I love ghost stories. From the haunted vaults of Edinburgh to the castles of Ireland, and from New England battlefields to the streets of New Orleans, I’ve taken every opportunity to scare myself silly. I even went through a phase in which I watched Ghost Hunters every week on the SyFy channel just to get travel ideas.
Years ago, before I’d ever set foot on Irish soil, Ghost Hunters investigated Leap Castle in County Offaly. With a gruesome history dating back to the 1500’s, it’s supposedly the most haunted castle in Ireland, if not all of Europe! So, I added it to my mental itinerary of terrifying places to go.
One of the reasons Leap (pronounced Lep not Leep) Castle is so haunted is because of the Bloody Chapel. The original owners, the O’Carroll family, once invited a rival clan to dinner and murdered the whole lot of them in the chapel. The O’Carolls tossed their bodies down an oubliette to rot. This was a fate that befell many unfortunate souls over the years; hundreds of skeletons were discovered in the 1920’s. (You can read the complete history on Leap Castle’s website.) Because of this, it’s believed that many spirits now haunt the castle, including something called The Elemental, the granddaddy of all big bad evil entities. (Some of you are now probably thinking, oh hell no! I’m never going in there!)
I finally gathered up the courage to visit last year. I called Sean Ryan, the castle’s current owner, and asked for a private tour. Tours are by appointment only; he keeps the gates closed to control access to the property. Otherwise, I imagine he’d have wanna-be ghost hunters and curious people like me wandering around at all hours of the day and night.
Sean Ryan is exactly the kind of person you’d expect to live in Leap Castle. A musician, he has long white hair that falls to his shoulders and full white beard. He’s a friendly man with a serious disposition who seems mentally formidable enough to take on a towerhouse full of ghosts. He invited me inside to sit by the fireplace, and as the wood cracked and hissed, he regaled me with stories about the castle. Then, he lead me to the stairway and gave me a flashlight.
“You’ll have to go up on your own,” he said. “I’ve had a little trouble with my knee.”
“But, the ghosts…” I said, joking. “They might get me!”
With an eerie, deadpan look he said, “There are no ghosts.”
Ghosts or no ghosts, walking up a narrow staircase with a flashlight by yourself can be a little unsettling. Especially when Sean closes the door behind you to “keep out the drafts.” And especially when the flashlight batteries start to fail, producing a strobe light effect in the darkness. After wending the stairs in the photo above, there was no electricity. I couldn’t imagine climbing those stairs at night like all those crazy people from numerous ghost-hunting shows. It was better than any makeshift haunted house experience back home!
The Bloody Chapel was at the top of the stairs. You’d think that with a name like “bloody chapel”, it’d be a bit scarier–that the air would be heavier and you’d feel a sense of foreboding or sadness. Maybe in the middle of the night when imaginations get the best of you, but during the day it felt…peaceful. With the sun shining, there was plenty of light in the chapel and a beautiful view of the Irish countryside.
Sean continues to work on renovations, and I hope to return some day to see how they progress. In the meantime, I hope he continues to welcome visitors and that people will consider donating to help with maintenance. (Castles are an expensive investment. I’ve looked into it!) Regardless of what ghosts may or may not haunt the place, Sean owns an interesting piece of Irish history, and I’m happy he’s chosen to open his home and share it with so many.
What’s the spookiest place you’ve ever visited? Tell me in the comments below!