In the mood for a good ghost story? Celtic folklore has thousands of them. Here are seven that I’ve chosen because they’re a little different. None of the usual sad women floating through the castle or headless soldiers parading on the grounds. These stories have ghosts of animals, dead wives trying to prevent the new wife from becoming victim number six, phantom funerals, and more. Enjoy!
The Ghost of Queen’s County
This story was collected by the great Irish folklorist, W. B. Yeats.
A certain squire of Queen’s County not only led an immoral life, but he made the lives of those around him a misery. His death did not improve the situation. In fact, it made things worse! Every night, his ghost made horrible noises, threw dishes, turned over furniture, rattled keys, and made all kinds of mischief. In the morning, though, there would be no evidence of his nocturnal rampages.
After too many sleepless nights, the family had enough and moved to another manor. They left a few servants—the steward, the coachman, and some others--to tend the place. The master continued to trouble them, especially the coachman. The poor man couldn’t get any sleep, not even a daytime nap as the master would pull the chair out from under him. The malicious ghost even pinched the man black and blue.
In addition to making a ruckus at night, the squire sometimes would appear to an individual in the form of a viscous black dog, a boar, or a bull.
A while after the squire’s death, the neighboring families took it into their heads to throw a ball at the manor. They obtained permission from the family and assembled for the festivities. There was abundant music and refreshments. The guests were having a great time when, suddenly, the master's ghost appeared to Mrs. FitzPatrick's aunt. The poor woman screamed and fainted. This put an immediate stop to the party. When the aunt came to and told of the master's hideous appearance, the guests rapidly returned to their homes. Never again was a ball held at that manor.
The Beast of Carew Castle
In this Welsh story, the deceased’s ghost doesn’t just take the form of an animal. He was an animal.
Carew Castle is said to be inhabited by several ghosts which range from a Celtic warrior to a kitchen boy to a princess. That’s not so unusual but this is: many claim the castle is haunted by the ghost of an ape. The beast’s spirit climbs up to the Northwest Tower’s battlements on stormy nights and howls.
According to the story, the ape turned on his master and killed him. Hearing the man’s screams, servants rushed in to find the man’s bloody body lying next to the ape—which also was dead. The story doesn’t explain how or why the ape died. Perhaps it haunts the castle and howls because it has been falsely accused? Maybe if someone could and would prove its innocence, the ape’s spirit could rest in peace.
Overtoun Dog Suicides
One of my favorite Celtic spooky stories comes from Scottish folklore. It is a bizarre mystery that persists to this day.
Built in 1895 and reputedly haunted, Overtoun Bridge is located in West Dunbarton, just west of Glasgow, Scotland. There has been a high incidence of dogs jumping from this bridge to their deaths in the rocky gorge 50 feet below. Over 300 “doggie suicide” attempts (some papers say 600) have been reported since the 1960s alone. At least 50 dogs have died, and many who survived have gone back for a second try. All of the dogs have leaped from the same side of the bridge and, reportedly, from the same spot.
While a theory has been floated that the odor of mink is a reason why the dogs jump off the bridge, no solid explanation for the deaths has been established. However, people from the area have proposed a Celtic-appropriate possibility. They say the area is a thin place, a spot where the veil between this world and the Otherworld is thin enough to see through and even pass through. They contend that spirits are luring the dogs into the Otherworld. In Celtic mythology and folklore, dogs are guides to the Otherworld so, from a Celtic point of view, this theory would make sense.
An alternate explanation given by folks from the area is that the dogs see the ghosts on the other side of the veil and (pardon the pun) are spooked by them into leaping off the bridge. Whatever the cause, the site now has a warning sign which reads: “Dangerous Bridge. Please keep your dog on a lead.”
Saved By the Late Wives
In this ghost story from Brittany, a young woman, Tryphine, escapes her homicidal husband because of ghostly help from his five previous wives.
When Tryphine’s father tells her he has arranged for her to marry Conomar, the king of Dumonia, she is terrified. His late wives—all five of them and their newborn children—died under suspicious circumstances and swirling gossip. She runs to the holy monk, Gildas. for help. He gives her a ring and tells her, “Wear this ring. If your husband intends to do you harm, it will turn black. This will be a sign to you and will give you time to flee.”
Still fearful but having little choice, she marries Conomar. At first, things go well. He treats her with such gentle affection that, after a time, her fears trickled away. The horrid tales about him, she concluded, must be nothing more than malicious rumors.
One day, Conomar announced he was going on a journey to meet with other rulers of Brittany. Tryphine felt genuinely sad at his departure. While he was away, she discovered she was pregnant. She couldn’t wait to give him the news.
On his return, she ran to greet him and told him about their future child. His face darkened and he turned away from her, saying he needed to lie down. She was disappointed at his lack of excitement at the news of the baby, but she attributed it to weariness. Then she noticed her ring had turned black.
In panic, she ran to the chapel to pray for help but, realizing he would find her there, she hurried to the one place he never went, the castle crypt where his late wives were buried.
The crypt was cold and dark, lit by a single wall torch. By the flickering light, Tryphine saw six tombs, five for each of Conomar’s previous wives and one that was empty, awaiting a new corpse. She sank to her knees, trembling. Burying her face in her hands, Tryphine silently prayed for God’s help.
A rattling noise made her look up. The slabs covering the wives’ tombs moved aside and the misty ghosts of these murdered women arose from their graves. Urgently, they warned, “You must get up! You must flee or Conomar will kill you as he killed us.”
“But,” the petrified Tryphine said, “How can I scale the castle wall? Even if I could, the dogs guarding the gate will surely bark, revealing where I am.”
At this, the ghostly wives gave her the items Conomar had used to kill them. Among the items were poison to silence the dogs, a rope to climb over the wall, and a horse behind which he had dragged wife number five. Using these, Tryphine successfully escaped the castle and into the forest.
In Welsh, as well as Irish, folklore there is a belief in a phenomenon called a phantom funeral. The Welsh considered seeing a phantom funeral, or even just corpse candles floating by themselves down a road, as a sign of the imminent death of someone who lives close by—or a sign of one’s own imminent death. Here’s a Welsh story about a phantom funeral.
You don’t have to live in a castle to encounter a ghost. You can find yourself face-to-face with one or more simply by walking home at night.
A man from Coed-y-Brenin in Wales was walking home from the pub one evening. Just as he came to a crossroad, he found himself pressed in on all sides by a mass of ghostly presences. They walked on, taking no notice of him and seeming not to care about how they were jostling him about and moving him along with the crowd.
Then he saw the blue lights of corpse candles, bobbing forward, held by invisible hands. That’s when he knew he was caught in the midst of a phantom funeral. It was all he could do not to faint from fear! Gathering his wits, he escaped into a nearby field and watched as the funeral procession continued towards Neuadd Lwyd.
A few days later, he witnessed an actual funeral taking the same route to the graveyard and gave thanks he wasn’t the one in the casket.
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Slan go foil!