From the moment you enter the gateway to Charleville Castle, you know you’re somewhere special. On our right stands the famous King Oak tree, said to be over 400 years old, with sprawling boughs that stretch far above the forest floor.
Legend has it that once a branch fell from the tree, a member of the Bury family – the original owners of Charleville Castle – would die under mysterious circumstances. And it’s a superstition that held true for several generations. Considering druids once practised their strange rituals in the oak woods, it may be no wonder such spooky coincidences occurred within the family who claimed the land as their own…
After a bumpy drive along the avenue that cuts through the ancient oak woodland, Charleville Castle suddenly comes into view. Located at the edge of Tullamore in County Offaly, this stunning stronghold is an imposing sight. Our guide, Michael, greets us warmly, pleasantly surprised by the group of eight visitors who found this “hidden gem".
The grand staircase in the entrance hall is reason enough to visit, having stood the test of time for over 220 years. Charleville Castle was once home to Charles William Bury, Earl of Charleville, and this 18th century Gothic-style fortress holds an incredible history, including grand balls, tragic deaths and ghostly encounters.
It’s been slowly restored, thanks to the efforts of volunteers, along with current owners, the Vance family. As it’s a family home, it’s best to pre-book your visit to ensure tour guides are available.
It’s clear that Michael has a passion for the castle. In the Ball Room, with its intricate plasterwork and beautiful marble fireplaces, he regales us with tales of opulent parties – Lord Byron was a frequent visitor.
You can almost see the couples whirling across the oak floor and hear the swish of silken ballgowns. It’s remarkable that these original features still exist considering the castle went without a roof for several years in the late 1960s.
Renowned architect Francis Johnston was the man responsible for designing Charleville Castle, as well as the General Post Office and the Chapel Royal in Dublin. And as we examine the intricate woodwork and gorgeously sculpted ceilings in each room, it’s easy to see why it took a team of talented craftsmen 16 years to finish. The Ladies’ Powder Room is one of the highlights of our visit, as Michael explains how keen suitors would have passed notes between the paneled door to their sweethearts.
When we reach the dark staircase to the now dilapidated nursery wing, an American lady in our party asks about the ghost of Harriet – the youngest daughter of the third Earl of Charleville. This is a well-known story to locals.
Harriet is said to have fallen to her death while sliding down the banister to the second floor. Many people claim to have heard her singing around the castle, or seen a glimpse of a little girl with golden ringlets. And while Harriet didn’t make an appearance, the family’s friendly black cat did choose to dart through the group while we were here!
From ghostly monks to eerie bumps in the night, and the sinister dungeons below, it’s no surprise that many paranormal investigators and film crews have flocked to Charleville Castle to experience otherworldly happenings for themselves. The tour gives a fascinating insight into County Offaly’s past and keeps the stories (and spirits) alive today.