Does the ghost of Richard Ely still walk the grounds of Ballaghmore Castle? JOHN AMBROSE MARTIN takes a look at the County Laois haunting
In the heart of County Laois and its lush countryside stands Ballaghmore Castle, a centuries-old fortress lying between the towns of Roscrea and Boris-in-Ossory.
It was built in 1480 by Gaelic Chieftain MacGiollaphadraig (now called Fitzpatrick), meaning son of the servant of Patrick. This five-storey tower house had seen its share of intrigue, betrayal, and sorrow over the years from Cromwell’s invading forces to civil war, but none so chilling as the tale of Richard Ely.
The castle lay in ruins thanks to the hefty cannons of Oliver Cromwell’s army, until a man named Richard Ely took a fancy to the former fortress. Ely was an agent for the local landlord, Charles Coote.
Coote and Ely were despised by the locals who worked hard and struggled each day to make ends meet, struggling to put a meal on the table for their families.
Life was hard, and the British landlords and collectors had a way of making life much harder for the locals with their lust for money and lack of compassion and empathy for their fellow man.
Richard Ely and Ballaghmore Castle
In 1836, Richard Ely took over the castle and began work to restore it. Hearsay at the time suggest Ely funded the restoration of the castle using hidden gold which he had found in the grounds of Ballaghmore Castle itself.
Unfortunately for Ely, he would never spend a living day in his restored castle.
One account suggest that Ely was shot dead by a tenant named James Delaney, who quickly became a local legend when rumours of his deed spread throughout the county.
Ely’s boss Coote had instructed him to raise the rent and to show no mercy to any tenant who was unable to pay. To the residents this meant only one thing,
Eviction, destitution, and starvation for the people of Laois.
Ely was also rumoured to have added a generous ‘tip’ on top of the rent for himself which only fuelled resentment and hatred towards him.
One stormy night, after an evening of drinking and dining, Richard Ely made his way home. With restoration work on the castle close to completion he decided he would christen the castle and shelter from the storm there as it was closer than his own abode. What Ely didn’t know is that Delaney was stalking him step by step.
As Ely arrived at the castle, Delaney took his shot. The sound of the defining blast from the shotgun travelled for miles and was even heard in the nearby village over the torrential rain and rumbling thunder.
Ely screamed in agony as he lay on the floor bleeding, his cruel soul clinging to life as each breath drawing deeper and slowing down as the life left his wretched body.
James Delaney went into hiding immediately after Ely’s death and was harboured by local people in the border area. It’s understood that he emerged only at night and managed to lead a secret life for several years.
When he died his body was interred in secret at night in Kyle cemetery. Newspapers of the time, who virtually all represented the interests of the landlord class, were scathing in their condemnation of people who harboured Delaney.
The Ghost of Richard Ely
Following Ely’s death, the castle was used as a granary before being abandoned once more. It was acquired by the present owner in 1990 and has now been fully restored.
One of the flagstones at the castle is still said to be discoloured by Ely’s blood and Ely’s ghost is said to wander through the castle that he never had the chance to live in.
There is a Sheela-na-Gig carved into the stone of the castle wall to keep out evil. In the case of Richard Ely however, it seems to be keeping him in!
Have you been to Ballaghmore Castle? Tell us your experience in the comments section below!