Foulksrath Castle in Kilkenny is home to some of Ireland’s most forlorn ghosts, writes PAUL MOYNIHAN
Ten miles from the hustle and bustle of Kilkenny city stands the impressive Foulksrath Castle, a tower of Anglo-Norman origins which is surrounded by tranquil woodlands and country roads.
This landmark of Irish architectural design was first owned by the De Frene family, who first came to England in 1066 alongside William the Conqueror.
The De Frene family were powerful and dedicated to their leader, and upon arriving in Kilkenny, the land upon which the castle stands was rewarded to them for their loyalty.
The castle itself was not built until 1349 when Fulco De Frene wished to fortify the area.
Fulco (also referred to as Fulk, from whom the castle’s name is derived) was said to be a fierce warrior, whose coloured military credits included fighting in the Siege of Calais in 1346.
He was the grandson of Hubert De Frene, the first of the family to come to the Emerald Isle. His design for Foulksrath was of the common form for the day, consisting of a defensive motte and bailey cut deep into the earth.
This provided the inhabitants with a safe dwelling area within the walls, should the structure come under attack.
The current structure (which was also once home to relatives of the well-known writer Jonathan Swift in the 19th Century) is in fact a different building to the one built by Fulk.
This new design was executed by the Purcell family in the 1400s, relatives of the De Frenes through marriage and owners of the castle for the following two centuries. During the English Civil War (1642-1651), the family’s loyalties lay with the Royalist side, and Foulksrath Castle fell under the wrath of Oliver Cromwell.
The strict, unforgiving Bradshaw, one of Cromwell’s chief officers, was awarded the castle, though the Purcell family were given permission to remain on the land.
Bradshaw’s militant style and rigorous rules would result in one of Foulksrath’s freakiest phantoms.
His overpowering nature made him an enemy of people for miles around, and he was unwilling to give up as valuable a vantage point as Foulksrath.
This encouraged him to employ the finest set of guardsmen in the land, their mission to protect him and his abode.
One evening, Bradshaw lay awake in his room in the castle, struggling to find slumber.
Finding himself wide awake, he decided a walk around the battlements might ease him into a state of rest (and additionally remind his troops that he is always watching).
Unfortunately for one poor soul, he happened to be taking a nap on Bradshaw’s watch. Disgusted by his guard’s behaviour, he saw red. The castle’s gatekeeper immediately ran to the scene, confused and stunned by the shouts and screams that cut through the night sky.
The sight was pitiful; the terrified guard was begging for his master’s forgiveness, trembling and sobbing. Bradshaw could not overlook this, and demanded help from the gatekeeper in making an example of the poor man.
Together, they lifted the terrified troop over the battlements and let him go. He died immediately on impact. This sudden and unexpected passing has given way to tales of a tormented spirit patrolling the battlements annually on November 29th, the anniversary of his death.
Could it be that the ghostly guardsman is seeking forgiveness for his mistake?
In terms of tales of a paranormal nature, this was just the beginning. One of the castle’s spookiest sightings is that of the White Lady. Her true identity is the subject of much speculation, though it is generally believed that it is the spirit of Lady Margaret Butler.
Butler, whose granddaughter was the ill-fated Anne Boleyn, was born in the nearby Kilkenny castle. Interestingly, her apparition has been sensed there also. At Foulksrath, she has been seen floating through the beautiful gardens on numerous occasions, by visitors to the castle and by various owners also.
Strangely, she is said to be accompanied by the scent of lilacs, an unusual phenomenon reported by those who have seen her. Many paranormal theorists believe the smell of flowers is a sign that a spirit is content.
This haunting apparition has also been seen in the company of the unfortunate guardsman who fell from the castle. Perhaps this peaceful scent eases his pain…
A third and equally heartbreaking haunting takes place at Foulksrath.
The vision of a lonesome lady has been seen staring longingly from the high windows of the tower. Although her origins are a mystery, it is thought that she was a once a resident of the castle. Her father loved her dearly, despite his often overbearing nature.
The young girl was something of a wishful adventurer, spending much of her youth exploring the outside world, beyond the castle’s concrete confines. She was popular amongst the townsfolk, something her father was very proud of.
Local legend tells the story of the young girl. Born and raised in Foulksrath Castle she was to be the only daughter of her proud yet domineering father.
With such popularity, the young woman was destined to fall in love. The gentleman who stole her heart was of a different religion, however, and this was seen as an unforgivable sin at the time.
Her father was devastated by this development, the rumours throughout the town bringing him much embarrassment.
The man’s wicked streak shone through when he chose to lock his poor daughter away in the castle tower, banished from the world beyond its walls. Her heart was broken, and she spent her remaining days in that room, passing away a sad and lonely soul.
Tales of the girl’s ghostly apparition have been told for many years, with a number of visitors to the tower area seeing her briefly step forth from the darkness, only to return in fright once spotted.
Others believe they have seen her gaunt, ghastly reflection in the tower windows, an eerie experience indeed.
Her ghost is said to haunt the area around this window, and she has often been seen staring out across the land, perhaps hoping for the freedom to discover her long lost love once more.
Her presence is palpably upsetting, bringing a deep sadness to those who can feel it.
This amazing landmark was a hostel in recent times, closing in 2009.
It is now privately owned. The spirits that still visit from some unseen world are clearly attached to the area’s beauty, seemingly in search of some peace that they lost when they were amongst the living…