AN INTRODUCTION TO IRISH GHOSTS

By Richard Jones

Ireland is a magical country and its landscape is both mysterious and melancholic. The ghosts that roam Haunted Ireland are indicative of a past that has seen the supreme heights and the desperate lows happiness and misery.

Ireland is a land of paradoxes- it is beautiful but bleak; mystical yet strangely modern; peaceful yet divided; rich in talent yet poor in resources.

There is mystery in the haunted landscape of Ireland's ruined castles, its prehistoric stone circles, its abandoned Stately Homes and its windswept wildernesses.

It is a land of storytellers. A land where you can be regaled with the most unbelievable tales, and yet find yourself accepting them without question.

There are legends of banshees, leprechauns and the dreaded pookha’s.

Yet none of these seem out of place in a land that is blessed with enchantment, and the ghosts of haunted Ireland seem to blend in perfectly.

HAUNTED IRISH HOUSES

Ireland's great houses were not designed or built for the benefit of the indigenous population, but rather for the all-powerful Anglo-Irish aristocracy.

These, often absentee, owners employed the finest craftsmen and architects to create stately piles that reflected their family fortunes and their self held belief in their own importance.

A handful of the stately homes of Ireland were the main seats of great and noble families.

But many were little more than holiday homes - summer retreats to which they could invite their English friends in the hope of impressing them with their largesse.

Over the centuries these houses came to be seen as symbols of subjugation and, with the rising tide of Irish nationalism that swept the country in the early 20th century, they became prime targets as the people rose up to free themselves from the yoke of English oppression.

Consequently many of Ireland’s once great houses are now little more than hollow shells that lie forgotten in peaceful seclusion. Abandoned, enigmatic ruins whose crumbling walls reflect bygone ages of grandeur and glory.

Yet to discover them is a wonderful and awesome experience, and to stand amidst their tottering walls and contemplate their ghosts can elicit the coldest of shivers even on the brightest of summer’s days.

HAUNTED IRISH CASTLES

Between the late 12th century and the early 18th century more than three thousand castles were constructed across Ireland.

To this day Ireland boasts more castles than the whole of England, Scotland and Wales put together.

Yet, since the majority were built with the avowed intention of suppressing the indigenous population, the native Irish have never felt a great deal of affection for the castles that litter the landscape.

Consequently, the majority of Ireland's castles are little more than mouldering piles of timeworn stone that stand abandoned in the middle of fields, or are sandwiched between or even incorporated into modern buildings.

Some perch perilously on the edges of crumbling cliffs, whilst many of them are left to decay in the gardens of houses both great and small, their stones hauled away to be used for sundry building projects in the locality.

In recent years, a small proportion of them have been tastefully restored and either pressed into service as elegant homes for rock stars, actors and celebrities, or else have been converted into elegant hotels where one nights bed and breakfast costs a tidy sum which, in the past, would have kept a family in house and home for many generations.

The Irish gift for story telling has imbued many of these castles with a rich array of phantoms, and it is a truly wonderful experience to be regaled with the tales of the ghosts that wander the castles of haunted Ireland.

IRISH MYTHS AND LEGENDS

Basking in Gaelic traditions Ireland is blessed with an aural tradition that has survived centuries of political oppression and national calamity.

Ireland's origins are shrouded in a mist so thick that they are obscured from the curious gaze of even the most dedicated historical researcher.

The great passage tombs in the Boyne valley, Newgrange and Knowth, for example, are decorated with such exquisite lines, whorls and spirals that they are, in many ways, reminiscent of the technical skills and mathematical precision demonstrated by those behind the creation of the Egyptian pyramids.

Yet they predate these acknowledged wonders by more than a thousand years.

The peoples responsible for their construction are nothing short of a tantalising enigma, whilst their everyday lives and religious beliefs can only be guessed at.

THE PEOPLE OF THE GODDESS

Folklore, however, maintains that five specific groups of invaders have populated Ireland, and it is to the penultimate of these, the Tuatha De Danaan (The People of the Goddess Danu), that mystical Ireland truly belongs.

Having ruled the land for nine generations, this race of gods were driven out by the Milesians, from whom the present day Irish are said to be descended.

At Kenmare Bay, in County Kerry, the two sides fought a battle during which the De Danann Queen, Eriu, was fatally wounded.

But before she died, she made the Milesian leader, Amorgen, promise that the island would bear her name forever and thus it became Eriu, Eire or Eireann.

The final confrontation between the two forces was on the plain of Teltown, and here the invaders finally overwhelmed the Tuatha De Danann who, rather than become expatriates, used their magical powers to retreat into a mystical realm, leaving Ireland itself to their conquerors.

THE ORIGINS OF THE BANSHEE

Thereafter, the Tuatha De Danann dwelt beyond the sidhes, those grassy mounds and barrows that speckle the landscape of Ireland to this day.

They became, according to tradition, the Aes Sidhe, or "People of the Hills" - the fairies whose existence has become rooted in the Irish psyche and whose mysterious otherworld has provided a final refuge in times of trouble.

Every god was a Fer-Sidhe, or "man of the hill," and every goddess a Bean-Sidhe, or "woman of the hill," the banshee of popular Irish legend.