PAUL MOYNIHAN, from Irish Ghost Hunters, uncovers the dark tales behind the friendly and not-so-friendly ghosts of Charleville Castle in County Offlay, Ireland.
Ireland’s castles boast beauty and romance, littering a landscape rich in greenery and breath-taking landscapes. If one castle in Ireland tops this list, it’s arguably Charleville. Situated at the end of a drive through twisting forestry and oak trees, Charleville Castle looms over the Tullamore skyline like a watchful guard, its eyes always open.
Construction of this monolith structure began in 1798. The castle was designed by the brilliant Sir Francis Johnston, who also built the GPO in Dublin (one of Ireland’s best known landmarks) and the Chapel Royal (also in Dublin). It took fourteen years to build at the hands of Charles William Bury (also known as Baron Tullamore, the First Earl of Charleville) and many dedicated workers. Since its existence, the castle has been forced to close on many an occasion, becoming symbolic of a nation that enjoyed the spoils of living beyond its means. For example, Lord Byron often visited Charleville because of the eccentric lifestyle it offered the poet. The birth of the Irish War of Independence meant that the castle was closed for a long period, until in 1971 restoration work began by an American, Bridget Vance, and a team of workers intent on restoring the castle to its former glory.
Charleville is said to be haunted by numerous ghosts, some friendly and some not so friendly at all. Strange and unexplained phenomenon is commonplace in this phantasmagorical fortress, with claims of chiming clocks where no clocks stand and chairs rocking of their own accord becoming everyday occurrences for those within its walls. Eerie fogs appear from nowhere and strange voices echo throughout the rooms.
One of the most tragic tales of Charleville is that of young Harriet, the youngest daughter of the third Earl of Charleville, who sadly died in the castle in April of 1861, aged just 8 years old. On my first visit to the castle with Irish Ghost Hunters, we were told by the castle’s tour guide that Harriet had been instructed to go to her room after dinner one evening in order to wash her hands. Her room sat at the top of the castle and she ascended the spiralling staircase. Upon finishing her task, she supposedly decided to slide down the banister of the staircase. She fell, however, and died almost instantly after reaching the ground below. Her presence has been reported by many visitors to the castle. Her voice has been heard singing and laughing on various occasions, and, more distressingly, her screams too have been heard. Many claim to have felt her brush past them on the stairs, leaving a sudden cold spot in her place. Others even say they have seen the girl, wearing a white and blue dress with ribbons in her hair. Visitors have left toys and notes for Harriet, in the hopes that she is aware of them. Occasionally, Harriet is accompanied by the spirit of a young boy whose origins are unknown. Her spirit has also been experienced by many people in her bedroom, a spooky and equally sad area of Charleville Castle. Bridget Vance’s son has had a first hand experience with Harriet and her playmate. One day, Ms Vance’s son went missing in the castle and panic ensued. The castle was searched, and he was soon found at the bottom of the staircase. He said that he was helped down the stairs by a boy and a girl. This was one of a number of experiences the Vance’s have had in Charleville. Bridget’s mother said that one night while staying in her tower bedroom, she awoke to what she described as a ‘cavalcade’ of ghosts, many resembling robed figures and monks, encircling her bed and blessing her.
Just beyond the spot where Harriet met her sad and tragic demise lies a room resembling a small library. It is said that the Bury’s, who built the castle, were involved with the Freemason’s, and local legend says that this room was used for Masonic purposes. The possibility of strange rituals is very high, as tour guides say that the allowance of women into this room was not permitted. Many female visitors to this room claim to have had strange experiences. On my first trip to Charleville, many of the girls heard footsteps walking around the room, while others say their hair was pulled by phantom hands.
The Ballroom is another area of interest. Many paranormal teams have experienced strange lights on the ceilings with no explanation (something we experienced on our first visit), and some visitors have captured strange mists in photographs. As one makes their way down to the bottom level of Charleville Castle, a room known by the tour guides as the ‘waste not want not room’ comes into view. It is believed by many that the first Earl of Charleville practiced devil worship, and this room supposedly was the site of much of this activity. Tour guides say that a strange and uncomfortable atmosphere takes hold of them while they are in this room, and many people tend to avoid it. Passing through this room, one enters what is certainly the most terrifying part of Charleville: the dungeon. Personally, I don’t think I have ever been in a more terrifying place in my entire life. It sent a shiver down my spine. The dungeon is said to be haunted by a sadist, and many have come into contact with this fearsome spirit. Torture and death can be felt in the air, and some of the devices used in barbaric practices can still be seen to this day. The creepiest aspect of the entire castle, however, is the strange altar which lies in the dungeon. Consisting of a dolmen-like structure decorated with skulls and goblets, the altar’s discovery is debatable. Hidden behind a once-concrete wall, some say that it was discovered by a former owner during renovation work. Others believe it was discovered by a television documentary crew. Either way, the fact that nobody knows its origins only lends to its strangeness, and the sight of it is enough to frighten even the hardiest of ghost hunters.
One of Charleville’s spookiest tales is that of the ‘King Oak’, a gigantic tree that was connected to the Bury family. It was said that should a branch fall from this tree, a member of the family would die shortly after. In 1963, the tree was struck by lightning, and though the tree survived, Colonel Charles Howard-Bury died suddenly. He was the last of the Bury family to own the castle.
Legend has it that Charleville Castle was built on magnetically charged ley lines, which are natural faults in the Earth’s design, areas that emit strong magnetic fields and impulses. The site was supposedly an ancient Druidic burial ground, and was used in magical rites. Perhaps this gives Charleville it’s strength in producing such constant paranormal activity. On the other hand, perhaps ghosts just enjoy having a beautiful castle to hang out in. No matter what way one looks at it, one thing is for sure: Charleville Castle is one of the scariest places on the planet, full to the brim with strange goings-on and a true gem in Ireland’s haunted history.