost her balance and plunged to her death on the floor below.

Many people, walking down the staircase where the tragedy occurred, have frequently felt the cold draught of her invisible presence as she brushes past them, whilst others have seen her phantom form, skipping playfully in front of them.

The ghost of a small boy occasionally joins her and once, when he was around three years old, Bridget’s son went missing. Fearful of the steep stairs and precarious drops around the property, the family began an anxious search. They eventually found him at the bottom of the stairwell where he told how "the little boy and girl" had looked after him as he came down the stairs.

Charleville Forest Castle is a special place and, despite the abundance of ghosts that roam its corridors; you leave it with a sense of sheer wonder. It is a welcoming place whose spectral residents are, on the whole, friendly.

But, as you make your way back along the driveway, you come upon an ancient reminder of the castles more sinister past.

Towering over you, its lower branches almost touching the road, is the prodigious "King Oak" the massive girth of which testifies to its venerable age.

Yet its majestic splendour is tinged with a fearsome reputation, for it was always maintained that, whenever one of its branches fell, a member of the Charleville family would die.

In May 1963, a huge bolt of lightning smashed into it and shattered its trunk from top to bottom. Although the oak survived, relief was muted when, two weeks later, Colonel Charles Howard-Bury, the head of the family and the last of the line to own the castle, suddenly dropped dead.

Kinnitty Castle
Kinnitty, County Offaly

Nestling amidst the foothills of the Slieve Bloom Mountains, the gothic revival Kinnitty Castle has had a long and turbulent history.

The first stronghold built on the site, was destroyed in 1209 and rebuilt by the Norman’s in 1213. In time it came into the possession of the powerful O’Carrolls of Ely.

In 1630 one of their line, William O’Carroll, built a new fortress, which was confiscated by the English.

In 1664 the estate was granted to Colonel Thomas Winter, as a reward for his military service and, two hundred years later, his descendents sold it to the Bernard family.

In 1811 Lady Catherine Hutchinson, wife of Thomas Bernard commissioned the present castle which, although burnt by the Republican’s in 1922, was restored and has since been transformed into the magnificent, extremely cosy, hotel whose, dark, atmospheric corridors; elegant rooms; library bar resplendent with rows of antique books upon its shelves; and sweeping stairways, provide visitors with tranquil haven far removed from the stresses and strains of the modern world.

Still in existence in the extensive grounds are the remains an Augustinian Abbey, and an ancient Celtic High Cross, carved with depictions of the presentation in the Temple and the crucifixion, together with Adam and Eve and intertwining birds.

It would also appear that one of the long-dead monks from the old foundation finds the ambience of the castle more than congenial, choosing to wander the darker recesses of the banqueting room where delights in revealing future events, linked with the everyday business of the hotel, to one particular member of staff who often astonishes the owner with the accuracy of the prophecies!

Leap Castle
Nr. Birr, Co. Offally
The Most Haunted Castle In Ireland

In May 2002 Sean Ryan, a world-class musician, and along with his wife Anne, owner of Leap Castle, found a ghostly old man sitting in a chair by a downstairs fireplace. Having bade his phantom guest "good day," Sean continued about his business. After all, a new ghost dropping by unannounced, is just part of life’s rich tapestry, when you happen to live in what has long been considered Ireland’s most haunted castle.

Standing upon a vast throne of solid rock, Leap Castle was once the stronghold of the warlike O’Carrolls and its eventful history is mostly written in their blood.

In the 16th century, O’Carroll of the Leap held a lavish banquet at his family fortress and invited a rural branch of his own sept to partake of his hospitality.

No sooner had the unfortunate guests sat down to dinner, than he massacred everyone one of them. Inter-clan bloodshed was a common occurrence and members of the tribe, attended family get togethers or re-unions at their peril!

Following the death of Mulrooney O’Carroll in 1532, a bitter dispute over succession arose. As siblings battled each other for leadership of the clan, "one-eyed" Teige O’carroll is said to have slain his own brother, who was also a priest, as he celebrated Mass in "The Bloody Chapel."

However, the days of O’Carroll occupancy were drawing to a close, and they were about to lose possession in a suitably blood- thirsty manner.

A 17th century daughter of the clan fell in love with an English soldier named Captain Darby, who was being held prisoner in the castle dungeons. She smuggled food to him and eventually engineered his escape.

As they were making their way down the staircase, her brother suddenly confronted them, and the captain silenced him with a single sword thrust.

Since his lover then became the heiress to Leap Castle, it passed into the ownership of the captain’s family when the two were later married.

The last of the family to own Leap Castle was Jonathan Charles Darby who arrived here on 16th July 1880.

In 1909, his wife Mildred wrote an article for the Occult Review describing how she had held several sťances at the castle during which she had attracted the unwelcome attentions of an elemental – a primitive and malevolent force that attaches itself to a particular place. Mildred Darby described how she was "standing in the Gallery looking down at the main floor, when I felt somebody put a hand on my shoulder. The thing was the size of a sheep. Thin gaunt and shadowy… its eyes which seemed half decomposed in black cavities stared into mine. The horrible smell...gave me a deadly nausea. It was the smell of a decomposing corpse…"

Mildred’s occult dabbling also appears to have awoken other malevolent forces within the walls of Leap Castle, and it was at this time that the its fearsome reputation became firmly established.

Following its destruction by fire in 1922, workmen who had commenced gutting the interior, discovered an oubliette – a small dungeon whose name, derived from the French oublier, meaning "forget," says it all – behind a wall of the bloody chapel. This sinister little room was crammed with the mortal remains of the unfortunate victims of Leap Castle’s bloody and brutal past and three cartloads of human bones were eventually cleared away from this ghastly charnel house.

Over the next seventy years, it remained an empty shell, its fearsome reputation ensuring that the locals shunned it, particularly at night when all manner of ghostly activity was known to stir within its moss clad walls. From across the fields people would watch the window of the "Bloody Chapel" suddenly light up, as though hundreds of flickering candles were blazing within. Some, who dared walk amongst the ruins, experienced alarming encounters with a lustrous lady wearing a billowing red gown.

In 1972 the castle was purchased by an Australian of Irish decent who sold it to Sean and Anne Ryan in 1991 and Sean set about converting the ruin into a habitable family home.

Shortly afterwards, restoration was suddenly halted when the ladder he was working from was inexplicably pushed away from the wall forcing him to jump several stories and sustain a fractured knee.

No sooner had he resumed work, than another freak accident caused him to break an ankle. "We began to think that we weren’t welcome here," Anne Ryan stoically observed.

Today though, the spirits have come to accept the latest inhabitants of the castle and appear contented to exist alongside Sean and Anne.

They may, occasionally, make nuisances of themselves but, on the whole, they are no longer malevolent.

The sound of traditional music now wafts beneath the rafters as Sean entertains guests and visitors both on tours and at storytelling nights.

And, should a stray sprite or forlorn phantom chose to make an appearance, they are more than welcome to pull up a chair and enjoy the atmosphere of the place that they have helped imbue with the reputation of being Ireland’s most haunted castle.

Fethard, County Tipperary
Publican, restaurant and undertaker!

The medieval town of Fethard has a wide High Street, lined by fine old shops, gracious Georgian houses and, as with many an Irish town, a decent selection of watering holes.

Opposite its pretty church there stands a pub whose reputation has spread far beyond the town' s boundaries, and whose status borders almost on the legendary.

Richard McCarthy established McCarthy' s Hotel in the 1840s, and supplied the local community with spirits, linen, groceries, bread, glass and china. He also provided hackney carriage services, accommodation and livery and, when his clients had reached the end of their allotted span, was called upon to bury them in his role as local undertaker.

Although the business has been whittled down, it is still run by his descendents, and those who stray into the hotel' s time-worn interior can still enjoy drinking and dining in the only place I know where the management advertises their business as "Publican, Restaurant, Undertaker!"

The pub has hardly changed since the day Dick McCarthy opened for business.

It has the lived-in look of a ragged old rou who has gambled and drunk his way to a raddled old age and is happy to have done so. It is the pub that time forgot, a deliciously eccentric establishment, the walls covered with yellowed newspapers and faded photographs. In some places paint peels from the walls; in others the walls peel from the paint!

A curiously ornate wood-burning stove dominates the pub' s forward section. Its flue meanders upwards before curving over alarmingly close to the heads of customers seated at the bar.

Andrew Lloyd Webber, whose castle is situated nearby, is a regular, and it was over a boozy session at McCarthy's that he and Ben Elton conceived the idea for their musical The Beautiful Game.

During the 1970s three formidable old ladies - Beatty, Kitty and Nell - successfully steered McCarthy' s away from the trend for modernization that was afflicting Irish pubs.

They stood out against change, and their lasting legacy is the timelessness with which McCarthy' s is still imbued.

The 21st century can do what it likes, for here the clock will always tick slowly.

McCarthy' s most abiding supernatural occurrence is a harbinger of doom. Whenever a member of the family is about to die a picture falls off the wall for no apparent reason, occasionally accompanied by three loud knocks on the front door.

Several other ghosts are known to frequent the atmospheric interior of the old pub, and customers have caught fleeting glimpses of wispy wraiths at all hours of day and night.

So if, as you sit in a dark corner supping your pint, you happen to spy someone sitting across from you, take a long hard look, and don' t be surprised if they suddenly vanish!