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The staircase at Charleville Castle Matthew McKnight
haunted house

'When it gets dark, it plays with your mind a little': The stories behind Ireland's spookiest buildings

From Loftus Hall to Kinnitty Castle, we talk to the owners of Ireland’s haunted houses.

EVER WALK INTO a room and feel overcome by a sense of eeriness? A room where the mere sound of a rusty door hinge could make you jump out of your skin? All around Ireland, there are houses and castles said to be haunted by the spirits of previous occupants.

People either flock to them or avoid them like the plague, depending on their sensibility. 

So, what are some of the country’s spookiest properties? And, more importantly, what lurks behind closed doors?

Arguably the most well-known haunted house in Ireland is Loftus Hall, a large country house situated on the Hook Peninsula in Co Wexford. Over the centuries, it has passed through the hands of many owners. The Loftus family acquired the property in the seventeenth century and it became known as Loftus Hall. For over 250 years, it has been the subject of a rather spooky legend. 

One dark and stormy night in the 1770s, a young man on horseback visited Loftus Hall seeking shelter. The Tottenham family were residing there at the time and invited him to spend a few days with them. Lady Anne Tottenham took a shine to the stranger and fell head over heels for him.

One evening, the pair were playing a card game when Lady Anne Tottenham dropped a card to the floor. When she stooped to retrieve it, she peered under the table and noticed that the man had “an unmistakably cloven foot”. Terrified, she screamed and the man “vanished in a thunderclap, leaving a brimstone smell behind”.

Anne never recovered from the ordeal and spent the rest of her days locked in a tapestry room. After her death, she is said to have haunted the house with multiple guests reporting sightings of her wandering through the halls. Eventually, a local priest named Father Broaders was brought in to exorcise the house and rid it of evil spirits. He tried and failed to exorcise the tapestry room and the rest, as they say, is history. 

Loftus Hall was extensively refurbished in the 1870s, long after all this is said to have occurred. Nonetheless there is still something about the place that continues to attract those with a taste for the paranormal.

After years of lying in disrepair, it opened to the public for guided tours in 2012. Efforts have been made to preserve the building’s innate spookiness, says owner Carol Tubrid. 

“Work has been done to ensure it is structurally sound, but it has not been aesthetically changed,” she explains. “The wallpaper is peeling, the paint is crumbling, the floorboards creak. It’s freezing.”

And is it scary? 

“In the daytime, it’s not too bad,” she says. “But when it gets dark, it plays with your mind a little.” 

Loftus Hall is open for tours at different stages throughout the year. They even run ‘paranormal lockdowns’ led by experienced paranormal investigators.

“We get repeat bookings on those as people really enjoy the thrill of the investigations,” she says. 

They often receive photographs from visitors who claim to have captured something out of the ordinary. “Usually in windows – and we do not have props in windows, I promise,” she says. Indeed, a visitor’s photograph purporting to show a little girl’s ghost went viral a few years ago.

What would Tubrid say to someone who isn’t convinced? 

“I think everyone is a little sceptical. It’s only natural to try to find a reason for everything. We tell the stories and want people to have an enjoyable tour of the Hall but we leave it up to people to decide for themselves about the paranormal.”

I do get a little weirded out when people tell me that their guide dog kept trying to leave the tapestry room though – and I have heard that twice now.

If Ireland has a haunted castles capital, then it is undoubtedly Co Offaly. The Faithful County is home to three of the country’s most renowned haunted castles – Leap Castle, Charleville Castle and Kinnitty Castle.

Leap Castle bills itself as the “world’s most haunted castle”. Over the last five hundred years, multiple spirits are said to have roamed the castle, including a woman in a red dress wielding a dagger (‘The Red Lady’) and two little girls named Emily and Charlotte. The castle’s current owner Sean Ryan claims to have encountered many of them. 

Not far away is Charleville Castle. These days it might be better known as the site of Castlepalooza, but the Gothic castle is said to be haunted and has been featured in television shows like Most Haunted and Ghost Hunters International.

The story goes that it is haunted by the ghost of an eight-year-old girl named Harriet, the youngest daughter of the third Earl of Charleville, who tragically died after a fall on the main staircase in 1861. Over the years, visitors have claimed to hear the sound of her laughter and screams. Others claim to have caught her image on camera. 

And then there’s Kinnitty Castle. The stately home is currently a hotel, but it, too, has been featured on Most Haunted and found itself at the centre of some paranormal investigations over the years. The castle’s best known ghost is a phantom monk named Hugh, who was said to roam around a guest room in the attic.

While Kinnitty Castle Hotel doesn’t publicise or overegg the castle’s rumoured haunted past, marketing manager Katie Finnegan says that it still attracts people who have read about it online and want to experience it firsthand. 

“We do get some visitors who have read stories online and therefore intrigued to visit the Castle and see whether they can experience anything,” she says.

And there’s one room they all go for.

“There is one room that guests have said is haunted called the Geraldine Room,” she says. “This room is often requested by people that have an interest in the paranormal to see what they can experience.” 

“Very occasionally someone will read stories about the Castle and say, ‘I don’t want to stay in the haunted room,’ but this is rare.”

So is it haunted? Debatable, says Finnegan.

“We have guests that stay in that room that don’t believe in the paranormal and have not commented on any feeling in the room specifically,” she says. 

Spookiness is in the eye of the beholder, it seems.

More: Snug life: How Ireland fell in love with the pub snug (and 5 of the experts’ favourites)>

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