Irish Spirits: Ghost Stories from the Emerald Isle
Updated: Apr 4, 2020
Like all good Celts, the Irish take their ghosts seriously. W. B. Yeats, in his book Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry, relates how Irish women, before throwing their dirty water into the street, would yell out a warning that was the equivalent of “watch out for water!” This served as more than a curtesy to human passersby. The warning was given to protect the woman’s household from the wrath of any spirit who might accidentally get splashed. Irish folk tradition, medicine, and lore are jam-packed with stories and protections against the restless dead. Even today, it’s hard to walk about in Ireland without stumbling into a place with a haunted past. Tales from one county alone could fill books—and the Republic of Ireland has 32 counties (and the North has six more)! Here’s a small sampling of some Irish spirits.
The White Lady at Ardgillan Castle
Ardgillan Castle in Dublin is haunted by The White Lady, who is known also as The Lady of the Stairs. She is believed to be Louise August Connolly, Baroness of Langford, and her story is tragic. She and her husband, Clotworthy Rowley, Lord Langford, were visiting the castle in November of 1853. One morning, while her husband was out grouse shooting, Lady Langford decided to go for a swim. The day was gray and blustery and the sea was rough. Her servant, Charlotte, tried to dissuade her from going. Lady Langford was an excellent swimmer, though, and ignored the warning. During her swim, the waves became so high, that Louise could not navigate them. Finally, she drowned. She was only 34 and left behind not only her husband but four children. The eldest child was six and the youngest was only a year old.
Her ghost has been seen many times by castle guests. She appears, dressed in a white gown, on The Lady Stairs, a staircase which leads out to the beach. Guests report that she is going up the stairs, trying to return to the castle.
A year after Lady Langford's drowning, her husband died as well, leaving their children orphaned.
The Ghost of Queen’s County
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 Ghost of Graigue
A woman renowned for her charity and good works died. So beloved was she that many masses and prayers were said for her and all agreed that her death was a great loss for the town.
One night, a servant girl, a favorite of her late mistress, was dozing by the fire when she felt her foot stamped on. Assuming the family dog to be the culprit, she muttered, “Ah! You’ve no manners!” But on opening her eyes, she found herself alone in the room. The dog was nowhere in sight.
Suddenly, her late mistress appeared and told the servant that all the talk of her kindness and good deeds was causing her soul great torment. She confessed that most of her supposedly charitable acts had been performed out of a selfish desire to be thought of highly. She had done only one small act out of genuine charity. People’s continued grief over her death and their talk of what a great woman she had been was prolonging her soul's agony in purgatory. She instructed the servant to tell her husband and children the truth and to stop praising her.
The next day, the servant suffered tremendous internal torment, conflicted about whether or not to tell the master. She decided to keep silent but the ghost returned again that night—and then again the next, promising to haunt the servant unless the girl told the family to cease their praise. Finally, the servant told the master and she never saw the mistress’ ghost again.
County Offaly is considered the most haunted county in Ireland. In fact, three castles in Offaly form the points of what’s called “The Haunted Triangle.” Of the three, Leap Castle is said to be Ireland’s most haunted place. The www.visitoffaly.ie website downplays the castle’s reputation, saying that there is one ghost, a woman, who does appear to people, but that she seems to calm rather than scare them. Other sources—websites and television shows about the paranormal—tell a different story and claim that Leap has a sinister reputation. Considering all the treachery and bloodshed in its history, that claim seems credible.
There is debate about whether the castle was built in the 12th or the 15th century. What's not in debate is that it was built on a site used by druids for sacred rituals. The O’Bannon clan built the place. Before construction was completed, however, their chieftain died without naming a successor. Two brothers battled to become the new chieftain. Ultimately, they decided to resolve the issue by both jumping from a high rock at the construction site. Whoever survived the jump would become the chieftain and oversee the castle’s completion.
Which brother won? It’s a moot point because the O’Bannons didn’t own Leap very long. Another, more powerful clan, the O’Carrolls, attacked and slaughtered the O’Bannons, then took possession of the castle.
Unfortunately, the O'Carroll chieftain also died without naming a successor. His two sons, like the O'Bannon brothers, feuded for the position. Teighe O'Carroll murdered his brother, Thaddeus, in what now is called "The Bloody Chapel." His ghost reportedly haunts the chapel and a nearby stairwell.
But the murder and treachery didn’t end there. Members of the McMahon family had helped the O'Carrolls defeat a rival clan. In an apparent display of gratitude, the O'Carrolls invited the McMahons to a feast. Then poisoned them. Their ghosts, too, are said to linger at the castle.
The castle's most infamous ghost is the Red Lady, so called because she appears in a red gown. She also appears with a dagger in her hands.
She is believed to be a young woman who was imprisoned by the O'Carrolls and repeatedly raped. She became pregnant and, after she gave birth, the O’Carrolls slaughtered her baby. The lady, overcome with grief, killed herself with a knife.
There are numerous other spirits reputed to haunt Leap Castle but perhaps none is as terrifying as the one known simply as "The Elemental."
Mildred Darby, an ancestor of one of Leap’s other spirits known as "The Wild Captain," used to hold séances in the castle. She claimed to have seen the Elemental and described it as gaunt, shadowy, and smelling of rotting corpse. Some people believe the druids put the Elemental in charge of guarding the place on which the castle is built.
Currently, Leap Castle is owned by Sean Ryan and his wife who have experienced strange noises, appearances, and freak accidents believed to be caused by the ghosts. Mr. Ryan, however, says he feels the spirits have as much right to inhabit the castles as he does.
Not all ghost stories are scary or tragic. A story from Dublin tells of a young woman who got lost and died while trying to make her way home in a snowstorm. According to the lore, she now appears at night in the form of lilac balls of light and guides the lost safely home.
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