Spectral Monks, a tragic story of lost love and a remarkable temple to an Egyptian goddess are just some of the secrets hidden in Haunted Huntington Castle, says PAUL MOYNIHAN
In the little village of Clonegal in Co. Carlow stands one of the most stunning and historic castles in Ireland.
Huntington Castle is situated within a valley that marks the border between Wexford and Carlow, within a location once occupied by a 14th century defensive stronghold and abbey.
This beautiful building began its existence as a tower house dating back to the 1400s. The current structure began to take form in 1625, built by the first Lord Esmonde. With Cromwell’s arrival on Irish shores in 1649, he ensured the castle fell under his control due to its advantageous position on the road between Wexford and Dublin.
Huntington has seen several alterations over the centuries, notably in the late 17th Century and the 1720s when a facade and wing were added to the structure’s northern half. The castle soon became home to the Durdin family, related to the Esmondes through marriage.
As the years passed, the castle was inherited by Olivia Durdin-Robertson who, along with her brother Lawrence, added one of the castle’s most interesting features in the 1970s.
A mystic and author, Olivia converted the castle’s basement into a temple to the Egyptian goddess Isis.
Decorated with many spiritual artefacts ranging from solar wheels representing the signs of the zodiac to shrines and altars, the temple feels as though it is part of another world.
An ancient well is also situated within the temple, believed to date back to the days of the Druids. The well is a dedication to the goddess Brighid of the Tuathe de Dannan, daughter of the Dagda, an Irish mythological god. It is believed that the water from this well holds healing properties.
It was during Lord Esmonde’s reign that the addition of the surrounding gardens took place. Lush green lawns lie on either side of the house, and a tranquil fish pond stands upon the grounds also. Various Yew trees are sprinkled on the land, forming an area known as the Yew Walk. Don’t let these picturesque features fool you, however: Huntington Castle is one of the most haunted locations in Ireland.
Stories of spectral beings have been connected to the castle for years.
One of the best known spooks is a tragic soldier who has been known to knock the castle door. Believed to have served during the Cromwellian invasion, it is said that this man wore the uniform of the enemy in an attempt to fool them. When he approached the front door of Huntington, he knocked and peered through the grille. The soldier was met with a bullet, for his fellow troops did not recognise him in the opposition’s attire. His knocks have been heard to this day, and some claim to have seen his ghoulish face gazing through the grille.
Within the castle’s winding corridors, two former residents of the castle have made their presence known. The spirits of Barbara St Leger and her servant Honor Byrne have been seen roaming the haunted hallways. Honor has been seen polishing door handles with her hair, followed closely by Barbara whose spirit is said to jangle keys.
Further down these hallways of history lies the bedroom wing, home to a room which has apparently served as the final resting place of thirteen people. Visitors to Huntington claim to have seen the ghost of James Leslie, Bishop of Limerick, in the Four Poster Room. He passed away in the castle in 1770 and it seems he has never left. This ecclesiastical apparition has been seen gliding across the room, and some have seen his face appear within a painting which rests above the fireplace.
The spirits of the dead are not grounded to the building alone. Several spectral entities have also made their presence known upon the lavish grounds. The otherworldly Yew Walk has been the haunting ground of a group of monks who walk in solemn prayer beneath the tunnel of twisting trees.
Perhaps the most unsettling sighting has been that of the forlorn first wife of Lord Esmonde. Esmonde had converted from Catholicism to Protestantism, devoted to his queen, Elizabeth I. However, he fell in love with a Catholic girl, Ailish O’Flaherty. Ailish’s grandmother was the pirate queen Grace O’Malley, who abducted the couple’s son Thomas in order to raise him as a Catholic. It is said that Ailish soon followed.
Esmonde did not seem too concerned, however, as he soon found himself a new wife. The frightening phantom of Ailish O’Flaherty has been seen standing beside the ‘Spy Bush’, combing her long hair and crying at the injustice she suffered at the hands of her husband. A white cat has been known to accompany this hair-raising ghost.
Huntington Castle has seen thousands of visitors over the years, and is a truly remarkable place to visit. Do the souls of the dead still walk this historic site? Is some strange supernatural energy still active here? Like so many other ancient buildings in Ireland, Huntington Castle continues to generate ghostly stories and probably always will…