By: DiscoverIreland ……
Nothing beats a good ghost story, and Ireland is full of them. Combine our history chequered by bloodshed, famine and war with a tradition of folklore and myth, and the result is a batch of tales and legends that will scare you senseless.
Whether you want to plan a full ghost tour of the country or are just in the mood for a good story, these castles, abbeys, forts and more are some of the most fascinating ‘haunted’ buildings across Ireland.
1. Leap Castle, Co Offaly
Leap Castle bills itself as the world’s most haunted castle, with a history that reads like Game of Thrones thanks to decades of bloodshed and tragedy. Many have lost their lives here over the centuries, most notably the tormented souls said to have betrayed the historical owners. You might spot The Red Lady, who has been seen carrying a dagger through the corridors, and two young girls Emily and Charlotte, who play in the hallways and sometimes plummet from the battlements in a grisly replay of Emily’s sudden demise at the age of 11.
Brave guests can hunt for ghosts in The Bloody Chapel and the Murder Hole Room and listen to owner Sean Ryan’s own chilling accounts of ghostly encounters, from hearing chanting within the walls to objects being moved in front of his eyes. Visitors can contact Leap Castle owner Sean Ryan to request a tour, with specific tours running throughout October.
2. Charles Fort, Co Cork
The White Lady of Kinsale is said to stalk the battlements of Charles Fort, the star-shaped military fortress in Kinsale Harbour, where her father, commander Colonel Warrender, killed her husband on their wedding night. Witnesses have since spotted a ghostly woman in a wedding dress wreaking havoc around the fortress. Soldiers have seen her walking through walls and parents stationed at the fort have witnessed her watching their children as they slept. Perhaps the most chilling account is that of a medical officer in 1922 who was dragged from his room and thrown down a stairs by a young robed woman. Watch where you wander.
Tickets are available online and upon arrival. Adults: €5, kids: €3. Charles Fort offers multiple language guides, as well as a monsters and poltergeist trail for children.
3. Duckett’s Grove, Co Carlow
Don’t chalk those ghostly apparitions and whispers in your ear as all up to imagination: the eerie ruins of the Duckett’s Grove estate has been visited by paranormal investigators who claim to have photographic evidence of the ghost of William Duckett himself, who owned the gothic pile in 1830. But even more notorious is the Duckett Grove banshee, who can be heard shrieking through the ruins along with the voices of former servants in the kitchens. Some have also claimed to have heard the sound of an organ amid the derelict walls, as well as a phantom horse and carriage pulling up outside this once great house.
Much of the ruined house is impassable, but the historic walled garden are still open to the public and the extensive grounds host events and Christmas markets.
4. Belvelly Castle, Co Cork
Legend, and a whole lot of scared visitors, say the 14th century tower house of Belvelly is home to some downright creepy goings on. Its roll call of residents include the ghost of a Spanish minstrel thought to have been shipwrecked off the Irish coast, and the faceless ghost of 17th-century aristocrat Lady Margaret Hardnett, who was known for her beauty and her capricious nature. Legend tells that when she refused the affections of one suitor Clon Rockenby, he starved the family until Margaret lost her mind and her looks and smashed every mirror in the castle. Her ghost is said to haunt the medieval tower looking for glimpses of herself in mirrors.
The castle has been recently restored by new private owners and can be spotted from its prime location near the Cork Road bridge onto Fota Island.
5. Loftus Hall, Co Wexford
Considered to be Ireland’s most haunted house, Loftus Hall, on the windswept Hook Peninsula in Wexford, is a gothic pile that reputedly hosted the devil. Legend has it that in the 1760s a stranger came knocking one stormy night. Owners Charles Tottenham and his wife Anne invited the man inside and apparently, while playing cards, she bent down to retrieve a fallen card and discovered her guest had cloven hooves instead of feet. Upon hearing her screams, the stranger bolted through the roof in a ball of flames. Lady Anne never recovered and is said to haunt the house to this day.
“There isn’t a day at Loftus Hall that I don’t feel that there is something or someone there with me,” says former owner Aidan Quigley, who has since sold the property to buyers at Oakmount, who are converting the currently-closed property into a luxury hotel.
6. St Michan’s Church, Co Dublin
The humble façade of this 9th-century church belies its storied interior, which has many of its original features, including the organ on which Handel practised his first performance of Messiah. But it’s the underground crypt that will give you serious chills. Stacks of coffins with limbs protruding make for a spooky sight, along with open coffins containing some of Dublin’s most notorious families. These include 18th-century rebels the Sheares brothers, Republican revolutionaries executed in 1798, an 800-year-old crusader, the mummified remains of a 400-year-old nun, and the death mask of Irish revolutionary Wolfe Tone – all of whom are said to whisper in the dark, cold and very eerie corridors.
St Michan’s is free to visit and offers full guided tours of the vaults.
7. Hellfire Club, Co Dublin
During the day, this pretty spot on the top of Montpellier Hill in the Dublin Mountains is scattered with hikers and families enjoying picnics on the lawn. But it’s the last place you want to be when the sun goes down – the ruined hunting lodge allegedly comes alive with the ghosts of its residents, who were said to have dabbled in black magic and hedonistic behaviour. Legend tells that these ‘hellfire’ members invited the devil in to play cards one night. When they discovered his identity, he set the club alight, leaving it in the ruined state it is today. Devilish goings on have been rife since, apparently, as spooked visitors have reported bad smelling odours, hearing voices and feeling the icy grip of a hand around their necks.
Visitors can view the ruins of the Hellfire Club from numerous walking trails in the Dublin Mountains.
8. Kilmainham Gaol, Co Dublin
Despite closing in 1924, Dublin’s Kilmainham Gaol, home to some of the country’s most notorious criminals in the last 200 years, still has the power to chill. It might be Europe’s largest unoccupied prison, but there’s more than a few spectral inhabitants fond of turning on and off the chapel lights and slamming cell doors shut. There’s grisly Dublin history here too, as you’ll learn how many Irish revolutionaries spent their last few days. Stand in their execution sites, visit their cells and see the location of the public hangings that took place at the gaol’s entrance.
The gaol offers 90-minute guided tours every day. Adults: €8, kids €4.
9. Charleville Castle, Co Offaly
Once derelict and decaying, Charleville Castle has been rescued from ruin by volunteers of the Charleville Castle community. They’ll guide you through the once great house and regale you with its eerie past, from stories of the Knights of Templar to that of a little girl called Harriet, the daughter of the third Earl of Charleville, who fell to her death while playing on the stairs in 1861. It’s alleged she now haunts the castle screaming, laughing and singing in the dead of night. Even if you don’t spot Harriet, it’s worth stopping by to see the oldest oak tree in Ireland, located in the estate’s ancient oak woods.
The castle is currently closed for restoration, but visitors can still explore the estate’s forest and grounds.
10. Ballyheigue Castle, Co Kerry
Now standing as ruins on the grounds of the Ballyheigue Castle Golf Course, Ballyheigue was once a grand 18-century mansion until it burned down in 1921. Legend says it remains the home of a local ghost, most notably spotted in 1962 by Captain O’Donnell. While exploring the ruin, O’Donnell took some photos that revealed a ghostly figure holding a sword in one of the castle windows. Further investigation uncovered the tale of a shipwreck, a raid to find hidden treasure and a soldier who was murdered after he intervened to prevent the robbery – the stuff of classic ghost stories.
Visitors looking to experience the castle up close and personal can book a round at the Ballyheigue Castle Golf Course.
11. Wicklow Gaol, Co Wicklow
Like Dublin’s Kilmainham Gaol, the Victorian-era Wicklow Gaol ceased functioning as a prison in 1924, but its door are now open to visitors looking to dive into the gaol’s grisly history. If you head to the prison-turned-museum for a tour, you’ll by led by actor guides explaining the life of its historical prisoners, from participants in the Irish Rebellion of 1798 to inmates awaiting transportation to a new life in Australia. Explore the jail’s original dungeon on a night tour and see for yourself whether it really is one of Ireland’s most haunted buildings.
The gaol offers two different tours, with day tour tickets starting at €9 and the “Gates of Hell” virtual reality tours starting at €13.
12. Leamaneh Castle, Co Clare
Leamaneh Castle was the long-time residence of 17th-century aristocrat Máire ní Mahon, whose moniker Máire Rua (Red Mary) is owed not only to her red hair but her fiery temper. If servants or others displeased her, they would be hung out the castle windows – occasionally leading to their sticky end. Legend says she met her own sticky end when locals, tired of her sadistic behaviour, sealed her in a hollow trunk to starve. She didn’t escape, but her spirit may have, as castle visitors claim to have seen a red-haired ghost wandering the ruins.
While Leamaneh Castle can’t be toured, visitors can take in the ruins just off the R480 in Clare.