A spectral Lady of the Lake appears each year on Christmas Eve at Curraghchase, County Limerick. ANN MASSEY tells us the eerie tale!
Curraghchase Forest Park lies within a triangle of rich historical significance and medieval heritage, however the lands are far more ancient than that. It covers just under 750 acres, an area of beauty, with serene woodland, a tranquil lake and scenic views all around. At the heart of it however, is the skeleton of what was once the grand country manor of Curraghchase, ravaged by fire and decades of neglect.
Centuries ago the land was owned by the powerful Fitzgerald clan until it was confiscated and given to one of Cromwell’s highly rated officers, a man named Vere Hunt.
Vere Hunt came from a prestigious lineage dating back to the tenant-in-chief of England for William the Conqueror, who was named in the Doomsday Book. His name was Aubrey de Vere the first and the name is one that would once again become renowned in the Vere Hunt family in the years to come.
Vere Hunt’s great grandson was to be named after the Cromwellian officer, however, he had his sights set on a higher social standing than his great grandfather. Vere had great aspirations but his attempts at running a printing press to create a local newspaper and reproduce rare literary works failed miserably, landing him in Debtor’s Gaol.
Vere’s son Aubrey seemed to have more of his Doomsday ancestor’s blood running through his veins and received a solid Harrow education alongside Sir Robert Peel, founder of the Metropolitan Police.
During the mid-nineteenth century, Aubrey changed the family name back to de Vere by Royal Licence and spent his time writing and redeveloping Curragh House, which he renamed Curragh Chase or Curraghchase as it became known.
While most of Aubrey’s children followed military or political careers, one chose to follow a more cultural path in life.
Aubrey Thomas Hunt de Vere was born in January of 1814 and his gift for literature and cultural finesse quickly became apparent. He read philosophy at Trinity college and his friends included scholars, writers and dramatists. His inspiration came from his close friends, Lord Byron and William Wordsworth. He was obsessed with Theology and remained a bachelor until his death at home in Curraghchase in 1902.
One of Aubrey’s great literary friends was the Poet Laureate Alfred Lord Tennyson, who stayed with the Irish poet for several weeks. Tennyson was very fond of the de Vere family and paid homage to his Irish friends by writing the famous poem ‘Lady Clara Vere de Vere.’
During Lord Tennyson’s stay in Curraghchase, one night he looked out across the lawn and saw the unmistakable image of a lady rise from the lake, swathed in flame, arm outstretched and pointing to the house, sheathed sword in hand. An account that to his last breath he declared to be true.
What happened at Curraghchase on Christmas Eve 1941?
On the night before Christmas in 1941, a tree was said to have leaned towards the stately home, a solitary limb outstretched, mimicking the stance of Tennyson’s Lady of the Lake sighting. The fire in was said to be started by the tree limb reaching through the window and knocking over a candelabra. The house and contents were destroyed, including a coveted high cross from the execution of King Charles I.
Guests of the de Vere family have reported paranormal activity over the centuries and one man, an artist, hastily sketched the full apparition of a ghostly young girl gliding down the staircase. It is said you should never venture into Curraghchase after midnight as headless coach drivers have been seen driving on demonic coaches through the grounds, the thundering sounds of ghostly hooves echoing through the night.
The haunting musical sounds of invisible harps and other instruments playing carried through the house into the small hours and house guests would often comment on seeing mysterious lights as they ascended the stairs to bed.
The spectral Lady of the Lake has been seen additionally at different times of the year, however every Christmas Eve she rises from her murky resting place. Breaking through the dark misty lake surface, she stands glowing like a burning effigy, lighting up the night – her gaze transfixed on the hollowed out shell of Curraghchase. As Christmas Day dawns, she fades beneath the still waters.
Today the husk of the noble house at Curraghchase stands silent, guarded by the shadow cast by a Yew tree. Evidence of the Irish clan and Druid worship long before the de Vere family is evident in the ancient monolith, cairn and ringfort within the grounds.
The Lady is perhaps a guardian, watching, waiting, ready to step forward with flaming sword and announce the rightful heir to the ancient Fitzgerald lands. Whatever her reason, she remains the Christmas Eve ghost of Curraghchase.
Have you seen a ghost at Christmas? Tell us about it in the comment section below!