Who doesn’t love a good ghost story?
With their long and often violent histories, castles are pretty much ground zero for supernatural encounters. Join me as I share the tales of some of the spookiest haunted castles in Ireland.
Leap Castle, County Offaly
Not only is Leap Castle the most haunted castle in Ireland, it’s considered by many to be the most haunted castle in the world. It’s so haunted it’s been featured on TV in shows such as Ghost Hunters.
The castle has a sad and bloody history filled with imprisonment, execution and even a massacre. The O’Carroll clan, upon siezing the castle, unleashed a violent and gruesome reign. One of the sons, a priest, murdered by his own brother while saying mass in what is now known as the “Bloody Chapel”.
Numerous entities have been seen including two young girls, one of whom various people have seen falling from the castle battlements only to disappear before she reaches the ground. And the Red Lady wanders the halls carrying brandishing a dagger. She is reputedly a woman who was imprisoned and repeatedly raped at the castle. When she gave birth, the O’Caroll’s killed the baby upon which she took her own life with a dagger.
A macabre discovery
When the castle was being refurbished in the 1900’s a grizzly discovery was made. A hidden room with a trapdoor was found above a spiked oubliette. Victims met their death after being dropped through the trapdoor by the barbarous O’Carolls. Three cartloads of human skeletons were recovered from the spikes where they had been impaled for several hundred years.
As if this wasn’t enough, in the 1600’s, one of the O’Carroll descendants, Mildred Darby, practiced the dark arts in the castle. A gothic novelist, her meddlings with the supernatural are thought to have awakened a dark elemental presence. Opinions vary as to what this presence is – perhaps it was put there by Druids before the castle was built, or possibly it’s the ghost of a leprosy-ridden ancestor. It’s been described as an evil, gaunt spirit that smells like a rotting corpse.
Strange activities have continued even to the modern day.
You’ll find Leap Castle in Roscrea. It’s privately owned but can be toured by appointment. If you dare.
To get a taste of Leap Castle check out this video…
Castle Leslie, County Monaghan
Castle Leslie is a beautiful estate still belonging to the Leslie family who built it in the 1600’s. Although it appears to be an elegant and peaceful place, there are strange things lurking in the castle halls. Guests to the castle have reported all sorts of ghostly apparitions and paranormal activity.
Norman Leslie died during a battle in World War l and at the moment of his death his mother, Lady Marjory, is said to have seen a vision of him near her bed in the Red Room. When she asked him what he was doing there, he disappeared. Visitors staying in the Red Room have seen Norman who reportedly shuffles paper and hushes people when they are making too much noise.
Another member of the Leslie family who likes to haunt the halls is Lady Constance Leslie. She made her first known appearance at the deathbed of Lady Leonie. A nurse on duty saw Leonie greeted by a woman with whom she talked for a while before the woman vanished. It wasn’t until the next day, at Leonie’s memorial, that the nurse recognized the woman – in a portrait of Lady Constance who had died in 1925! Constance is known for still visiting the Mauve Room and levitating the bed. Cue the music from The Twilight Zone…
You can spend the night at Castle Leslie which is now a luxury resort. If you’re really brave, you’ll be asking for the Red Room or Mauve Room!
Ballyseede Castle, County Kerry
TripAdvisor rated Ballyseede Castle as one of the most haunted castles in the world. Back when the first Queen Elizabeth was on the throne, the 15th Earl of Desmond was Ballyseede’s owner. He refused to swear allegiance to the Crown and openly incited rebellion against English rule. For his troubles he was captured and beheaded. His head was taken to the queen as a gift (how thoughtful!) who displayed it on London Bridge as a warning to others who might be tempted into the same folly. In those days it didn’t pay to mess with the queen.
Today, guests report all sorts of paranormal activity. From hearing voices to footsteps to actual ghostly encounters. The castle’s most famous ghost – the Phantom Monk of Kinnitty – likes to talk to staff and visitors, often appearing in solid form. He has even been mistaken for a living person. Another regularly sighted ghost is said to be Hilda Blennerhassett who died in the 1960’s.
The castle boasts two haunted rooms – the Geraldine Room and the Elizabeth Room.
But all reports indicate that the ghosts of Ballyseede are friendly and perfectly harmless.
You can stay at Ballyseede Castle which operates as a luxury hotel. While you’re visiting be sure to tag along on one of the nightly spooky tours of the castle.
Ballygally Castle, County Antrim
Reputed to be one of the most haunted places in Ulster (Northern Ireland), mediums visiting this castle have said that there are more ghosts than guests staying here.
The most famous ethereal being is that of Lady Isabella Shaw, who reportedly fell (or was she pushed??) to her death from a window. The story goes that after giving birth to his heir, Lord Shaw took the baby and locked his wife in a room at the top of the castle and she fell while trying to escape to find her child.
Lady Isabella has been wandering the halls of the castle for 400 years. Many visitors have either seen her or felt as a presence in their rooms. She also likes to knock on doors before disappearing. A ghost who enjoys a practical joke?
The Ghost Room, in one of the castle turrets, is dedicated to her – you can visit the room but you can’t stay overnight in it. But that’s okay, there are plenty of ghostly encounters to be had in the other rooms.
There are many stories of things going bump in the night and even an eerie green mist hanging over the castle. Another regular spirit visitor is Madame Nixon who lived here in the 19th century. The rustle of her silk dress is often heard as she walks through the halls.
One particularly spooky incident happened in 2003 when a table had been neatly set up for a meal in the Dungeon Room. The room was locked but when it was next checked the table was a mess. Napkins had been unfolded and most strangely, the glasses had been arranged in a circle.
Despite these eerie happenings, the ghosts of Ballygally appear to be friendly.
Ballygally Castle operates as a hotel. You’ll find it along the famous Causeway Coastal Route on the scenic Antrim coast.
Dunluce Castle, County Antrim
No list of haunted castles in Ireland would be complete without an abandoned castle. Not too far from Ballygally Castle, brooding on a rocky crag, clings the ruin of Dunluce Castle.
Its a castle that just screams haunted. Or maybe that’s the Banshee. Yes, Dunluce castle has a resident Banshee.
This Celtic castle began life in the 13th century and in the 14th century was the stronghold of the Clan MacDonnell. Earlier than that though, it was the site of an Irish fort. Its location on a basalt outcrop, with sheer drops on all sides, probably explains its appeal to the early Christians and Vikings who came here. What remains of the castle today can be reached across a narrow bridge. But be warned – ghostly encounters have been reported here for hundreds of years.
But back to that Banshee.
Maeve Roe, the daughter of Lord MacQuillan, fell in love with a man who was not the one her father had in mind. As punishment she was imprisoned in one of the castle towers. Eventually, she managed to escape with a plan to elope with her paramour Reginald O’Cahan. That night, they stole a row boat and escaped through the Mermaid’s Cave which opens to the sea below the castle. But a wild storm was raging and their boat was destroyed against the rocks. Her body was never recovered. Since that night her wailing can be heard coming from the Northeast Tower on dark, stormy nights and her ghost haunts these windswept ruins. Maeve’s soul has become the Banshee of Dunluce Castle, forever in torment.
Dunluce Castle can be found along the Causeway Coastal Route in Northern Antrim between Portballintrae and Portrush.
When you’re visiting Ireland be sure to stop in to one of its haunted castles. If, that is, you’re not afraid…..
Have you ever encountered a ghost? Or heard a banshee? We’d love to hear about it in the comments below!