The Irish have a special place in their (dark) hearts for Halloween. The country’s history and folklore are filled with legendary ghosts, banshees and worse. Irish writers and filmmakers have also contributed to the art of spooky storytelling, from Neil Jordan’s Company of Wolves to Bram Stoker’s Dracula and everything in between. And ghost stories are told in dimly lit bars and parlours in every corner of the country.
In fact, one of the earliest celebrations connected to Halloween can be traced back to Ancient Ireland: 3,000 years ago, our pagan ancestors celebrated Samhan on October 31st. This, they say, is the time when the walls that separate the supernatural and natural worlds are at their thinnest. It’s when we travel to the dark half of the year, when phantoms roam and magic happens.
With our rich, often sad history and our menacing, windy bogs and forests, it’s not surprising that Ireland plays host to countless scary sites, from haunted houses to menacing landscapes and beyond.
Here are a few of Ireland’s most terrifying places, not too far from where you sleep!
All these places are worth visiting at any time of the year and can easily found on OSI’s GeoHive.
Charles Fort, Kinsale, County Cork
Charles Fort was intimidating even before the spirits arrived. A magnificent star-shaped military base, it was built in the 17th Century and in operation until 1922. The grounds overlook the Atlantic, as a key bastion against invaders from the sea. Some of its fortification remains on land, with its drawbridge still in operation.
Many of Charles Fort’s buildings are in use today, and tourists still visit its grounds in their droves. But nature fights to reclaim the Fort, with a thick coat of grass covering the ground once used for military drills, moss creeping through its ruins and powerful winds pulsing in from the ocean.
Discovery series 87 will help you find Charles Fort
Another interloper, they say, is not from the sea or soil, but the next realm. She is the Tragic Bride of Charles Fort.
Not long after the Fort opened, its commander was living there with his beautiful daughter. She became smitten with a handsome young officer. And, like many young lovers before and since, they were hastily wed. Tragedy struck soon afterwards, as the officer was executed for neglecting his duties. And that very same night, overwhelmed with grief, the young woman launched herself from the steep ramparts to her death.
To this day, as darkness falls, some say the White Lady of Kinsale can be seen walking the grounds of Charles Fort: A lamentable figure, forever young, forever mourning, she is doomed to retrace the steps of that tragic night.
Marsh’s Library, Dublin 8
Marsh’s Library in Dublin 8 sits in the shadow of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral and not far from Christchurch. Established in the 18th Century, it was one of the first free libraries in Europe. It’s still open, and visitors can enjoy free talks or browse its ancient tomes. As a delicious bonus, the building and surrounding streets are said to be a veritable city of ghosts, both kind and cruel!
This is where you might find spirits of Michael Moran, the ballad singer who became the infamous ghost Zozimus; and phantoms of revellers, landlords, money-lenders and tradesmen have been seen and heard drifting around the building.
Find Marshs Library with the help of the Official Dublin Street Guide
The most famous ghost of Marsh’s Library is its founder, Archbishop Narcissus Marsh. The building belonged to the Church, and for Marsh it was a labour of love – at one time the only free library in the entire country.
Marsh is said to be a benign ghost, returning to his favourite place in the evenings to browse its vast catalogue. Like many returning spirits, Marsh has unfinished business, and the story goes that he fell out with his favourite niece when she married a man he disapproved of. Somewhere among those hundreds of books, they say, is a letter from her. If you see him, say hello.
Oh, and if you encounter a ghost of a young woman meandering between the bookshelves, try not to be alarmed: That would be the spirit of Marsh’s niece.
Burt Castle, Donegal
Built in 1560 during the reign of Henry VIII, Burt Castle is now a ruin, surrounded by beautiful, rambling Donegal fields and overlooking scenic Lough Swilly.
Like many Irish castles, there’s great hardship in its history. And, as is the way with many such stories, this one is a tale of unrequited love. A young woman living in the castle became pregnant by a local man who was staying there as a guest. When he wanted nothing to do with her, she visited the Lough, where the swans moved from the water to the shore, as if calling to her.
Burts Castle appears on Discovery series 6
Tragically, she drowned in that lake, and her former lover was murdered by her father. On a full moon, she might be seen walking on the lakeshores, accompanied by the local swans before returning to the Lough’s icy, dark waters. Meanwhile, they say that no grass can grow on the spot where her scoundrel lover died.
Ireland has more than its share of haunted sites, worth a look on Halloween or any time you’re in the mood for a visit from the other world! All of these places can be handily found in the OSI Discovery Map, which will always keep you on the right track.