Castletown House in County Kildare was built in 1722 for William Conolly, Speaker of the Irish House of Commons. Today, the house is maintained by the Office of Public Works and is open to the public, along with the surrounding parkland. While some claim that the property is now quiet, others believe that the sound of evil laughing can sometimes be heard at the property while others report an eerie feeling. These alleged phenomena could well relate to two unusual incidents which took place there many years ago.
In 1752, Connolly’s nephew – William James Connolly – inherited the great house. It was his wife, Lady Anne Wentworth, who first encountered an evil presence at the house. As Lady Anne watched, the ghost of a tall man in a grey coat began descending from the upper gallery, as if walking down a staircase even though there were no steps there. As he continued his descent, he stared at his terrified witness and emitted a shrill, brutish laugh that chilled her to the bone.
Several years had passed since the strange event and William and Anne’s son, Thomas, was now the owner of Castletown House. Thomas and his wife, Lady Louisa Lennox, made several amendments to the great house, including the addition of a staircase on the very spot that Lady Wentworth had seen the phantom stranger some twenty years earlier.
But the man in the grey coat was not finished with the Connolly’s yet.
Thomas had spent a day hunting and was preparing to return home after an unsuccessful hunt when he noticed a stranger among the small number of riders who had stayed on despite the famously inclement November weather. Connolly was renowned for his hospitality, and although the stranger gave him the creeps, he invited him to join him and the other riders back at Castletown House.
Stories are conflicted as to what happened next!
One version explains that the exhausted stranger fell asleep. Thinking that his guest would be more comfortable if his heavy riding boots were removed, Thomas instructed a servant to take them off him. As he did so, they were all shocked to see their mysterious guest had a cloven foot. A priest was summoned, and, on his arrival, the guest suddenly awoke, leaping from his chair and letting out a horrifying, demonic laugh as he looked at the shocked faces before him. The prayers of the terrified priest did not seem to calm the stranger, and in a fit of fear and desperation, the prayer book was thrown, passing straight through the stranger, and striking a mirror. The stranger was then engulfed by a yellow flame before vanishing into thin air leaving a crack in the mantel.
The other version bears some similarity to the tales of Loftus Hall in Wexford & also the Hellfire Club in Dublin – a hunting lodge that William Connolly had constructed in 1725, shortly after completing Castletown House.
The host and his guests enjoyed a lavish, seven-course dinner before settling in for a game of cards. Thomas became suspicious when the stranger at the table was winning every hand. Convinced that he was cheating and hiding cards under the table, Thomas peered under the table, only to notice that the stranger had kicked off his boots, exposing cloven hoofs. Thomas rose from his seat and demanded that the guest leave immediately, but his request was refused. A priest was immediately summoned to attend and arrived quickly with a bible in one hand a crucifix in the other. The priest demanded that the devil the house immediately, but again he refused to be moved. This angered the priest who threw the bible at the head of the dark stranger. The bible bounced off his head, striking the nearby mirror. It was then that there was a puff of smoke and the mysterious guest disappeared up the chimney with such force that the hearthstone cracked.
In both versions of the story, a mirror and a fireplace are damaged – and the damage is real. Despite several attempts to repair the cracks over the years, these defects still exist to this day.
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