When we think of Irish castles we tend to think of royalty and knights, however, there is often a darker side to these historic buildings that often ends up being spooky rather than magical. Ireland has no shortage of castles and castle hotels, but while they may be beautiful, there is a little more to be found behind the old stone walls. That is if you are brave enough to look for it. These are the most haunted castles in Ireland, some of which you can even spend the night at. If you dare.
Leap Castle: Home to the Red Lady
When it comes to haunted castles in Ireland, Leap Castle in County Offaly takes the title as the most haunted castle. Located in County Offaly, Leap Castle is, in fact, a privately own castle, though that fact doesn’t stop fascinated tourists and visitors from hoping to catch a glimpse of one or two of the spirits said to haunt this Irish Castle.
History tells of many massacres that have taken place here in the past at the hands of the O’Carroll Clan. According to legend, the O’Carroll clan tortured, poisoned, raped, and brutally murdered dozens over the years, and many of these spirits are said to remain to haunt the property. Well-known ghosts at Leap Castle include the Red Lady, the McMahons, and the Wild Captain Darby.
Leap Castle is famous around the world for its paranormal happenings and even the current owners, the Ryan family, have fallen victim to some freak accidents. Without a doubt, this haunted Irish castle is definitely one of the spookiest places in the country.
Ballygally Castle: Haunting Ground of Lady Isabella
Ballygally Castle in County Antrim takes the title as the most haunted hotel in Northern Ireland. There are a couple of spirits said to lurk in these hallways, though the best-known is Lady Istabella.
Legend says that Lady Isabella was locked in the tower by her husband and either jumped or was pushed out the window where she fell to her death. Her spirit searches the castle for her young daughter and she is known to cause drastic changes in the temperature and odd smells. There have also been reports of a mysterious glowing green mist in the castle’s yard that usually signals something strange is going to happen.
Guests can stay in Ballygally castle and even stay in Isabella’s room…if they dare.
Clifden Castle: Home to Famine Ghosts
Clifden Castle in County Galway is one of the younger castles in Ireland, but that doesn’t stop it from being home to several spooky spirits making it one of the most haunted castles in Ireland. It was built in 1818 but quickly fell into disrepair when the famine hit in 1845. As hunger struck, the tenants of the D’Arcy estate gathered on the lawn of the castle to beg and pleas for work or food. However, there was none to be had and many of these people died there on the castle grounds. It is said that their spirits can still be seen and heard on the property.
Belvelley Castle: Haunted by a Faceless Ghost
Belvelley Castle, which is located not too far from Cobh and has earned its spot on the list of the most haunted castles in Ireland due to the fact that it is home to the ghost of the faceless lady, Margaret Hodnett. Margaret lived in the castle during the 17thcentury and was renowned for her looks. She also had an on and off again relationship with the Lord Rockenby but while he proposed many times she always declined. Tired of taking no for an answer, Rockenby and his army tried to take the castle by force and while the Hodnett’s held out for a year, they eventually had to surrender. By this time Margaret’s beauty was gone and in a rage, Lord Rockenby smashed her mirror to pieces. It is said that after this Margaret went insane, constantly checking for mirrors in hope that her beauty would return. But it never did and she died old and alone in the castle.
Today, her spirit haunts the castle as a lady in white that sometimes appears veiled and other times has no face at all. The ghost has been seen staring at a specific spot on the wall and rubbing it as if looking at her reflection in a mirror. It is said that this stone is worn smooth from her rubbing.
Leamaneh Castle: Beware Red Mary
Leamaneh Castle, located in County Clare, is little more than a shell today, but what this Irish castle lacks in splendour it makes up for in gory history that has, unsurprisingly, resulted in plenty of ghost stories. Leamaneh was home to Conor O’Brien and his wife Mary MacMahon, or Red Mary, in the 1630s. Mary was famed for her foul temper and, according to the stories, had many servants hung from the windows for displeasing her. She hung the men by their necks, the women by their hair, and was also accused of cutting off the breasts of her maids is she found them to be less than satisfactory. It is also said that she had a powerful stallion and would challenge visitors to try to ride it. Once mounted, the horse would take off to the Cliffs of Moher and throw its rider over the cliffs and into the rocks and tumbling waves below.
However, Mary’s violence and cruelty didn’t just extend to servants and visitors. It is said that Mary married at least three men (though there are stories that tell of many more) and was responsible for the death of at least one. Mary herself was rewarded with a rather gruesome death; she was tied to a tree and left to starve. Nobody knows where she was ever buried, but her spirit has been seen walking the halls of the castle. With such a violent owner, it’s no wonder that Leamaneh Castle is considered to be one of the most haunted castles in Ireland.
Castle Leslie: Several Spectres Haunt These Halls
Castle Leslie in County Monaghan is home to not just one but several ghosts or spirits which is why it has earned a place on the list of the most haunted castles in Ireland. However, the ghosts are considered to be like a ‘Casper’ type ghosts rather than ominous, troublesome ones.
There are two main haunted rooms in Castle Leslie. The Red Room, where the ghost of Norman Leslie, one of the castle’s former owners and inhabitants, is said to appear. The second is the Mauve Room which is said to be visited by Lady Constance. One of the most well-known stories of Lady Constance reports her as being seen at the bedside of Lady Leonie as she lay dying. It was only after the funeral that the maid, who originally thought the woman was an old relative, recognized her portrait on the castle walls as the deceased Lady Constance.
While these two ghosts are the most commonly know, there are more that can be seen and heard at Castle Leslie including a monk, a crying child, and there is a mysterious case of bells that ring on their own. Brave enough to spend the night? You can, because Castle Leslie offers accommodation and is also one of the most haunted hotels in Ireland.
Kinitty Castle: Don’t Be Fooled by the Monk
Another haunted hotel in Ireland, Kinitty Castle is a beautiful period castle with 37 rooms and at least a couple of ghosts. Kinitty Castle is known for being home to the Phantom Monk of Kinnitty who is said to be one of the most communicative ghosts in Ireland. He’s even been mistaken for a real person as he manages to appear in a solid form sometimes.
On top of the Phantom Monk, there are two specific haunted rooms, the Geraldine room and the Elizabeth room, which are notorious for supernatural happenings and visitors have reported feeling eerie presences throughout the castle.
Grannagh Castle: A Bloodthirsty Countess
Granngagh Castle in Kilkenny is steeped in spooky history. In fact, legends say that the very mortar of this haunted Irish castle contains blood. While that idea is eerie enough, the main story of this creepy castle is the Countess of Granny.
The Countess of Granny was a bloodthirsty woman. Her court butler once created a noose with several knots for her entertainment. She used that noose to string up several peasants at once. So pleased with the results, she actually added the knot, known as the Butler Knot, to her family crest. It is also said she had a secret tunnel beneath the castle where she tortured her victims.
Are you brave enough to visit, or spend the night at, any of these haunted castles in Ireland?
Looking or more stories about haunted Ireland? Check out Helena Byrne’s audio collection of Irish ghost stories here.