TRUE GHOST STORIES FROM
WESTERN IRELAND

Renvyle House Hotel

Renvyle House sits in quiet seclusion amidst the wilds of Connemara, and is as far off the beaten track as you could ever hope t to get.

A long, low grey-stone building standing hard by the waters of the Atlantic, it was rebuilt in the 1930s following the destruction of the former property on the site by the IRA.

Never is its location so exposed, its impact so dramatic, as when a murderous gale comes howling across the ocean' s raging surface and hurls itself with demented fury at the walls and windows.

Then do the floors and low beams of its upstairs corridors creak wearily, as the dim lights cast long shadows into dark corners, from where you sense the eyes of former residents watching your every move.

These are the days to huddle close to the glowing turf fires, and speak in reverential whispers of the ghosts that roam the sea-sprayed house.

The current building opened on 26 April 1930 and was then owned by Dublin surgeon, poet and wit, Oliver St John Gogarty. He had purchased the original property in 1917, and unwittingly acquired several ghosts along with the deeds.

There was a north-facing upstairs room, with heavy bars across its windows, where no maidservant would dare sleep for fear of the "presence" that could be felt there.

One night the malevolent force moved a heavy linen chest across the door, barring outside access. Only when a workman had sawed through the bars could the family enter the room again.

One night Gogarty was sleeping in the west wing when he was woken by ponderous, limping footsteps approaching along the corridor. Lighting a candle, he went to investigate; but the moment he left his room the flame was extinguished and he found himself alone in the dark. Suddenly his limbs became very heavy, "as if I were exercising with rubber ropes," as he later put it. Fortunately, nothing further happened that night.

One of St John Gogarty' s closest friends was the poet W. B. Yeats. Whenever he and his wife, Georgia, came to stay the supernatural activity increased dramatically.

One night, as he sat with his companions in the oak-panelled library, the door suddenly creaked wide open. The other occupants were terrified, but Yeats raised his hand and shouted, "Leave it alone, it will go away, as it came,"  whereupon the invisible revenant obligingly slammed the door shut.

Evan Morgan (later Lord Tredgar) was less in command of the spirits. He had recently embraced Roman Catholicism and, on being told that a particular room was haunted, he attempted an exorcism.

No sooner had he lit three candles and began reciting some prayers than a thick mist filled the room and the unfortunate Morgan was thrown to the ground.

Having been dragged to safety by his friends, he revealed that he had seen the ghost of a pale-faced boy with large luminous eyes, dressed in brown, who was clasping his hands to his throat as if strangling himself. Morgan concluded that the boy had committed suicide in that room.

W. B. Yeats, meanwhile, held a séance in an attempt to contact the ghost. Using automatic writing the spirit indicated that it objected to the presence of strangers in the house. It informed Yeats that it would appear to his wife and reveal its identity.

Georgia Yeats was a well-known and talented medium and felt no compunction about entering the haunted room alone. As she stood by the fireside a "vapoury" mist appeared, which gradually assumed the form of a red-haired, pale-faced boy, aged around 14. "He had the solemn pallor of a tragedy beyond the endurance of a child," Mrs Yeats later told her husband.

She learnt that the ghostly boy was a member of the Blake family, the original owners of the house.

Shortly afterwards, with Gogarty away in England, his house fell victim to the Irish struggles and was burnt down by the IRA. "Memories, nothing left now but memories and ten tall square towers, chimneys, stand bare on Europe's extreme verge," lamented Gogarty.

The house was rebuilt and Gogarty ran it as a hotel until relinquishing ownership in the 1950s.

Today the house is wonderfully atmospheric and ghosts still roam the corridors. In the past guests have complained of sensing "someone" in their room, and several ladies have had disturbing encounters with a man, whose reflection they have seen looking over their shoulders as they made up their faces in the mirror.

Perhaps the last word on this mystery-steeped building should go to Oliver St John Gogarty. "The countryside was magical," he wrote, "it is as if, in the faery land of Connemara at the extreme end of Europe, the incongruous flowed together at last, and the sweet and the bitter blended."

Moore Hall

In 2002 I received a letter from an American Reader of my book Haunted Britain and Ireland telling me that if I was planning a follow up I might like to consider including Moore Hall in County Mayo, since he and his wife had visited the property on their recent vacation in Ireland. Both had heard footsteps from inside the house, followed by the sound of a door slamming and excited chatter as though two people were involved in a very animated conversation.

I must confess that I had never heard of Moore Hall, but following a little research I was delighted to find that, ghosts aside, the building itself was the childhood home of the novelist George Moore, a man who nobody seems to have liked very much!

W.B. Yeats described Moore’s face as looking like it had been carved out of a turnip. Henry Arthur Jones said that he resembled "a boiled ghost." To Oliver St John Gogarty he was simply "that egregious ass," whilst James Stephens labelled him, "the famous novelist that everybody talks about and nobody reads."

However, what nobody could deny was that, for all his faults, George Moore was a talented and original writer and in his greatest novel The Lake he paints a pen portrait of Lough Carra that is as enticing as it is exquisite.

Lough Carra is one of Ireland’s loveliest and least visited lakes and on a hill above it, lost amidst dark and gloomy woodland, stand the ruins of Moore Hall.

It is a gaunt shell of broken walls, toppled brick and fallen masonry. The gnarled branches of skeletal trees poke from its empty windows, whilst its basement is a sinister labyrinth of arched corridors and dark rooms, their floors carpeted by a mulch of decaying leaves and squelching mud.

On the day I visited it, a grey pall hung heavy over its roofless bulk. I found it to be a truly chilling and eerie place, and although entrance is now forbidden, due to its tragically precarious state, enough of its interior was visible from the outside to give the impression of what a glorious house it must have been in its heyday.

At the rear of the building I discovered an arched, dark tunnel that led to a wooden gate through which I could see the basement rooms, all of them exuding a gloom-laden and ominous air.

Maybe it was the effect of the surroundings at work on my imagination, but as I gazed into the cavernous rooms before me I suddenly heard the distinct sound of childish laughter echoing from the upper floors. I looked up quickly but could see nobody. I walked around the whole property and wherever possible peered in through the windows, but the house seemed quite empty.

I took a little more time to look around and to take my photographs before heading back to the car along the tree- lined avenue that forms the approach to the hall. As I did so, I became convinced that someone was watching me from the dark shell of the old house. A few times I felt compelled to look back, just to ensure that I was alone.

It was only when I arrived back at the car park and the rippling dark waters of the Lough stretched before me that the feeling of foreboding that had been with me since hearing the laughter began to lift and I felt at ease once more.

Gallarus Oratory

The rolling mountains and sea breezes of the Dingle Peninsula can often hide a rich archaeological past from the visitor.

Of the many heritage sites on the peninsula Gallarus Oratory is unique in both its setting and mystique.

Situated on natural farmland and exposed to the wild Atlantic winds and weather, this lovely little building of stone without mortar, resembles an upturned boat, and the fact that it is still waterproof is proud testimony to the skills of the humble ecclesiastical craftsmen who constructed it 1200 years ago.

It is the oldest intact building in Ireland, and was built for prayer at a time when the world was universally thought to be charged with the active spirit of a personal God.

Once inside this masterpiece of ancient stonework you are enveloped by the spirit of times gone by as your imagination soars back to a long ago era when the surrounding countryside - eerily beautiful yet frighteningly hostile and isolated - acted as a magnet to those who came in search of contemplative solitude.

And here, perched on the edge of Europe - or as they saw it the edge of eternity - those long ago monks and hermits could seek their God in a raw, ecstatic encounter with stone, wind, sea and sky.

Today the age of miracles has given way to the age of science and universal materialism has brought a strange paradox to this sacred place of spiritual simplicity.

Bus loads of camera toting tourists “doing Ireland” make up the largest proportion of its visitors. They traipse obediently through the visitors centre resplendent in their designer labelled clothing, walk the grass path that meanders up to the tiny Oratory, pose for a few digital pictures, walk back to their busses and are gone.

Yet in a quiet moment in the early morning or late evening, when the tour busses have parked up for the night, it is possible to stand alone within this ancient structure, and listen to the Atlantic winds flinging themselves with demented fury against the stone walls.

Then does the Oratory appear to shiver wearily as it braces itself against another onslaught, and then can you sense the presence of those long ago men of god to whom life was but a fleeting moment in which to prepare for that which lies beyond.

Lake Hotel
Lake Shore, Killarney, County Kerry

The Lake Hotel sits in tranquil isolation on the shores of Loch Leine, the lower of Killarney’s beautiful and justifiably renowned lakes.

It is a long and modern looking building with creamy yellow walls.

But once inside, enough of the 19th century manor house has survived to give the firm impression that you have been pitched back to a bygone age. Its dark-wood staircase ascends to a veritable labyrinth of long shadowy corridors where the darker recesses - of which there are many - have a truly haunting ambience.

In the hotel grounds, and on the very edge of the Loch itself, stand the overgrown ruins of Castlelough Castle.

Built around 1220 and once home to the McCarthy Mors, (Ed an accent is over the o) the castle’s lakeside location made it virtually impregnable and the McCarthy’s came to enjoy a fearsome reputation as hard fighters and harder drinkers.

During the reign of Elizabeth 1st one of their number, Donal McCarthy, acquired the nickname of "Dan of the Feathers," due to his fondness for collecting the plumed helmets of vanquished Elizabethan troops as his trophies of war from frequent skirmishes with the English.

It is said that he even employed a retinue of women at the castle to make mattresses and cushions from these collected feathers!

His ghost, it is said, still drifts in a spectral boat across the glassy surface of the Lake in the dead of night. He has even been seen in the hotel’s "Devil’s Punchbowl" bar looking sadly across at the ruined castle, no doubt remembering long ago days of glory and bloodshed - although the pint of Guinness that he reputedly holds in his hand should perhaps be taken with a large pinch of salt!

When Cromwell’s troops invaded Ireland, the castle was severely battered, and eventually its defenders, having put up a fierce resistance, were forced to submit.

This and nearby Ross Castle were the last in Ireland to surrender and it was here on the tranquil shores of Lough Leine that the Cromwelian Wars in both Ireland and England came to an end.

Over the years, many guests have reported close encounters with the hotel’s other resident ghost, a girl aged between twelve and fourteen years old who has been seen flitting about the buildings darker corners and who has a fondness for wandering at leisure across the front of the building that faces onto the Lough.

Her appearances are always accompanied by what has been described as "a body chilling feeling" coupled with a sense of "total calm."

No-one knows for certain who she is, nor what long ago event has caused her earthbound wraith to walk the corridors.

A medium once succeeded in making contact with her spirit but, since the ghost insisted on speaking in "some form of Irish," not a great deal could be learnt of her reason for haunting the hotel.

Since her garb has been described as being a white dress in the style of the 17th or 18th centuries, staff have concluded that she may well be the little daughter of Ellen McCarthy, sister to "Dan of the Feathers," and have, therefore, christened their ghost "Ellen" after her mother.

Rockfleet Castle
Granuaile – The Pirate Queen

Pirate Queen, nurse of all rebellions, dark lady, fearless warrior, ruthless plunderer, chieftain, traitor, noblewoman, mercenary and gambler - are just some of the terms that have been used to describe one of the most remarkable women to ever grace the pages of Irish history, even though that history has chosen to ignore her and left it instead to folklore and legend to preserve her memory.

Gráinne O’Malley was born around 1530, the only daughter of clan chieftain "Dubhdara" ("Black Oak") O'Malley, and his wife Margaret. They were hereditary rulers of a territory that stretched from the west coast of Ireland to the isle of Aran, and made their living by the sea.

Owen was a brave and fearless mariner who knew his business well. He was, however, forbidden to trade in his nearest port, the English-controlled Galway and, as a result, did business instead with Scotland, France, Portugal and, England’s archenemy, Spain.

According to legend Gráinne had, as a child, begged to sail with her father but was discouraged from doing so, not least because a female aboard a ship was considered "devil’s ballast" - a bad omen whose presence could only induce storms and cause shipwreck.

Unperturbed, she is said to have cut off all her hair and dressed in boys clothing, causing her amused family to nickname her "Gráinne Mhaol"("Bald Grace") which was later shortened to Granuaile, the sobriquet by which Irish legend and song best remembers her.

The ruse appears to have succeeded because the next record of her is when the English attacked her father’s ship as he returned from Spain. Gráinne, ignoring Owens instructions to hide below deck, saved his life by leaping onto an attacker's back and causing a diversion that turned the battle in her family's favour.

Thereafter she often accompanied her father on his voyages, learning his cunning, studying his ways and, ultimately, inheriting his leadership qualities.

Those qualities began to manifest themselves when, at the age of fifteen, Gráinne married her first husband, the ferociously quarrelsome Donal-an-Coghaidh (of the Battles) O'Flaherty, heir in waiting of a powerful family whose motto was "fortune favours the bold."

She bore him two sons, Owen and Murrough plus a daughter, Margaret.

Donal’s temperament, however, was more suited to pursuing personal vendettas than to ensuring the well being of his clan and consequently his people were soon enduring genuine hardship.

Granuaile stepped in to lead the O'Flaherties out of crisis and, by sheer force of personality, effectively made herself their chief, winning their loyalty and superseding her husband’s authority.

Soon afterwards, Donal was killed by his hereditary enemies, the Joyce’s, as they attempted to win back the island fortress he had taken from them on Lough Corrib.

Despite the ferociousness of their attack, he mounted such a brave defence that his admiring enemies nicknamed him An Cullagh (The Cock).

When they finally killed him, their jubilation at taking "Cock’s Castle" proved short lived, for Gráinne put up such a fearless and skilful resistance that the Joyce’s were forced to retreat and, grudgingly, renamed their fortress Caislean-an-Circa ("Hen’s Castle"), the name it still bears today.

With her husband dead, Granuaile returned to her father’s territory and took up residence at the O’Malley stronghold on Clare Island.

Strategically it was an ideal base from which to monitor shipping and she subsequently made a great deal of money from charging protection for safe passage, providing navigators, and even from out-and-out piracy.

The only portion of Clew bay not in O'Malley hands was the section overlooked by Rockfleet Castle. So, in 1567, Gráinne is said to have, literally, banged on its door and proposed marriage to the owner, Richard Bourke.

Determined that it would be conducted on her terms, she suggested that if either of them wished to withdraw from the union after one year, then they would be free to do so.

Tradition maintains that, at the end of the years’ duration, she locked him out of his castle and, from the ramparts, shouted down "Richard Bourke I divorce thee."

Thereafter, the castle would be indelibly linked with her legend, and she would live here on an almost continuous basis until her death in 1603.

Their divorce, however, seems to have been short lived, since they were still married at the time of his death, sixteen years later.

Their only son, Theobold, was born in about 1567, reputedly whilst Gráinne was at sea.

Shortly after his birth Turkish Pirates attacked the ship and, with the battle going against his crew, her captain implored the exhausted Granuaile to come above and rally the men. "May you be seven times worse off this day twelve months, who cannot do without me for one day," she cursed.

Then, wrapped in a blanket, she rushed on deck where "her monstrous size and odd figure" so surprised the Turks that, "their officers gathered together talking of her" whereupon "she stretched both her hands, fired two Blunder Bushes at them and Destroyed the officers."

One of the most enduring legends about her dates from this period and concerns Howth Castle, which still stands some ten miles from Dublin City.

Returning from a voyage, she put in to the port of Howth for provisions. Granuaile duly went to see the local lord, St Lawrence, to seek his hospitality, as was the Gaelic custom. She found the castle gates locked and was told by the servants that his lordship was at dinner and would not be disturbed.

Heading back to her ship she came upon St Lawrence’s young grandson playing in the grounds, kidnapped him and took him back to Clew as her hostage.

Convinced the ransom would be high, Howth opened negotiations for the boys’ return.

Gráinne contemptuously dismissed his offers of gold and silver. Her price, she declared, was that the gates of Howth Castle must never again be locked and that an extra setting must evermore be laid at the dinner table, lest an unexpected guest should happen to stop by.

Relieved at the simplicity of the demand, St Lawrence agreed and returned to Howth with his grandson, where he faithfully kept his side of the arrangement and where, even today, the castle gates are always open and an extra place laid at the dinner table in commemoration of the family’s legendary encounter with the Pirate Queen.

It was the arrival in Ireland in1584 of Sir Richard Bingham, newly appointed governor of Connaught that set in motion a chain of events that would culminate in Granuaile’s most daring and ambitious escapade.

His implicit belief was that "the Irish were never tamed with words but with swords" and he set out to ruthlessly to destroy the Gaelic culture and parcel out the land amongst his loyal supporters.

He was desperate to suppress Gráinne O'Malley, and his opportunity came in 1586 when a force led by his brother, Captain John Bingham, brutally murdered her eldest son, Owen.

The grief stricken Granuaile began openly plotting an uprising against the regime and prepared to sail for Ulster to bring in Scottish mercenaries.

But Bingham sent his brother to capture her and, according to her later testimony, Granuaile and her followers were "tied with a rope" and "spoiled of their said cattle and of all they ever had." He even "caused a new pair of gallows to be made for her where she thought to end her days."

But her son-in-law was allowed to take her place as hostage and Gráinne was released.

Bingham, however, had taken her cattle and horses leaving her without any means of livelihood from her lands.

When he also began to suppress her ability to live by the sea, Granuaile decided that her only hope lay in going over his head and, thus it was that in 1593, she petitioned Queen Elizabeth 1st, outlining her grievances.

The Queen sent back 18 'Articles of Interrogatory,' a list of questions concerning the matter which Gráinne answered.

But, before Elizabeth could intervene, Bingham had Granuaile’s sons and stepbrother arrested and charged them with treason.

Realising that time was now of the essence, Gráinne boarded her ship and sailed to London where she marched into Greenwich Palace and sought an audience with Elizabeth 1st.

On a summers’ day, in late July 1593, these two remarkable and elderly women came face to face. Their summit almost certainly would have been conducted in Latin, and Granuaile appears to have argued her case impressively, since Elizabeth is said to have listened with a combination of admiration and sympathy.

But, that aside, we know nothing of what the two actually discussed at what was, apparently, a private meeting.

But, where history remains silent, legend possesses no such restraint and the Irish talent for storytelling has subsequently blessed us with an intriguing narrative of what occurred.

Early on in the meeting Gráinne is said to have sneezed and was given a richly embroidered lace handkerchief by a member of the court. Having used it loudly she promptly cast it onto the blazing fire. When the Queen reprimanded her, observing that it had been a gift and should therefore have been put in her pocket, Gráinne retorted that the Irish would never put a soiled garment in their pocket and therefore, evidently, possessed higher standards of cleanliness than the English.

When the Queen offered to make Granuaile an English Countess her guest sneered dismissively "I don’t want your titles, aren’t we both equals? If there be any good in the thing I may as well make you one as you me." And when the bemused Elizabeth defended herself against her visitor’s accusation of idleness claiming "I have the care of this great country on my shoulders" she received short shrift. "There’s many a poor creature in Mayo, who has only the care of a barley field, has more industry about them than you seem to have Queen of the English."

That Granuaile survived the audiences is evidence enough that these colourful exchanges are later embellishments. The fact that she impressed Elizabeth is demonstrated by court exchanges about the meeting, and by the fact that the Queen promptly sent word to Bingham instructing him to release his prisoners and demanding that he provide Gráinne with a living for the rest of her days.

Once back in Ireland, Granuaile put out to sea, under the guise of fighting for the queen.

But Bingham ordered a company of soldiers to follow her on all voyages and in the end she fled to Munster to stay with an old friend, Thomas, Earl of Ormond, who helped her petition the queen again, although there is no record of a reply.

Bingham’s days, however, were numbered and, learning that a conspiracy to remove him from office was being waged by his fellow administrator’s, he fled to England and was promptly imprisoned.

Granuaile eventually returned to Rockfleet Castle where the last years of this tempestuous and heroic woman were relatively tame.

She died at Rockfleet in 1603 and was buried in the Cistercian Abbey on Clare Island, where her remains may, or may not rest today.

Doubt exists thanks to a local tradition that her skull, suitably adorned with colourful ribbons, was for many years afterwards shown to curious visitors.

Then, in the 19th century, a company was formed in Scotland to gather bones for fertiliser. Its ships raided the West coast of Ireland, plundering immense quantities of bones from the old abbeys and churchyards.

Granuaile’s remains, so it was claimed, ended up spread across a Scottish acre. But one of her grinders, the story goes, was discovered in a turnip by a Scotsman who choked to death on it!