In County Offaly, Republic of Ireland, near the town of Birr, there is a strategic pass through the Slieve Bloom mountain range to the province of Munster. The area was under the control of the O’Carroll clan. Their secondary chieftain from the O’Bannon clan built a tower fortress here to guard the pass in the late 15th century. The name of the castle in Gaelic was “Leim Ui Bhanain” which meant “Leap of the O’Bannons”. Eventually, the O’Carrolls took possession of the fortification. Today it is known as Leap Castle (pronounced “Lep”) and can be reached from the R421, just four miles north of the town of Roscrea.
The O’Carrolls were not exactly the type of people you would invite to have dinner at your house. More precisely, they were not the sort of people whom you should accept dinner invitations from. In the 16th century, O’Carroll of the Leap hosted a sumptuous banquet at the castle. He invited a rural branch of his own sept to the function. Hardly had his guests settled down at the table than he slaughtered each and everyone of them. He certainly would not be nominated for the Most Gracious Host of the Year award.
Settling matters with the cutting edge of the sword seems to be the standard modus operandi for the O’Carrolls. In 1532, Mulrooney O’Carroll, the clan chief died, without appointing a successor. His sons settled the matter in their own way. One of them was a priest. One day, as he was leading mass on the top floor of the tower, another brother burst in to bring things to an abrupt end. This brother, who was known as One-Eyed Teige O’Carroll, stabbed the priest in the back. Mortally wounded, the priest fell and died at the altar. After that, the room was called the Bloody Chapel.
The ownership of Leap Castle passed from the hands of the O’Carrolls to the Darbys in what can be considered to be a most suitable way. In the 17th century, an English soldier named Captain Darby was imprisoned in the castle dungeons. A daughter of the clan chief fell in love with him. She smuggled food to him. Eventually she helped him to escape. As they were going down a staircase on their way out, her brother came upon them. Naturally he did not approve of their plan. The English captain cut short his protests with a single sword thrust.
It turned out that the slain brother was the heir to the castle. With him dead, the daughter inherited Leap Castle. In 1659 she married Captain Darby and the castle became the possession of the Darby family.
A Young Girl Ghost
The blood-spattered exploits of the O’Carrolls spawned many paranormal manifestations at Leap Castle. The ghost of a young girl has been sighted many times. This was said to be the apparition of the daughter of one of the past owners of the castle. Her father wanted to marry her off to a rich gentleman. However, she insisted on falling in love with a poor farm boy. When her father found out, he settled the matter in the standard O’Carroll way. He had the boy killed.
His daughter, being an O’Carroll, reciprocated in kind. One night, while he was asleep, she went into his bedroom and killed him. The tit-for-tat killings carried over into the other realm. The following day, the daughter went up to the top of the castle. Possibly she was wondering what lay ahead for her. She got her answer in a very typical O’Carroll way. An invisible hand pushed her off the tower and she fell to her death. It was believed that it was her father’s ghost which had caused her fatal fall. Many visitors to Leap Castle have heard ghostly moaning and weeping at night. Some have seen lights at the top of the castle. They said that late at night the windows at the top floor “light up for a few seconds as if many candles were brought into the room”.
The Horrible Elemental
A member of the Darby family who owned the castle after the O’Carrolls was responsible for a fearsome addition to the plethora of ghosts haunting Leap Castle. In the late 19th century, interest in the occult was the fashion of the day. Mildred Darby tried her hand in the dark arts, innocently thinking that it was just for fun. Little did she know that her actions would bring forth a being horrifying beyond her wildest nightmares.
In 1909, Mildred Darby wrote an article for the Journal Occult Review. In her article, she described the paranormal being she had met. She said she was standing in the gallery when she felt someone put a hand on her shoulder. Actual what touched her was more of a something than a someone. The thing was about the size of a sheep. She said it was thin, gaunt and shadowy. It had a face. Its eyes, which seemed to be half decomposed in black cavities, stared into hers. There was a horrible smell emanating from the thing. She thought it smelt like a decomposing corpse.
People who are familiar with the dark arts said that Mildred Darby had awakened an elemental which is thought to be some kind of a primitive ghost. Nevertheless the Darbys lived in Leap Castle until 1922. That was when the Irish fought for independence from England. The castle, being the home of an English family, was a prime target. It was bombed and looted until only a fire-gutted shell remained. Of course, the Darbys had to leave.
A Forgotten Oubliette
In 1922, workers assigned to restoring the castle found an oubliette. This was a small dungeon. Its name is from the French word “oublier” which means “forget”. The oubliette was just behind the wall of the Bloody Chapel. It was simply a room with a drop floor. People who were sent into the room fell eight feet through the floor. At the bottom there were spikes. If they were lucky, they would be impaled and died quickly. Otherwise, they just starve to death, forgotten by whoever sent them into the room. The oubliette was full of human skeletal remains. It took three cartloads to remove the grisly discovery.
A New Old Ghost
In the 1970s, an Australian bought Leap Castle. He invited a white witch from Mexico to drive the spirits out of the castle. After many hours of parley with the specters in the Bloody Chapel, she announced that the spirits would not cause any further trouble but they insisted on remaining in the castle.
In the 1990s, the castle was bought by the current owners, Sean Ryan, a well-known musician, and his wife, Anne. In May 2002, they found the ghost of an old man sitting in a chair by a fireplace downstairs. They were not in the least surprised. With so many ghosts around the place, one more would not make much difference. So they just wished the apparition a good day and went about their daily routine.
It is possible that the ghosts of Leap Castle have decided to leave the living in peace. A few years earlier in 1991, they held the christening of their daughter in the Bloody Chapel. For the first time in many hundreds of years, the place was filled with the sound of music and laughter. It was said to be a “happy, pleasant, wonderful day”.
Anyone looking for some congenial spirits should consider a visit to Leap Castle. There is no lodging offered at the castle but visitors can spend a few pleasant nights at the nearby hotels while they explore the castle during the day.
Further information on the Leap Castle: