Monday, June 26, 2017

A Journey Through The Most Haunted Castle in the World

Leap Castle is not easy to find.  It isn’t off any major roads nor is it by any reasonably size cities.  The castle is notoriously haunted and has been seen on many ghost hunting television shows and is in almost every haunted Ireland book or article ever written.  Many people call it the most haunted castle in the world…. or at least in Europe.

When I found Leap Castle, I was sure I was in the wrong place.  I was expecting something terrifying and imposing.  I was expecting a Gothic castle from a nightmare that was well marked and either closed off or open for national tours.  Leap Castle is neither of these things.  As we drove through the gates and down the long driveway to castle, I thought I had accidentally pulled up into someone’s home.  The castle itself was mostly a ruin, but the front door looked inviting and there was a lovely garden and a green house.  Fluffy cats emerged from shady places to mew for pets.  We rang the doorbell and an old Irishman from a fairy tale answered the door.  He had a long gray beard and a welcoming smile. He didn’t say anything.  He waited for us to speak and I was sure at this point we were at the wrong place.

We asked for a tour of Leap Castle and he let us in.  He didn’t ask for money and he showed us about his main sitting room and his sun room.  He let me walk through his kitchen to his bathroom that was decorated with glitter, transparent, ocean themed toilet seats and accessories.  It felt like my grandmother’s bathroom. 

The main living area was filled with dear heads and taxidermied animals but it didn’t feel haunted or terrifying.  The sun room offered a beautiful view of the valley and was filled with so many plants it was hard to move.  Strange paintings and odd statues littered the walls and floors.  There was a huge fire in the fireplace.  It was a little cramped and the gentleman said nothing about ghosts as he showed us around.

Finally, I asked if the castle was haunted.  Mr. Ryan, the owner, responded that they would never call it that in Ireland.  He said the castle had spirits.  He said lots of old places in Ireland have spirits and that he was comfortable with the spirits of Leap Castle.  He said they never did them any harm.  They made their presence known and that was all.  He then showed us the way up a long, precarious, winding staircase up to the “Bloody Chapel”.  He told us to be careful to close the door because there was quite a draft. 

We climbed slowly up to the chapel, looking in small halls and doors as we went.  The place was surreal and the further you climbed up the more unreal and disconnected I felt, buy the time I got to the chapel my phone was down to 2% charge and I had charged it before arrival.  I had just enough battery to take a few photographs.  Doors lead out of the chapel.  There were more winding staircases, but the stairs were littered with crows nests and debris.  We were alone and discussed trying to descend them, but the first staircase had featured cracked steps and holes and these staircases seemed even more treacherous.   We also suspected one of the staircases was the path to the bloody Oubliette, from which numerous corpses had been pulled out of in the 1800s.
We descended to the entry way carefully and listened to the gentleman play the flute and left.  Again, Mr. Ryan’s music seemed out of place.  It was beautiful and upbeat.  We bought a CD and paid him twelve euros and left the way we had come. The cats said goodbye.

This seems like a strange end for a place that was once the location of such terror.   Despite our dread ascending the winding staircase, the rest of the castle seemed strangely peaceful.  The history of the castle is long a filled with death. 

According to Wikipedia:
“There are varied accounts as to when exactly the main tower/keep was constructed; ranging anywhere from the 13th century to the late 15th century, but most likely around 1250 CE. It was built by the O'Bannon clan and was originally called "Léim Uí Bhanáin" (as was the fertile land around the castle which was associated with the Bannon clan), or "Leap of the O'Bannons". The O'Bannons were the "secondary chieftains" of the territory and were subject to the ruling O'Carroll clan. There is evidence that it was constructed on the same site as another ancient stone structure perhaps ceremonial in nature, and that that area has been occupied consistently since at least the Iron Age (500 BCE) and possibly since Neolithic times.

The Annals of the Four Masters record that the Earl of Kildare, Gerald FitzGerald, tried unsuccessfully to seize the castle in 1513. Three years later, he attacked the castle again and managed to partially demolish it. However, by 1557 the O'Carrolls had regained possession.
Following the death of Mulrooney O'Carroll in 1532, family struggles plagued the O'Carroll clan. A fierce rivalry for the leadership erupted within the family. The bitter fight for power turned brother against brother. One of the brothers was a priest. While he was holding mass for a group of his family (in what is now called the "Bloody Chapel"), his rival brother burst into the chapel, plunged his sword into him and fatally wounded him. The butchered priest fell across the altar and died in front of his family.

In 1659, the castle passed by marriage into the ownership of the Darby family, notable members of which included Vice-Admiral George Darby, Admiral Sir Henry D'Esterre Darby and John Nelson Darby. By the time the castle was owned by Jonathan Charles Darby. His wife Mildred Darby wrote Gothic novels and held séances in the castle. This led to the publicity about the castle and its ghosts. The central keep was later expanded with significant extensions. However, in order to pay for these extensions, rents were raised and much of the land accompanying the castle was sold. This is one theorised motivation for the burning of the castle during the Irish Civil War in 1922.
In 1974 the castle was bought by Australian historian Peter Bartlett, whose mother had been a Bannon. Bartlett, together with builder Joe Sullivan, did extensive restoration work on the castle up to the time of his death in 1989.

Since 1991, the castle has been privately owned by musician Seán Ryan, who is continuing the restoration work.” (Wikipedia)

The Castle is also said to be home of an Oubliette.  There was a room where live prisoners would be entombed to die slowly and dead bodies could be tossed when they became inconvenient.  The spirits of the castle are said to be many, but Mr. Ryan seems to be comfortable enough with them and I suppose I would be too.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Ghosts of Cargin Castle: Part II

We have now spent a week at Carrigain, sometimes called Cargin Castle.  After our week at Carrigain Castle we discovered many haunting stories.  I have already done one blog post on the castle and I promised a ghost story. The first ghost story comes from David Scully, the boatsman.  He has been helping patrons of Cargin Castle for years now and he recalls helping one woman who was traveling through Ireland on her own.  She went fishing with David a couple of times and was very friendly.  The woman had recently had a spiritual crisis.  She had left the Mormon religion and become an atheist as she was utterly disillusioned with the notion of spirituality and the supernatural from her experiences with the Mormon Faith.  She may have stayed that way if it weren’t for the ghosts of Carraigin Castle.   One morning she called David in desperation.  She told him she couldn’t stay at the castle any longer.  When Davie asked why she told him that she had come to the castle believing that death was the end of all things, but after a few nights alone in Carraigin Castle she knew that death was only the beginning.

During our stay, we didn’t have any shocking supernatural experiences.  I rarely do.  I have walked through places that others have called the most haunted in the world and seen nothing.  I have slept in haunted rooms and wandered through many cursed places alone at night and seen nothing.  Cargin Castle was not much different.  The only difference was my son, who has watched me chase ghosts since he was little and has come to believe ghosts are nonsense.  However, here at Cargin my son became so afraid he asked me to sleep in the lower level bed chambers with him for one night.  He wouldn’t tell me why, he just said there was something here.  I felt it too.  It was something intangible that passed with the week.  Lights turned on and off .  I had bad dreams and heard footsteps.  All these things could be explained away, but I think there is something here.

Another historical story from this old castle comes again from “Of Beauty Rarest.”  It describes an account of the Ormond Rebellion in the 1570s that was written by Emily Lawless.

“Hught thought that he must certainly be still asleep, for nothing was as it had been when he had gone to bed.  Doors were broken down, there were red lights everywhere, excited tongues of flame were darting here and there into the rafters, and catching at the bundles of dry rushes; the stairs felt slippery under his feet with revolting slipperiness; there was a stinging smell of gunpowder in the air; and prostrate figures-in attitudes that did not at all look like sleep-lay about at every angle of the stairs.  All of a sudden the moon, which had been shinnin in through slit-like windows, dipped and went out behind clouds.  It seemed as if something had met its ciew too ugly for it to go on looking at it a moment longer.

One glimpse Hugh had caught, and only one.  It was the glimpse which he felt quite sure no rubbing would ever get off his brain again.  The great door, sgudded with irnon nails, leading into the hall was half open as he passed in, and instinctively he had glassed in.  It was full of armed men, all wearing the short leather coats and red badges of the De Burghs (the family that held Ashfield Castle in Cong). 

There were dead bodies about the floor, the bodies of his uncle’s serving men, lying doubled up in every attitude, and nearest the door lay poor, good-natured, red-headed Christ Culkeen, whom he had been dreaming about, his honest mouth wide open, his innocent, sheepish face white and distorted, his eyes turned hideously back in the agony of his last glance; while at the upper end, just where he was in the habit of sitting, tied to one of his own stone pillars by the arms and legs, with a rope around his neck, his forehead streaming blood from a cut which nearly divided it in two, hugh saw his uncle, Sir Meredith.  You Huber De Burg, the youngest of the Earl’s two sons- the Mac-an-Iarlas as they were called-was standing right in front of him with a look of satisfaction on his handsome, girlish face, stroking down a dainty moustache with one finger, and smiling pleasantly as he eyed his prisoner.  For this was a grudge of many years standing.  Had not Sir Meredith been invited to Connaught by the Dr Burghs themselves, who had give this castle of Cargin to keep? And had he not not in spite of this dared to oppose, and even, on more than one occasion of late, defeat them?  Cerily, it was a piece of presumption for  which he was about to reap a hot and bloody return.”

Indeed there are many reasons for the old castle to be haunted.  Even if it is, it is a beautiful place to stay and I hope that I may return someday.  It is a magical thing to stay in a castle steeped so deeply in over a half of century of history and to call it your own, even if it is only for a week.   I spoke to the owner of Leap Castle last week and I asked him how he felt living in such a haunted place.  He said that the Irish didn't call it a haunting.  He said his castle and spirits and that most of them were positive.  He said spirits were everywhere and there was nothing to fear in them.  I think that describes Castle Cargin.  It is a place with spirits, but it is a wonderful  place. 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Ghosts and History of Cargin Castle Part I

When we began our journey to Ireland, I chose to stay at Carraigin (as it is listed on VRBO) Castle because it was beautiful and had plenty of space for my family to spread out into.  I would be lying if I wasn't also beguiled by the idea of Tina, the woman who brings full Irish breakfasts and dinners to the castle at our request.  I dug through the internet and found no records of any tragedies occurring at this castle and there were no ghost stories that I could find.  This didn't bother me much since I knew I would find other stories to occupy my time.

Yesterday, I met David.  David is an Irish Fisherman who knows the waters of Lough Corrib as well as I know my own office.  I wasn't particularly looking forward to his tour of Lough Corrib (The lake the castle sits on) because I don't care for fishing.  I was pulled out onto the water against my will.  I was really looking forward to Tina and her dinner and had no interest in any activity that took me away from it.  David was wonderful, however.  As he took us out onto the water he told us the history of Corrib.  He showed us islands with stone rings (Dolmen) dating back thousands of years before Christ.  He told us myths and legends and old stories about the Lough and its people.  He told us fairy tales and ghost stories and history.  I could hardly keep up with it all.  Finally,  I gave up and just listened and looked and decided I would ask him to come back and take a notebook next time.

What I do remember clearly, was his telling of the history and ghosts of Cargin Castle.  He even pointed us to a small, self published book in the library of Cargin Castle where I could find its history written.  The book he guided me to was called "A Beauty Most Rare" and its history seemed to contradict much of the history I found online about the castle.  First, according to online sources the castle was just a manor house of no military significance.  According to Michael Carol, Castle Cargin was built by "the Norman DeBurgos in the late 13th century.  It was a strategic fortress, along with Annaghkeen Castle in defendint the Manor of Headford from incursions across Lough Corrib (or Lough Orbsen as it was then known) by the dispossessed O'Flaherty clan."  The castle was of military and strategic use and was more than a country house.  Carol sites Oscar Wilde's father's histories of the region (William Wilde) in his bibliography as well Christopher Murphy.    According to Carol, De Burgo installed another Norman family, the Gaynards, as tenants of the castle and woods in Cargin and Clydagh.  In this turbulent period of Irish history, raids and counter-raids to and fro across the lake made life at the castle and in the area a turbulent one.  The Gaynard family which was considered an Old English family was tossed out of the castle by Cromwell supporters  in the 1650s and the house was passed to the New English Staunton family.  The Stauntons stripped the castle of stone and abadoned it.  They used the stone to build a Georgian Manor house and the castle was left to decay.   In the 1970's the castle was restored to what it is today.

The book told several stories associated with the castle and I will retell two of them.  One came from Thomas Egan:

"The Normans who lived in Cargin Castle were very friendly with those of Annaghkeen who were bitter enemies of the soldiers of Cong.

One day a small band of Cong soldiers came to Annaghkeen and seeing a man working in a field, they cut off his hands and legs and killed him.

When the soldiers in Annaghkeen Castle heard of this outrage, they sough help from the soldiers in Cargin and together marched to Cong.  A great battle was fought on the plain of Maigh Tuireadh in which many men from both sides were killed.

Neither of the parties were satisfied and they fought another more bloody battle a few hundred yards from Cargin Castle beside Lough Corrib.  The Cargin and Annaghkeen soldiers were victorious although very few of either army returned home.

At the place where that terrible battle took place there is a small hill, supposed to have been formed by the heap of slain soldiers who were buried there.  The hill is now covered by the trees of the Clydagh Woods."

I will save the second tale of bloodshed from Cargin Castle for the second part of this post.  There is too much for one blog post.    But I will end today's post with the name of the ghost David said haunts the castle.  He calls her Elizabeth and I think we have had a few run ins with her since we have been here.  She kept my oldest son up quite a bit one night and she had fun with us and the light switches on another night.

If you would like to stay at the castle, you can find it on VRBO.

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Haunting of Castle Hackett

Somewhere between Headford and Tuam in County Galway, Ireland on a lonely road lives the remains of Castle Hackett.  There isn't much left of this castle.  It has been mostly reclaimed by the earth.  Ivy covers its stone walls and you have to pass through an archway of ivy to enter the castle. In many of the photos I took of the location, it is hard to tell if I was taking pictures of the woods or a castle.  Once you walk up a small, winding staircase you emerge onto what was once the second story of this once formidable tower house.  The second story feels as much like a quiet glen as a castle.  Trees have taken root in the stone and dirt and moss cover the floor.  Bits of the castle peak through the branches of trees, flowers and Ivy.  There is nothing left of the third and fourth floors.  You can look up and see the remains of fireplaces, but time has reclaimed all else.  Castle Hackett looks more like a fairy fortress now than a human one and that is appropriate as the castle is steeped in old fairy legends.

According to Irish legend,  the hill of Knockma that stands behind Castle Hackett is the home of the Sidhe and the fairy King Finvarra.  The fairy city  is built somewhere in the hill of Knockma.   In the 17th century the Kirwan family built Castle Hackett by the doorway to the fairy kingdom and haunting stories have been part of the stones of the castle ever since.  One morning a Kirwan lord described meeting a dark rider on a steed made of fire on his morning ride.  The man gave the Kirwan Lord answers to all his questions and helped him bet on the races.  Luck always followed the Kirwan family after this which was usually attributed to the fairy magic.   They prospered and their horses never lost in the races.  Sadly, in 1912 Colonel Denis Kirwin Bernard inherited the Castle Hackett estate and the castle was burnt in Irish Civil war.  The Colonel was a very unpopular man due to his stance in the civil war and although he was buried on Knockma Hill his grave was desecrated by locals.

Castle Hackett is said to be haunted still by the fairy king and all his subjects.  Local lore says that he kidnaps young women and carries them away to be his lovers.   Anyone who has visited Castle Hackett could believe this to be true as the castle is as close to a fairy kingdom as I have ever seen.

Friday, June 9, 2017

The Hellfire Club

 The Hellfire Club was a club of young, wealthy gentleman that came together in the early 18th century to rebel against traditional Christian ideology.   They were largely a product of the humanist movement and the Irish called the blasters, short for blasphemy.    The actual hunting lodge that is commonly called The Hellfire Club is considered to be one of the most haunted places in Ireland by some and was a meeting place for the blasters off and on.
On my tour of the Hellfire Club today it was clear that the tour guide thought much of the darker history of Hellfire Club was nonsense, but that didn't stop him from telling it.  As we approached the club,  I could hear the screams of children.  It is a mile and a half hike uphill to reach the old lodge once owned by Phillip, The Duke of Wharton.  As the most spectacular views of Dublin appeared at the top of the hill, it was clear I hadn't been imaging the shrill screams that lingered in the cold, wet air.   A group of children were playing in the rain in the grassy area in front of the decaying lodge.  As our guide told us that the site we were standing on was once the site of an ancient Irish Cairn and burial ground,  I watched children dance and sing.

We went into the first room and our guide told us the story of a priest who had once visited the lodge.  The priest arrived for dinner and saw members of the club were treating a black cat as if it were the guest of honor.  When the priest asked why,  members of the club answered that the cat was the oldest and wisest of them.  The priest muttered an exorcism and the cat turned to smoke and returned to Hell.  Other stories include members of the club burning themselves alive to get closer to hell. One medium saw mountains of corpses in one chamber and tales of human sacrifice abound.  Campers there resort seeing demons in the walls and locals tell tales of burning cats fleeing the club.

History does show members drank to excess and had orgies at the lodge.  The guide reported that he has seen evidence of current occult activity while he has been up there.  People have left circles of candles and makeshift ouijii boards behind. When I was there, I had difficulty breathing, but that could be due to the cold air.  Whatever the truth hidden in the walls of Hellfire Club, it is a particularly cold and creepy place.  The natural beauty of the location juxtaposed with tales of satanic rituals and human sacrifice make you feel lightheaded and cold beyond measure.