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Wednesday 4 October 2023 Dublin: 12°C
# haunted ireland
Read the terrifying tales of two of Ireland's spookiest houses
*covers eyes*

GHOSTS, VAMPIRES, WITCHES and werewolves: Ireland’s haunted past is not for the faint-hearted.

The rather brave author and photographer Tarquin Blake visited some of the sites for his new book, Haunted Ireland, taking photographs that make the stories feel all the more visceral.

Here are the stories of two of the locations featured in the book, and Tarquin has kindly filled us in on their terrifying past…

Leap Castle in County Offaly

Leap Castle’s dark and sinister history has led to its reputation as being by far the most haunted castle in Western Europe. In the 16th century, the castle was the main stronghold of the O’Carrolls, fierce and powerful Irish chieftains, who ruled over the surrounding territory of Ely, and termed themselves, ‘Princes of Ely’.

John O’Carroll started building the castle, and when he died of the plague in 1489, his son, Mulroney, became head of the O’Carroll clan and completed its construction.When Mulroney died in 1532 a bitter and incredibly bloody fight for Leap Castle and the leadership of the O’Carroll clan erupted between cousins, illegitimate sons and namesakes, which lasted nearly 100 years.

The O’Carrols eventually lost their estates in the Cromwellian land confiscations and Leap Castle was granted to one of Cromwell’s Soldiers of Fortune, Jonathan Darby.

The castle then remained home to the Darby family for the next 350 years. In the early 1900s workmen found an oubliette, a trapdoor through which prisoners were pushed down to fall to their deaths.

A grim discovery

In the underground dungeon below, the grim discovery was made of approximately 150 human skeletons, seemingly the evidence of the brutal murderous activities carried out in the castle during the O’Carroll’s tenure several centuries earlier.Three full cartloads of bones and skulls were removed from the dungeon.

The lord of Leap at that time, Jonathan Charles Darby, also made the gruesome discovery of three upright skeletons sealed into one of the internal castle walls.He immediately ordered them bricked up, believing his ancestors must have had good reason to put them there in the first place.It was about this time that Darby’s wife, Mildred or as she preferred to be called, Milly, began dabbling in the occult.

She held a number of séances at the castle which seemed to awaken a myriad of ghosts.Milly wrote a lengthy article describing the various otherworldly inhabitants of the castle, which was published in the December 1908 edition of the Occult Review magazine. Word soon spread and Leap Castle became headline news in newspapers all over Europe.

Milly described one of her ghostly encounters:

Suddenly, two hands were laid on my shoulders. I turned around sharply and saw… a grey “Thing” standing a couple of feet from me, with its bent arms raised, as if it were cursing me.. so sinister, repulsive and devilish.

Other apparitions included a tall lady dressed entirely in red, with her hand holding a dagger, raised menacingly in the air; and a dark monk-like figure wearing a black habit wandering about often in broad daylight. Milly’s husband had the castle exorcised firstly by the local rector (Protestant), and then by the parish priest, but both failed to rid the castles of its ghosts.

Milly and her husband’s time at Leap was cut short during the Troubles of 1922. On the night of 30 July, when the couple were away, IRA irregulars broke into the castle and burnt it to the ground. The castle then remained a gaunt burnt out ruin for over fifty years.

In 1974, the ruin was brought by Peter Bartlett, he had it exorcised again and then began to restore the castle. Following his death in 1989, Leap was brought by the Ryans, who continued with its restoration, transforming it into their fine family home. According to Sean Ryan, the castle is still badly haunted and many people have witnessed otherworldly activity in recent years.

haunted tarquin 2 Tarquin Blake Tarquin Blake

The Cooneen Poltergeist in County Fermanagh

Hidden in a dark, dank forest near Clogher in County Fermanagh, this abandoned cottage was the scene of a well-documented poltergeist manifestation. The occupants of the cottage, along with their belongings, have long since disappeared. The grim structure, however, still remains much as it was during this violent and demonic haunting.

The widow, Mrs Bridget Murphy, born in 1870, lived in the cottage with her son, James, and her six daughters, Annie, Mary, Teressa, Bridget, Catherine and Jane. Trouble started in the autumn of 1914, when one gloomy, cold and wet evening, Mrs Murphy was sitting by the fire with her daughter, Annie.

Suddenly they heard mysterious footsteps coming from the ceiling and then loud tapping on the wall behind them. The three youngest girls, who were in the adjoining room, began screaming in terror.In the following days the cottage became infested with a poltergeist, whose activity manifested itself with ever increasing vigour.

“Suddenly, the bedclothes were thrown across the room.”

Two priests, Father Peter Smyth and Father Eugene Coyle, offered support to the family, and both witnessed shocking and unexplained events. On one occasion a sheet was laid out on an empty bed where the young Murphy girls slept. Soon a human form was seen to bubble out under the sheet and then raise itself into a terrifying animal shape before suddenly collapsing.No possible cause for this bizarre and horrifying activity could be found.

When sitting on the bed, the priests described a feeling like snakes moving under them.A snoring sound was heard coming from the dark areas of the room, followed by spitting and then hissing. When the children returned to the bed, there were sounds like a kicking horse and then, suddenly, the bedclothes were thrown across the room.One priest stood with his hand on the bed and challenged the poltergeist.

He described the feeling of a rat moving around his hand under the sheet, followed by the shocking sensation of an eel twisting round his wrist but no further – not daring to touch his consecrated hand.On one occasion Mrs Murphy told one of the priests that it was her daughter Annie who was affected and that it appeared that the manifestations were centred on her. A series of tests was carried out with Mrs Murphy and Annie taking it in turns to lie across the bed.

Whenever Annie lay down, a rushing sound was heard passing from the ceiling, down the wall and into the bed. When Mrs Murphy took her turn lying on the bed, no such manifestations appeared.

No exorcism was ever carried out at Cooneen and the Murphy family eventually sought refuge by emigrating to America. After their departure, no further appearance of the poltergeist was recorded.

The priests who investigated the case all suffered badly from their interactions with the poltergeist; one priest had a nervous breakdown, another developed spinal meningitis and a third facial paralysis.

Stories taken from Haunted Ireland by Tarquin Blake. Read our full interview with Tarquin about the book here.

Read: Shelbourne Hotel and Castle Leslie are apparently some of Ireland’s ‘most haunted’ spots>

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