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My Ireland: getting spooked at Leap Castle

Jane Cowen took a trip to Ireland’s most haunted castle where spooky stories, spine-tingling moments and the art of storytelling made for an unforgettable and chilling experience. Would you be brave enough?

Whether you believe in ghosts or not, there’s no denying the eerie atmosphere of Leap Castle. Often called Ireland’s most haunted location, this ancient fortress is found deep in the countryside of County Offaly, where rolling hills stretch out as far as the slopes of the Slieve Bloom mountains.

We knocked on the huge wooden door of the castle and Sean Ryan, owner and occupant, greeted us warmly. He’s every inch the countryman – cap and woolly jumper included. We were welcomed to the warmth of a roaring open fire and settled in on mismatched chairs in front of a burning candle. Looking around, much of the castle’s medieval charm has been retained – coats of arms, wooden beams and curious statues are mixed with antique furniture and whitewashed stone walls.

And then, the storytelling started. Sean and his wife have called this amazing stronghold home since 1994 but the castle itself was built the early 16th century by the brutal O’Carroll clan on what was said to be an ancient druidic site. Its gruesome history involves massacres, tragic deaths and horrific torture.

The stinking presence of the so-called ‘elemental’ seems to be the only evil presence that Sean broaches with caution in his voice. It’s believed this shape-shifting presence is the result of occult practises or the manifestation of centuries of brutal deaths on the grounds. He told us about the ghost of the governess who seems to have a fondness for blonde people, often making contact with fair-haired visitors. I shifted uncomfortably in my seat and hoped she didn’t take a shine to me!

From the spirits of two little girls to strange happenings such as doors slamming, footsteps in the night and the removal of pictures from the walls, Sean spoke of these supernatural beings with no sense of fear. He believes they have as much right to live there as he does, and they co-exist quite happily.

He invited us to explore the Bloody Chapel, handing us torches to climb the winding, dark stone steps to the top of the tower. Doors creaked open, footsteps echoed and we finally reached the top. The Bloody Chapel is a bare, stony room where sinister things have happened. It was here that brother murdered brother – one ruthless O’Carroll man slayed his own flesh and blood as he said mass on an alter. We gazed down into the oubliette, a dungeon where prisoners and double-crossers were thrown down the long shaft to a bed of sharp spikes. There’s no denying the sense of unease here.

With shivers up our spine and feeling sufficiently spooked, we said goodbye to Sean, giving him a small fee to help continue the restoration of this remarkable fortress. As the castle disappeared from view, I couldn’t help but admire Sean's passion for keeping such an amazing place alive. After centuries of battles, deaths and fires, there’s no quelling the spirit of this beautiful stronghold – or the ghosts who still call it home.

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