Ireland’s Most Haunted County: Offaly
As of a 2016 census, Offaly County, Ireland, has just under 80,000 residents, not including ghosts. Apparently, however, a number of undead continue to live on in Offaly since it has been dubbed “Ireland’s Most Haunted County.” Some people claim it is the most haunted place on earth. That may be hyperbole but saying a place is the most haunted in Ireland, a land filled with mystical and supernatural activity, is saying a lot. This week’s post takes a look at some of Offaly’s best known spooky places.
About the Place
First, what is Offaly like? Many readers may never have heard of the county. Possibly its biggest claim to fame is that former American President, Barack Obama, has ancestors who came from Offaly. Beyond that, the place is not well-known outside of Ireland.
It is located in central Ireland (aka the midlands) in the ancient province of Leinster. The famous river Shannon runs along its western boundary and the Slieve Bloom Mountains are located in the southwestern part of the county. Other than that, the place consists mostly of lowlands. These are made up of farmland, pastureland, meadows, and peat bogs. Peat is sold for fuel. The main cash cops for the farmers are wheat and barley.
Offaly isn’t entirely rural though. It has industries such as textiles, furniture making, food processing, and whiskey production. I would say that tourism should be listed as one of its industries as well. Its haunted places, especially Leap Castle, Offaly’s most renowned spooky residence, draws visitors to this otherwise quiet county. Other oft-visited sites include three other castles: Charleville, Kinnitty, and Clonony. The stories of each are below.
Built by the MacCoughlan clan in the late 15th century, this medieval castle was ceded to Henry VIII. He gifted it to Thomas Boleyn, concurrently making him the Earl of Ormond. Both
actions were a part of Henry’s courtship of Boleyn’s daughter, Anne.
Over time, the castle was neglected, abandoned, and left in ruins. A renovation by its current owner is in progress with the goal of restoring this castle to its original design, including a spiral staircase, secret passages, and murder holes. The areas of the castle where the restoration has been completed are open to the public. Guests may even stay overnight. Anyone who decides to stay overnight, however, needs to be aware that there is no electricity, only candlelight. Also, guests will have to share the grounds with the Thin Man, a skeletal specter in uniform who walks the battlements at night surrounded by an eerie glow.
Located near the river Shannon, Charleville Castle was built by Charles William Bury, the first Earl of Charleville. It started life as a mansion built in the mid-17th century by Thomas Moore. Bury had it renovated into a gothic castle. He commissioned the project in 1798. It took fourteen years to complete.
Situated next to an ancient wood of oaks said to be the site of Druid initiation rituals, the castle is the perfect setting for a haunted house. Two ghosts are said to be residents. The first is Bury himself whom, reports claim, walks the tower. The second ghostly occupant is Harriet, the daughter of the 3rd earl. Tragically, she died in 1861 at the age of eight.
According to the story, Harriet was playing on the main staircase, sliding down the railing. She lost her grip and crashed onto the stone floor below. Since that time, her presence has been felt on the stairs but Harriet doesn’t confine herself to the place of her death. There are reports of her laughing and singing throughout the castle. She can be mischievous as well and has been said to open and close doors, frightening guests. Sadly, at night her terrified screams can be heard as well.
There is one additional strange phenomenon associated with Charleville Castle. Staff and visitors have reported seeing balls of light darting through the rooms. An explanation of these lights has yet to be given.
This castle now functions as a four-star hotel. According to its official website, the castle “offers luxury accommodation in the picturesque village of Kinnitty.” It is located in the foothills of the Slieve Bloom Mountains and is situated on 650 acres of land. “Drenched in original features,” it is said to have a 13th century regal atmosphere. The website makes no mention of the several ghosts which reportedly haunt the site.
The most famous ghost is the Monk of Kinnitty who is also known as Hugh. Visitors and staff alike have reported seeing him. He has even interacted with some. Reputedly friendly, he is said to predict the future.
Other ghosts reportedly haunt two of the guest bedrooms: the Elizabeth and Geraldine rooms. Visitors say they have had spooky experiences in other areas of the castle as well.
The most famous ghostly site in Offaly is Leap Castle. It was built in the 13th century by the O’Bannon clan. The current owners say they have heard many unexplained sounds, such as footsteps, voices talking, doors opening and closing. They and guests have reported seeing a number of spirits but the owners insist these ghosts are not scary. They just seem to be going about their afterlives.
But others say the castle is sinister and it has been called “one of Ireland's most notoriously haunted places." It certainly has a history which fits this claim. Leap has been the scene of considerable betrayal, violence, and bloodshed.
The story starts with how Leap got its name. Two O’Bannon brothers were rivals for the position of clan chieftain. They came up with a solution to resolve the matter. Both brothers would jump from a high rock at the construction site of the castle. They agreed that the one who survived the leap would become the chieftain. Sources don’t say which brother won and which died but it doesn’t really matter. The O’Bannons didn’t stay the owners of the castle for very long. They were massacred by the O’Carroll clan.
Soon after, two O’Carroll brothers got into a deadly feud. Again it was a battle over who would become the chieftain. Teighe murdered his brother, Thaddeus, in the chapel. His ghost has reportedly been seen there and nearby in a stairwell.
Treachery at Leap Castle continued when the O’Carroll family invited the MacMahons over to a feast, ostensibly to thank the MacMahons for helping defeat a rival clan. But the O’Carrolls poisoned the MacMahons. So much for gratitude! According to reports, the MacMahons have stayed to haunt the castle.
Next there is the tragic story of the Red Lady, so called because her ghost is usually dressed in red. She is said to be the spirit of a young woman whom the O’Carrolls imprisoned and repeatedly raped. (There were just a delightful family, weren’t they?) The young woman became pregnant. After giving birth, she killed the baby and herself. Reportedly, her ghost always appears carrying the bloody knife in her hand.
Finally, there is the Elemental. Mildred Darby, a woman who claimed to be a descendent of another of the castles ghosts, a spirit called “The Wild Captain,” used to hold séances periodically at Leap. According to her and others, the spot on which Leap Castle was built had been sacred to the Druids. They, the story goes, put the Elemental in charge of guarding the place. Darby reportedly summoned him and later described him as gaunt, shadowy, and smelling of rotted corpse.
These are the stories of most famous haunted castles in Ireland’s most haunted county. Are any of the stories true? I couldn’t say. The only way to know for sure would be to go to the castles and investigate. As for me, I’d rather stay at home with a good book.
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