Irish history could comfortably be described as “eventful”. In fact, “tragic,” “dramatic” and “gothic” would also frequently apply
Combine our eventful past with our powerful weather, inspiring landscapes and then our love of storytelling, and it’s no surprise that we have a disproportionate number of ghost stories and spooky sites.
Halloween is a perfect time to check out Ireland’s abundance of (allegedly) haunted sites. This time, we’re focusing on ruins, those crumbling buildings robbed of their former glory, existing only to remind us of their tragic pasts. Of course, some believe that these relics still serve a purpose – as homes for ethereal beings!
If you’re still not scared enough, we have two other spooky site stories. Part one brings you to Leap Castle, the Abbey of the Black Hag and Aughrim Battlefield; while the second post covers Charles Fort, Marsh’s Library and Burt Castle.
Leamaneh Castle, County Clare
Visitors say that Leamaneh Castle’s resident ghost, Red Mary, can be heard laughing and screaming to this day.
Red Mary had 25 husbands, legend has it, and she was widowed a full 25 times. Her third husband was purportedly pushed from the castle’s third-story window, and most other men in her life met similarly sticky ends.
Mary ran out of road when locals, tired of her sadistic behaviour, sealed her in a hollow trunk to starve. She didn’t escape, but they say her spirit did.
Leamaneh Castle’s ruins sit in a crossroads near Kilfenorah, a village known more for the sound of music than ghosts.
Coolbawn House, County Wexford
In the pantheon of ghosts, apparitions that look young are the most disturbing. Maybe it’s the contrast of seeing youth and the afterlife in proximity; perhaps it’s the clash of innocence and darkness.
On a dark and stormy night, a servant girl in a Tudor Revival House stood close to a window to survey the havoc the weather was wreaking. Lightning struck this window, and she was doomed, seared into this building, they say. Even as vines reclaimed this building’s walls and it fell to ruin, a spectre of her body is said to remain.
Coolbawn House is surprisingly accessible, as it sits a stone’s throw from a main road and a local GAA pitch. Even if you’re not one for ghost stories, these ruins are worth a look, as the granite spires emerge from the foliage, as if the building is fighting with nature.
Hellfire Club, County Dublin
Founded in 1737, this infamous club is said to have held regular meetings with an empty chair at the table for a special guest…Satan!
A black cat, a common symbol of the occult, was the club’s mascot. Richard Parsons, the First Earl of Rosse, was the founder, before he went on to become a Grandmaster for the Irish Freemasons.
Since the decadent 18th Century meetings, many urban myths have proliferated, including stories of black magic, occult ceremonies and appearances from the Devil himself.
Now, this site in the Dublin Mountains, is a popular walking spot. Though those with a taste for the macabre often venture there at night, especially on Halloween.
Seafield House, County Sligo
This beautiful house’s downfall is said to be caused by an unwelcome guest – a mummy!
At the height of the family’s power, in the 18th Century, one of the family’s sons brought an Egyptian mummy back from his travels. Strange occurrences followed, allegedly caused by the mummy reawakening a dormant ghost. The family even called in a priest for an exorcism.
Like many ruins, Seafield House has a crumbling, poignant beauty. And it has drawn interested visitors from around the world, including the makers of TV’s Ghost Hunters.
Ballyheigue Castle, County Kerry
Shipwrecks and lost treasure are common ingredients in ghost stories, but you don’t have to get your feet wet to experience them.
The Golden Lion, a Danish ship carrying a fortune in gold bullion, wrecked at Ballyheigue Strand. What followed, was an extended, bloody feud for these lost riches.
Some local fishermen say that the ship’s captain can be seen in the sea’s waters. And in 1962, a photograph of the castle is said to show the silhouette of a figure in 18th Century clothes.
Nowadays, the castle is part of a golf club, and Ballyheigue is a charming coastal village that’s part of the Wild Atlantic Way.
See you at the ruins…
Ireland has several haunting, spooky sites worth a visit at any time of year, but especially at Halloween.
Many of these places are off the beaten track, and OSI have maps to every corner of the country, no matter how spooky! Below are maps related to the locations mentioned in this blog post.