PAUL MOYNIHAN, from Irish Ghost Hunters, looks at the haunted goings on at Leap Castle in County Offaly, Ireland.
If ghosts, ghouls, murder, mayhem and betrayal are your thing, then look no further than Leap Castle: this place is Spook Central. Regarded by many paranormalists as the most haunted place in the world, it’s hard to disagree. Growing up, I had read everything I possibly could with reference to Leap, and getting the chance to spend the night there when my passion for paranormal research became a reality was a dream come true.
Metaphysically speaking it shares much of its legendary status with Charleville Castle, as it is said that Leap is also built on land used by Celtic Druids for ancient magical rites. The castle was built in 1250 by the O‘Bannon family, with the intention of being their main stronghold. Legend has it that the castle’s name comes from an event which took place between the two O’Bannon brothers. A contest was conceived of in which the two brothers were to ‘leap’ off of the rocks where the castle would eventually stand. The surviving brother would then become chieftain. In the early 1500s, Leap was besieged twice by the Earl of Kildare. The O’Carroll’s, a powerful and fierce clan, soon took over the castle, and their era became the castle’s most infamous.
One story tells of the O’Carroll’s hiring the McMahon Clan to train them in new fighting techniques. During their visit, the McMahon’s held a great feast to celebrate their victory over an enemy clan of the O’Carroll’s. In a most treacherous move, the O’Carroll’s poisoned their guests’ food to avoid paying them for their services. Many have seen and heard the McMahon’s spirits in the castle, crying in agony.
When the O’Carroll chieftain passed away in 1532, a sibling rivalry was born between two of the O’Carroll brothers. One of the brothers was a priest and, one evening while he held a mass for his family in the chapel that sits on the top floor of the castle, his brother (known as ‘one-eyed’ Teige) burst in, sinking his sword into the priest. His body lay lifelessly over the altar, and this room is now known as the Bloody Chapel. Visitors claim to have seen the priest in a small tunnel to the left of where the altar once stood, and strange sounds and footsteps are heard coming from the area.
Another frightening phantom said to haunt Leap Castle is that of the ‘Lady in Red’, who has been seen in the castle’s gallery room. Some say she was pushed from the balcony which overlooks the room, falling to her death. I had the (mis)fortune of sleeping on the exact spot where this woman supposedly died, and it must be said, I actually had very little trouble sleeping!
The castle changed ownership once more in 1659. The Darby family took over at this time, wishing to turn the castle into a family home. The castle eventually fell into the hands of Jonathon and Mildred Darby, and it was at this time that the one bay wings on either side of the castle were added. However, they weren’t the only new addition during the Darby’s stay: if you thought poisoned clansmen, a lady in red, and a phantom priest were creepy, then prepare yourself for what is known to visitors of Leap Castle as The Elemental. The origins of this terrifying creature are the subject of much debate in the paranormal world, but there is one thing everyone can agree on: you don’t want to bump into it. There have been a number of eye-witness accounts, all describing this sinister spectre as being the size of a sheep, with hollow sockets where its eyes should be. The thing is gaunt and, disturbingly, smells of rotting corpses. Mildred Darby claims to have encountered The Elemental, and even wrote an article about it in 1909 in the London Occult Review. One of the most popular theories regarding The Elemental’s origins is that Mildred herself created the beast. She was an avid occultist and would often host séances in the castle, conducting all manner of black magic. Could she be responsible for somehow unleashing The Elemental upon Leap Castle? We’ll never know, though its presence is still felt in the castle to this day, so much so that the creature even has its own room. Many claim to have seen the shadowy shape of The Elemental in the dark corners of this room, and during my first visit to Leap Castle with Irish Ghost Hunters, a number of us noticed the disgusting smell emanating from the tunnel leading into the room.
In 1922, during the Irish Civil War, much of the castle was burned down by the IRA. During the clean-up operation, three cartloads of human skeletons were removed from an area known as the oubliette. The word oublier is French, meaning ‘to forget’. The room lay at the bottom of a large drop, with a huge spike pointing upward. Those unfortunate enough to be thrown into the oubliette would land on this spike, suffering horrendous puncture wounds. Many victims lay in pain for hours until massive blood loss claimed their lives, simply to be forgotten, as the room’s name suggests.
During the period of time in which the castle lay unused, many passing locals claim to have seen strange lights in the upstairs windows of the Bloody Chapel. It was in 1991 that the castle would once again be inhabited, becoming home to its current owner Sean Ryan and his family. A gentle, warm and welcoming man, Sean, an accomplished and well respected musician, says he has never felt threatened by the spirits that inhabit his home. He simply says they let him know that they are there. He also says that the two most active spirits in his home are those of two little girls, named Charlotte and Emily. It is believed that the two girls lived in the castle sometime in the 1600s. Though Charlotte’s reason for haunting the castle is unknown, there is speculation that she may have contracted an illness. It is said that Emily tragically fell from the south-east corner of the castle. The Ryans have heard a chilling scream at night, believing this to be the spirit of Emily manifesting itself. Sean believes that these spirits keep to themselves, and seem to be unaware of the Ryan family’s presence. The two girls are sometimes accompanied by a woman who is referred to as The Governess. Many visitors to the castle claim to have seen her stirring a pot on the ground floor.
Leap Castle’s ghosts are some of the strangest, creepiest and most frightening ever experienced by people, but it must be noted just how beautiful the building is. As soon as one enters its doors, a time warp occurs, sending the visitor to another world. It’s bloody history and macabre tales only begin to describe what Leap Castle was subject to, and if the walls could speak, they would tell one hell of a story.