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  • Writer's pictureJohn Wick

Ghosts Of Leap Castle

In our previous posts, we visited a number of locations where the tragic events in the distant past seems to be inevitably tied to the manifestation of restless spirits. In this post, we visit a medieval castle which lies in the heart of rural island which is apparently the scene of just such a phenomenon. In this post, we uncover the Ghosts of Leap Castle.

The O'Carroll Family

Outside the chapel, the rain continued to hammer relentlessly against the exterior of the ornate windows, further adding to the palpable sense of unease which had already spread throughout the throng of people assembled inside. As he purposefully made his way through the congregation towards the altar, Thaddeus O'Carroll tried to ignore the hushed conversations and nervous glances, determined to get the service underway.

As the head of the O'Carroll family, it was Thaddaeus's right and duty to lead his kin in prayer. But his assumption of the role after the death of his father had initiated a huge feud with his younger brother, Teige, who believed that a priest had no business assuming the title of the Lord of Ely. Given the bloody history of the O'Carroll Dynasty, this should come as no surprise. When Thaddeus's grandfather had died, leadership of the clan had not been passed directly to his father, who had been born out of wedlock.

Instead, Fergonanium O'Carroll had been compelled to challenge his half-brother for leadership, taking the title by force. He in turn had then been murdered by a group of relatives led by his cousin, Donagh. His mother had begged him not to commence mass that morning until Teige had made his way to Leap Castle, fearful that such a slight would only further fuel the conflict between her feuding sons. But Thaddeus had ignored her protests, aware that to give way to his sibling at such an early point in his leadership would fatally damage his reputation. Now, struggling to be heard above the sounds of the driving rain outside, he welcomed his relatives and began to lead them in worship.

As the minutes passed, a suffocating feeling of trepidation continued to hang over the worshippers, before the chapel doors were suddenly and angrily smashed wide open. Flanked by his men, Teige stalked into the room, his left hand resting on the hilt of his sword whilst his one good eye glazed with fury.

He savagely kicked and shoved family members to one side, advancing angrily towards the priest, accusing him of subterfuge and disrespect. Taking into account the heavily armed soldiers who stood alongside his enraged brother, Thaddeus commonly accepted his fate. Had this argument not taken place this morning, it likely would not have been long in coming: Teige would not be denied his throne. Clutching his Bible in one hand and his rosary in the other, Thaddeus opened his arms and walked calmly into the center of the chapel.

With a scream of incomprehensible rage, the younger of the two men drove his blade into the chest of his brother, killing him instantly. As the congregation fled the scene in horror around him, he strode forward, bending down to wrest the holy book from the dead priest's hand, before hurling it contemptuously to one side. He was not to know it at the time, but his rule would also end in bloodshed, for the Lords of Ely walked in company with death and dishonor.

A decade later, Teige himself lay dying by the hand of his cousin, Cahir, continuing the unending circle of betrayal and murder that had forever dogged his family. And whilst leadership of the O'Carrolls would pass on in turn to his son and grandson, both of whom would also perish at the hands of their relatives, the inhabitants of Leap Castle began to witness haunting occurrences in and around what would become known as The Bloody Chapel.

In the dark of night, guards reported having seen candlelight shining out through the building's windows, accompanied by the sound of prayers quietly being recited from inside. When they had burst into the room, weapons raised, they found it dark and empty. Rumors quickly began to circulate that Thaddeus O'Carroll could not move on from the scene of his death, his spirit seemingly forever committed to watching over his flock.

Some visitors who stayed in the priest's house reported being unable to sleep properly, as they were startled by the unexpected appearance of a faceless cowled figure, he would then vanish just as quickly as it had materialized. Others reported having been smothered in their beds by an invisible force that crushed the air from their lungs before suddenly and inexplicably ceasing.

The Different Ghosts of the Leap Castle

Decades progressed into centuries and it became clear that Thaddeus O'Carroll was not alone in his reluctance or inability to move on beyond the confines of Leap Castle. The supposed identities of other apparitions that were documented suggested that the bloody and brutal history of his family had doomed a number of wronged victims to forever walk its interior, alongside the murdered priest. Several visitors reported having encountered a mysterious lady, dressed in a crimson red cloak. Even in complete darkness, this woman's form could still be clearly made out, as if she was emanating a glowing luminescence of some kind. The witnesses described her once-beautiful features as contorted with rage, with a dagger aggressively brandished in one of her hands.

When encountered, she would advance on the person who had seen her, screaming in rage before disappearing. Legend has it that the woman came from a nearby settlement and was kidnapped and forced upon by several of the O'Carroll menfolk. When she became pregnant as a result of their actions, she had later pleaded with her attackers for help in raising her child. Enraged by her temerity, the drunken clan members had stabbed her and the baby to death, leaving their bodies lying out in the open as a means of intimidating other local residents.

Two young girls have also been seen moving around the grounds at the castle on numerous occasions. They are believed to be the ghosts of two sisters who died there, named Emily and Charlotte. Emily was only 11 years old when she was tragically killed, having fallen whilst playing up high on the battlements. People have witnessed her repeatedly plunging to her death, only for no corpse to be found despite extensive searches of the grounds. Her younger sister Charlotte has been seen in rooms all around the site. Identifiable by the withered leg she was born with, sometimes she approaches visitors to the castle, asking if they have seen her missing sister. On other occasions, she will appear suddenly inside a room, weeping and sobbing before subsequently fading away to nothing.

'The Elemental'

But by far the most hideous and disturbing entity to haunt the corridors of Leap Castle is known by those who have encountered it as The Elemental. Its presence was first recorded at the turn of the century by Leap Castle's occupier at the time, Mildred Darby. One evening, she had been standing in one of the galleries admiring the paintings, when she had been overpowered by the smell of decaying flesh. As Mildred struggled to suppress a rising wave of nausea, she caught sight of a squat figure standing a few feet away, staring intently at her.

Its body was humanoid, but thin and gaunt, with gray and mottled skin. Patches of dark fur sprouted sporadically from its naked body and its face was decayed and rotted, with two gaping holes where the eyes should have been. Whilst short in stature, Mildred maintained that the figure's body appears fully grown in proportion, rather than that of a child. When it realized that she had become aware of its presence, its outline had immediately begun to fade away until it vanished completely. Milly Darby would go on to document a number of encounters with this manifestation, which seemed benign in nature, yet truly horrifying in appearance.

In November of 1915, she recorded in her diary that whilst her husband was away on business, she had allowed two of the serving stuff to entertain some soldiers from the local barracks. The four had been socializing in the priest's house when they have been overcome by a debilitating odor. They had suddenly noticed a small figure hanging from the ceiling rafters, staring down at them, and had fled in terror. The maids in question both resigned and left Leap Castle the following morning, never to return.

Sightings of this foul entity have stubbornly persisted up to the present day, including the experience of a visitor to the site in June of 2006. The witness was walking up a spiral staircase within the castle when the overpowering aroma of sulfur had filled his nostrils. Further up along the dimly lit confines of the narrow passageway, a squat shape was staring back at him, as if waiting to rear up and pounce. After struggling to overcome a deep sensation of tension and dread, the visitor had backed away, ensuring he had closed and secured the door to the staircase as he did so.

There are a number of competing theories regarding the origins of The Elemental, whose appearance is so inhuman that it is not immediately thought to be the spirit of any deceased member of the O'Carroll clan. One assertion is that the entity may pre-date the original construction of the castle during the 13th century, potentially having been summoned by ancient druids as a form of protection for the site. Another theory is that the being may have been created by the 8th Earl of Kildare, Gerald Fitzgerald, whilst he was laying siege to Leap Castle in an attempt to gain control of it from the O'Carolls in 1513.

Fitzgerald was rumored to be an accomplished sorcerer and occultist, who had used dark arts to gain victory in previous battles. He was unsuccessful in the attempt and died shortly afterwards, but is alleged to continue to stalk the Irish countryside, shape-shifting into the forms of various creatures. If The Elemental was once a person, then it's ghastly appearance may be the result of a hideous disease. A number of the O'Carrolls died at Leap Castle through the ages having contracted leprosy, which some commentators believe would account for the smell of decaying flesh and the appearance of putrefaction. There are, however, no examples of the entity attempting to converse with those it appears to or to explain its presence, suggesting that it may not be human in nature at all.

The Mass Killings

Whatever powerful force possesses the capability to capture and anchor the souls of the dead to Leap Castle may have been released as a result of several mass killings believed to have taken place there. It is rumored that the O'Carroll clan once hosted forty members of the McMahon clan from Monaghan, who had helped them win victory during a previous battle. Wanting to avoid paying their allies, the devious hosts poisoned the food given to the McMahon warriors, killing them all and then burying their bodies in the castle grounds.

However, as chilling as this particular tale is, physical evidence exists of a far greater series of slayings that were perpetuated within the castle walls. In 1922, during the Irish Civil War, a group of men snuck into the castle grounds and set fire to a number of the buildings. Some commentators believe this was the work of the Irish Republican Army, whilst others alleged that the act arose from a long-standing dispute with local tenants over rent arrears. Regardless of the motive, this act caused extensive structural damage which took years of work to repair. Whilst those repairs were underway, builders working on the chapel uncovered an oubliette hidden beneath the floorboards. This dungeon's shaft dropped down into a pit full of thick wooden spikes, on which the remains of countless victims were still impaled.

In total, it was estimated that the bones removed from this death trap belonged to up to a hundred and fifty victims, taking three heavily laden carts to remove from the site. Chillingly, analysis of some of the personal possessions found alongside the bodies dates the use of the murder pit up to as recently as the eighteen hundreds.

Mildred Darby's background

Skeptics of some of the more colorful tales to emerge from the castle's history point out the fact that the principal witness to these incidents, Mildred Darby, was an accomplished fiction writer. Publishing her work under the pseudonym of 'Andrew Murray', she wrote a series of novels and short stories, all of which served only to antagonize her husband. The relationship between Jonathan Darby and his wife was notoriously strained. The descendant of a (English) civil war soldier who had inherited the castle through marriage during the 1650s, Darby was quick to temper and would antagonize Mildred by deliberately leaving trails of muddy footprints from the stables throughout the main building. He maintained that there were no ghosts dwelling within his home, and that Milly had made them all up for attention and to aid her literary career.

The current occupiers of Leap Castle are musician Sean Ryan and his wife Anne Callanan. They continue to restore what remains of the damage inflicted upon the property nearly a century ago, allowing tours and ghost-hunting events to take place at the site. Sean confirms that supernatural activity continues within the castle to this day, but maintains that the spirits who inhabit his home have just as much right to live there as him. Perhaps, even more so, given the manner in which their lives were so abruptly and horrendously ended.


It is easy to argue that any location with a significant place in the history books, especially those that date back to the horrors and tragedies of medieval times, possess supernatural stories of varying credibility. But the sheer scale of suffering which has been documented at Leap Castle and the large number of ghosts reported there set it apart from similar buildings. Whether these apparitions are a result of the murderous actions of the O'Carrolls or the direct cause of the calamities and misfortunes that have befallen the clan is unclear. But it appears that their presence goes hand-in-hand with the family's historically poor fortune, waiting silently in the wings down through the ages to welcome more of the clan's departed members into their ranks.

So, if you do find yourself visiting this tragic part of rural Ireland, remember to keep your wits about you, because in all likelihood, you will be in the company of more than merely your guides and companions.


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