Tales of creepy card games, phantom apparitions and the Dark Lord himself have all contributed to The Legend of Loftus Hall, says PAUL MOYNIHAN
In Ireland, whenever conversation turns to ghosts, ghouls or haunted houses, one place appears on the list more than any other: Loftus Hall in County Wexford.
Sitting alone in one of the southern-most parts of the Emerald Isle on the edge of the Hook peninsula, the mere sight of this spooky, spine-chilling building is enough to frighten even the bravest of visitors.
Tales of ghosts, ghouls, exorcism and even the Devil himself have all been associated with this macabre mansion.
Over the years, these stories have passed into legend, their authenticity often questioned by legend-trippers. No matter what the truth is, one thing is for certain: there is no scarier place in Ireland than the legendary Loftus Hall.
The original building was known as Redmond Hall, built in the mid-14th Century.
It was in 1666 when the Loftus family moved into the mansion that it became known as Loftus Hall.
The building had a reputation as being resilient against attack, as documented by the failure of English soldiers to take the hall in July of 1642.
However, that reputation was about to change into an altogether more sinister one.
In the 18th Century, the hall became home to Charles Tottenham, his second wife Jane and his daughter Anne (whose late mother was a member of the Loftus family). The legend of Loftus Hall took place during their terrifying tenure in the house of horrors.
Late one dark, stormy night, a banging noise could be heard at the hall’s gate. Tottenham sent a servant to see what the racket was.
The servant returned with news that a stranger on horseback had arrived at the gate, and was in search of shelter from the worsening storm. Tottenham agreed to provide the man with lodgings, and invited him inside. Tottenham’s young daughter set eyes on this mysterious stranger and immediately fell for him.
The man stayed for a number of days, as Anne fell deeper in love with him. It is said that this man’s powerful charm held the entire family spellbound.
One night, the family and their guest decided to pass away the hours with a game of cards.
During the game, Anne dropped a card on the floor. As she went to pick the card from the floor, she glanced at the stranger’s legs.
What she saw drove the girl to the very edge of insanity. The man had cloven hooves. Anne screamed in terror as the stranger realised his identity was revealed to the family.
He suddenly changed into his true self, and disappeared in a ball of flame through the ceiling. In his wake, the smell of sulphur lingered throughout the house.
The events that took place that evening had an awful effect on young Anne. She retired to the hall’s tapestry room, refusing to leave.
She refused food and drink, her physical and mental health deteriorating as time passed her by. Her father was too ashamed to allow her to be seen, and so locked her in the room.
It was at this time that the house became a hotbed of poltergeist activity. The house was blessed numerous times by clergymen of the Protestant faith (the Tottenham’s own religion) but to no avail.
With no apparent end to this terrifying phenomena in sight, Charles contacted Father Thomas Broaders, a Catholic priest. Father Broaders agreed to perform an exorcism in Loftus Hall.
It is said that the exorcism was a particularly fierce one for Father Broaders. Tales of attacks from birds and other strange goings-on during the ceremony have become the stuff of legend. However, Father Broaders was successful in his attempts to rid the hall of the dark entity that had made life for the Tottenham’s so nightmarish. The priest is still thought of as something of a hero in the area. It was believed that an inscription on his tombstone read:
“Here lies the body of Thomas Broaders,
Who did good and prayed for all,
And who banished the devil from Loftus Hall.”
Although this inscription doesn’t exist, it still adds testament to the tale of the priest’s battle with demonic forces.
Anne died shortly after the exorcism was performed, a shadow of her former self. When vandals destroyed the door to the Tottenham family mausoleum in the 1940s, it was discovered that Anne’s coffin was an unusual shape. This has led many to believe that Anne became deformed due to the torment she suffered in Loftus Hall.
The story doesn’t end there, however.
Many believe that Anne herself began to haunt the mansion after her death.
In 1790, the father of the Rev. George Reade was a guest at the hall. His sleeping quarters were found in the infamous tapestry room.
As he drifted off to sleep, he claimed an entity leapt onto his bed, growling like a hound of hell. The curtains flung open and his bedclothes were violently torn from the bed. His suspicions of foul play on the part of his hosts were not realised, as he discovered his door was still locked, just as he had left it upon first entering the room.
Many years later, George himself stayed in the same room. He was unaware of his father’s frightening encounter with the spirit.
One night as he sat up reading, the door of the room slowly swung open and the figure of a woman in a dress floated across the room. She disappeared into a wardrobe, leaving no trace behind. George paid no heed to this occurrence and went to sleep.
The event occurred again the following night, as Anne’s seemingly residual energy floated across the room. George jumped from the bed, and threw his arms around the vision in an attempt to thwart the plans of a would-be prankster.
However, his arms passed straight through the phantom, leaving him stunned. The next morning, George informed his father of this paranormal experience. His father remained silent, however.
The hall also played host to the second Marquis of Ely on occasion. During one particularly frightening stay, his valet Shannon was given the Tapestry room to sleep in.
As Shannon settled in for his rest, the curtains of the four-poster bed flung open, and the figure of a lady dressed in silk stood over him. Shannon ran from the haunted room in sheer terror.
The legend of Loftus Hall is one of Ireland’s most frightening and well-known ghost stories.
The events and how they took place have been debated by folklorists and paranormalists for decades. For example, many believe that the sinister stranger arrived by boat into the Hook peninsula, and gained access to the house via sea, not on horseback.
The entire story of the card game and the cloven hoof has appeared throughout various Irish tales of terror, and has been related to numerous supposedly haunted buildings including the Hellfire Club on Montpelier Hill in the Dublin Mountains.
Alas, sometimes the tale itself outweighs the truth. In the case of Loftus Hall, nobody will know what really occurred. Nobody will ever deny the power of the story, however, for few are as frightening.
The Loftus Hall in which the paranormal occurrences took place was destroyed in 1870.
The current building, built by the 4th Marquis of Ely, has dominated the Hook Head landscape since then. It is considered by many to be one of the finest mansions in Ireland. Its entrance hall and staircase cost the huge sum of £5000, a phenomenal amount of money for the time. The hall served various functions over the next century.
In 1917, the Benedictines bought the mansion and stayed there until the mid-1930s. It became a convent and girls’ school in 1937, when the Sisters of Providence took over the hall. The Devereux family purchased the building in 1983, and it became a hotel until once again closing in the 1990s.
Loftus Hall sat abandoned for almost 20 years, falling into disrepair. In 2011, it was purchased by new owners. Thankfully, the doors of this legendary landmark were re-opened to the public on Friday the 13th of July 2012. Tours of the hall are going from strength to strength, and many spooky events are in the pipeline. For more information visit www.loftushall.com.
A lonesome monolith, Loftus Hall stands on the barren and wild Irish coastline, staring out to sea like a phantom watchman.
At night, the light of the nearby haunted Hook lighthouse casts itself upon the mansion, giving passers-by split-second glimpses of the house of horrors.
Take a trip to Loftus Hall, the place that has become known to many as the most haunted house in Ireland. Just don’t suggest playing a game of cards…