Emerald Isle

The Most Haunted Castle in Ireland

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Irish and Celtic myths and legends, Irish folklore and Irish fairy tales and Irish Ghost Stories

A place you don't want to stay overnight!

The long shadow of Leap Castle in County Offaly stretches across many centuries, and from its dark depths echo tales of terror, murder and the dread hand of the supernatural reaching from beyond the grave!

The land upon which the O'Bannon clan built Leap Castle in the thirteenth century was not unoccupied – in fact, it had been used by the druids and other dark mystics as a place of initiation and concourse, where they took the innocent and made them their own, since the time before man mastered copper.

Whatever prompted the O'Bannon brothers to build on that spot, it turned sour before the first block was laid, as the two of them were arguing over who should be the chieftain, so they took it into their heads to leap from the highest part of the mound where the castle would be built. The survivor was to be the ruler, and so after this fratricidal pact the castle was named Leim Ui Bhanain which means “Leap of the O’Bannons”.

Not long would they hold their fortress however, since their masters, the O'Carrolls, quickly took a fancy to it and shortly thereafter took the castle itself! They were a ruthless and power hungry clan, and rumours abound of the many murders they authored at Leap Castle.

The chief of the O'Carrolls died without a named heir, so there was much argument between his two sons over who would be the new lord of the clan. One of the sons, whose name was Thaddeus, was a priest, and one day while he celebrated Mass, his brother Teighe burst in and stabbed him to death! This place in the castle is now known as “The Bloody Chapel” and some say the shade of Thaddeus wanders there still.

The fell handed and bloodthirsty reputation of the O'Carroll clan grew as time passed, and their depredations weren't reserved for their enemies alone! The McMahons were invited to a feast to celebrate their victory over a mutual enemy of the clans, but got their payment in poison instead of gold.

The infamous Red Lady was another of their victims, said to have been captured and raped by members of the O'Carroll clan before putting an end to her own life when they murdered the offspring of their abuse.

The reign of the O'Carrolls finally came to an end in the 17th century, when one of the ladies of the clan fell in love with a prisoner in their dungeons, Captain Darby, the “wild captain”. She'd bring him morsels and eventually helped him to escape, intending to elope. But when they got to the stairs out, who did they encounter by the lady's brother, and a swordfight ensued, which the O'Carroll man lost.

With that, she became the sole heir to the house, and the Darbys settled in, cleaning the place up and renovating the ageing buildings. It was no fairytale ending however, since Captain Darby was himself imprisoned for treason not long after. He had buried his battle-spoils all over the castle, but he was so long in the dungeons of Dublin that he lost his mind, and upon his release spent the rest of his days wandering the halls looking for his lost treasure. And there he wanders still!

By the nineteenth century the Darbys were in decline, and the last scion of their house, Jonathan Charles Darby married Mildred Dill on November 7, 1889. She was a mystic of the sort popular in tea rooms and the upper levels of society at that time and a Gothic novelist, but her dabbling seances seem to have awoken something far more dangerous than she had expected!

She described it as an elemental, and there is speculation it was something left behind by the old druids, or maybe something they couldn't control themselves, or even that it was one of the black O'Carrolls who had died of leprosy! She described it as follows:

“The thing was about the size of a sheep. Thin, gaunt, shadowy ... its face was human, to be more accurate, inhuman. Its lust in its eyes, which seemed half decomposed in black cavities, stared into mine. The horrible smell one hundred times intensified came up into my face, giving me a deadly nausea. It was the smell of a decomposing corpse.”

“On the 25th November, 1915 two of our servants knowing the ‘master’ would be late and that I was driving that afternoon had invited ‘friends’ two soldiers from the Barracks at Birr distant the other side six miles.  They came rather late and my husband came home early so the visitors had to be kept out of his sight in the lower regions of one of the wings (the Priests House) and were unable to be shown the centre tower – the very lofty hall.  At 7:15 my husband and I went up to dress for dinner, my room in extremity of house from kitchens, his dressing room next door to me. “

“Whilst dressing I was startled by a loud yell of terror stricken male and female voices coming apparently from the hall — and ran out to see the cause. My husband was out ahead of me at his heels. I passed through corridor of the wing and onto the gallery …. On the gallery leaning with ‘hands’ resting on its rail I saw the Thing – the Elemental and smelt it only too well. “

“At the same moment my husband pulled up sharply about ten feet from the Thing, and half turning let fly a volley of abuse at me ending up ‘Dressing up a thing like that to try and make a fool of me. And now you’ll say I’ve seen something and I have not seen anything and there is nothing to see, or ever was.’ This last speech without a pause, begun waving one hand at the Thing end up by stalking back to his dressing room still abusing me for trying to give him a fright. As he was speaking the Elemental grew fainter and fainter in its outlines until it disappeared. He never made any enquiry as to the yell that called us both out, and from that day to this has not mentioned the incident to me.”

“I heard from our servants that when we went to dress for dinner they had brought their friends just to show them the hall, when all four had suddenly seen and smelt the Elemental looking down at them from the gallery. They all got such a turn, they couldn’t help letting out a bawl then fled to servants quarters where all four were very sick.”

The next day the maids fled the place, never to return.

This was at the time of the war of Irish independence, so when her husband took to firing shots out the windows and they were receiving threats regularly, they ended up fleeing with little more than the clothes on their backs. Shortly thereafter the castle was bombed, burned and looted, and peacocks hung by meat hooks from the walls, but another chilling discovery was revealed.

The O'Carrolls had built themselves an oubliette behind the wall in the chapel, a deep pit with eight foot spikes at the bottom, and they would drop guests into the hole without warning. Hundreds of skeletons were uncovered, many still impaled on the spikes, and it would take more than three full carts to clear them all out of it. They even found a pocket watch, so it had been used fairly recently!

A relative of the Darcys lived there until she was brought low by gangrene, and the place lay empty until the 1970s, when an Australian historical enthusiast by the name of Peter Bartlett took it over and began renovations. He himself was a descendant of the O'Bannons and he claimed to have seen things moving around by themselves. He hired a self proclaimed “white witch” to drive out the spirits but died himself tragically not long after.

Today the Ryan family have the castle and they completed the renovations begun by Bartlett, opening the castle to visitors, who can find the castle on the map below:


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