The desolate rocky cliffs and ancient, crooked Celtic tombstones certainly help to further the impression of a haunted land. Ireland has been a land of magic and ambiance since ancient times, and no one has quite been able to put their finger on what makes the “land of the leprechauns” so special. Perhaps it’s the wide green valleys that haven’t been touched by human hands or the scenery of ruined castles with sheep grazing calmly in the meadows below.
Ireland’s castles, many in ruins, certainly have a lot to do with its mystic imagery. If you travel to Ireland consider going on a haunted castle tour. Like England, Wales and Scotland, there are plenty of castles chock-full of stories to keep you guessing. Many of these “haunted” castles may have their run-of-the-mill “white lady,” but there’s a lot more to the stories than that. These grand residential fortresses each have their own story, of treason between clans, thwarted love, or Druid magic that still seems to permeate the land.
Some castles seem more foreboding than others. Take Bunratty Castle near Shannon, in County Clare. The small main entrance may not seem ancient or majestic, but it’s both. The Celtic name for Bunratty is Bun Raite (many times the original Celtic names are much more romantic than plain Anglicized names!) and its name attests to the fact that it is situated near the Shannon River. Known as a tower house, it is still thought of as a castle, and has a violent history just as many other castles do.
All of the previous castles were each ruined throughout time until a building made of stone rose up on this spot. Thomas de Clare, a Norman noble who had been given charge of the nearby lands, lived here in the 1200s. The castle’s very own ghost story begins soon after. A man named Brian Rua, who had once been of high political standing, asked Thomas to assist him in his hopeful rise back to power, giving him land in return. As the days passed, Brian soon earned Thomas de Clare’s anger and the Norman ordered the luckless man killed by hanging as soon as possible.
Charleville Forest Castle is located in North Tullamore in County Offaly, and many people believe it to be the Emerald Isle’s most haunted. Although the castle is relatively new, (at least as far as castles go) dating from the late 18th to early 19th century, it has all the majestic bearing of a more ancient building. Charleville boasts its share of ghosts as well! Unseen children are sometimes heard playing around the residence and strange voices from another time talk to each other from an unknown realm. An ancient tree is located outside the castle; whenever a branch rains to the ground, it is rumored to portend evil for the Charleville family, and this prophecy has rarely failed!
Leap Castle, also in County Offaly, is a name often associated with Irish spirits. The castle in its original form was built by the 1500s, when the head of one clan instigated the massacre of a rival family clan. Their ghosts are only some of those with “unfinished business” who linger here. A century later, an Irishwoman who had given her heart to an imprisoned soldier discovered his true personality when he killed her brother in the castle. A forgotten dungeon was uncovered in the early 20th century, attesting to the cruel way prisoners were dropped into the narrow hole and left to die. It appears many never left.
Huntingdon Castle is definitely worth the trek to County Carlow. Its modest facade seems to contrast with the stately gardens, and it is widely believed that supernatural powers are at work here! Even before you enter the castle, mystery abounds in the form of centuries-old trees that form a “ceiling” above you. The castle itself is a spooky paradise, complete with suits of armor (what castle doesn’t have that?) A soldier makes his presence known here, bemoaning his untimely fate, and a woman awaiting her husband’s return from battle is also acknowledged to be an “honorary resident.”
Ireland is just one of the places where haunted castles can be found. Additional exciting places to visit if you want to check out these castles for yourself are found in other European countries.