No visit to the Midlands of Ireland is complete without a visit to some of its historic castles. Some are enchanting and fairy-like, filled with character and charm, while others are said to be haunted! We all love a good story and especially for Hallowe’en, here is a list of castles in the Midlands, deemed or doomed, to be haunted. (if you believe it). From 8 year old Harriet in her blue dress, to the friendly Monk ‘Hugh’ whispering ‘sweet nothings’ into your ear in Kinnity, let’s begin with ‘Ireland’s most haunted castle’!
Leap Castle, Offaly
Now the home of Sean Ryan, Leap Castle is reputed to be Ireland’s most haunted castle, with a ‘Murder Hole’, ‘The Blood Chapel’ and the ‘Red Lady’ who roams the halls. When this ‘dagger carrying’ lady is coming your way you’ll know, as the room will suddenly become immensely cold.
The Story : It is said that one of the O’Carroll sons killed his brother, a priest, during mass and his spirit remains lurking in the stairwell. The two brothers were fighting for leadership of the O’Bannon clan. On the fateful day, one brother, a priest, was saying ‘High Mass’, in what is now known as ‘The Bloody Chapel’. His rival brother entered and plunged a sword through his torso, whereupon the priest fell across the altar and died in front of his horrified family. Legend has it, the priest’s apparition can be seen wandering the ‘bloody chapel’ as well as the stairway below.
Another story tells of a woman known as ‘The Red Lady’ who has been seen prowling the halls, dressed in scarlet and brandishing a knife with a look of pure hatred on her face.
Kinnitty Castle, County Offaly
Kinnitty Castle, is a picture perfect, working castle with 37 guest rooms. Built on an Augustinian Abbey, it has left some guests feeling a little spooked after a stay in certain rooms. In fact, the castle attracted the attention of the TV show ‘Most Haunted’, in 2004. It’s believed that several ghosts haunt the castle grounds. The most famous ghost is the Monk of Kinnitty, who has been spotted by both staff and guests alike.
The Story : The Monk, affectionately referred to as ‘Hugh’ has been spotted in the banqueting hall and Dungeon Bar by staff and guests. Deemed to be ‘friendly’ he is known to hide cutlery and particularly loves mingling with guests at the many weddings that take place there. Some guests have even reported their television being switched off and on.
Charleville Castle, Tullamore, Offaly
Charleville Castle is privately owned, but open by appointment, it has one of the finest gothic interiors in Ireland and was used as a film set for Jane Eyre.In its heyday Charleville Castle was the finest castle in Offaly on a par with nearby Birr Castle, although the present Lord Rosse once commented that the stand of yew trees at Charleville were far superior to those at Birr. Under the direction of Bonny and Dudley Stewart who are curators at the castle, it is open daily to the public for tours (please phone in advance to let them know you are coming) which evolve into history lessons and great storytelling sessions of the Knights Templar and the little girl Harriet who haunts the castle.
The Story : In relation to Lady Harriet Bury, the story goes that in 1861 the eight year-old fell down the stairs of the castle while attempting to slide down the bannister. 161 years after her death, if you visit the stairwell, some say they can hear her laughing and singing, while some have even seen her dancing in her blue and white dress.
Durrow Castle, Durrow, Laois
Built by Capt William Flower in 1716, on the banks of the river Erkina, Castle Durrow has been lovingly restored by Shelly and Peter Stokes and is now open as one of Ireland’s most popular luxury four-star hotels and a popular wedding venue. It is conveniently located about 1 hour from Dublin and 90 minutes from Cork.
The Story : With the woodlands nearby there have been stories of Jeremiah Grant, the ruthless highwayman and his gang who are still lurking around the area! In the early 19th Century, a gang led by Jeremiah Grant (the last man to be hanged in Laois) terrorised the local community. Some say the gang hid their stolen treasure in the woodlands surrounding the castle and their malevolent spirits are still said to keep watch on it, to this day, over 200 years after they were sentenced to death for their crimes.
Tullynally Castle and Gardens, Castlepollard, Westmeath
Tullynally castle is a gothic revival castle, with a maze of fairytale towers and turrets. The Pakenhams have lived there for over 350 years and it is very much a family home with 120 rooms! They often hold musical evenings with chamber quartets and piano recitals.
The Story : According to folklore Tullynally has some resident ghosts. In the 18th Century a Butler fell in love with the teenage daughter of the castle owner and when it was unrequited he took his life. His ghost has been seen in her bedroom and library.
Clonony Castle. Shannon Harbour, County Offaly
This 16th-century Tudor castle was built with all the usual features for the period, including a murder hole, mysterious passages, and a three-story tower.
It was given by King Henry VIII to Thomas Boleyn in exchange for the hand of his daughter, Anne (who was beheaded). Anne’s two sisters Mary and Elizabeth, lived there and were buried on the grounds.
The Story : There have been many reported sightings of the ghost of a skeletal figure known as ‘The Thin Man’ on top of the tower, an eerie hazy glow surrounding him. Some think he is wearing a coat of armour (thus the glow) and others think he appears like a peasant. Strange colours and noises coming from the grounds have also been reported.
Believe these stories or not, there’s hardly a better time to check them out at Hallowe’en when spirits are high. It began as An Samhain, (the Irish word for Autumn) celebrating the the beginning of winter, so why not continue the tradition by visiting your local castle in the midlands.
And dont forget, bring a friend to hold your hand, just in case.