Leap Castle

Leap Castle
Roscrea, Offaly, Ireland.

Leap Castle has come under siege, been fought over by feuding family members, been attacked, and rebuilt, burnt out, and restored. It has been a site of rituals, battles, torture and murder. Little wonder that it is now considered to be one of Ireland’s most haunted homes.

The original castle was built in the mid-13th-century on a site that is believed to have been inhabited since Neolithic times. Evidence suggests that the site may also have been used during Druidic ceremonies, which could explain the heightened turbulence experienced here over subsequent centuries. The castle we see today is believed to date to the early 1500s and was built by the O’Bannon clan who were secondary chieftains at the time. Heavily fortified, the castle later became a stronghold of the ruling O’Carroll’s – a fearful, territorial and cruel family. In the mid-seventeenth century, Jonathon Darby the 2nd, one of Cromwell’s men, was awarded the seized castle in return for his services to the Crown. His descendants remained here until 1922, when, in the early hours of the 30th of July, the castle was raided and set alight. When daylight came, local people pillaged the castle, taking away anything of value that had not been claimed by the fire and the damaged building was abandoned shortly after.

By 1974, the castle was in a ruinous state. It was purchased by historian, Peter Bartlett. Bartlett himself was an Australian but he could trace his linage back to the O’Bannons, the clan that originally built the castle. Peter began the arduous task of restoration and this continued until his death in 1989. In the early nineties, Sean Ryan and his wife bought the castle and continued the restoration work. To them, Leap Castle is their family home, but they do welcome enquiries from those wishing to arrange a visit. Don’t be surprised if Sean seems unphased by it all though – the experiences that have made many visitors jump are just part of daily life to him and his family!

The most famous haunting relates to a spirit referred to as “the elemental” or simply “It”. Nobody truly knows who or what It is but it is said to be evil incarnate. If It was ever human, it may be the grotesque manifestation of a member of the O’Carroll clan who had contracted leprosy and was locked away here. The O’Carroll’s were vicious and so is It. Part of the description afforded to It would also fit with someone who had succumbed to this nasty disease, but some witnesses described the entity as being the size of a sheep, so make of that what you will. Other theories on what It might be are even darker. Not all hauntings can be attributed to a living soul. Some believe the Druids who used the site before the castle was built, had conjured an entity to protect their sacred space, and that residents had awakened this dark guardian. Sometimes dark entities manifest following a catastrophic loss of life and the intensity of the grief, anger and destruction associated with it – and there has been a lot of death at Leap Castle! Such entities can also be deliberately conjured by dark practices. In 1513 and again in 1516, Gerald Fitzgerald, who would have been the 9th Earl of Kildare, attempted to seize the castle. He failed on each occasion but did however cause significant damage on his second attempt. Some stories I have seen allude to how Fitzgerald dabbled in the black arts and how he conjured this negative force within the castle to do his bidding, but it was actually Gerald’s son, also called Gerald – the 11th Earl of Kildare, who was known to practice this magic, and he wasn’t born until 1525. He was even known as “the wizard earl”. The Gothic novelist, Mildred Darby (nee Dill), lived at Leap Castle following her marriage to Jonathan Darby in 1889. She conducted several séances, and it is thought that she may have awoken the elemental (whatever It is) herself. Mildred described her own encounter with It in the Occult Review in 1909:

Suddenly, two hands were laid on my shoulders. I turned round sharply and saw, as clearly as I see you now – a grey ‘Thing’, standing a couple of feet from me, with its bent arms raised as if it were cursing me. I cannot describe in words how utterly awful the ‘Thing’ was, its very indefinableness rendering the horrible shadow more gruesome. Human in shape, a little shorter than I am, I could just make out the shape of big black holes like great eyes and sharp features, but the whole figurehead, face, hands, and all-was grey-unclean, blueish grey, something of the colour and appearance of common cotton wool. But, oh! so sinister, repulsive, and devilish. My friends who are clever about occult things say it is what they call an ‘Elemental’.

The thing was about the size of a sheep, thin, gaunt, and shadowy in parts. Its face was human, or to be more accurate, inhuman, in its vileness, with large holes of blackness for eyes, loose slobbery lips, and a thick saliva-dripping jaw, sloping back suddenly into its neck! Nose it had none, only spreading, cancerous cavities, the whole face being a uniform tint of grey. This too was the colour of the dark coarse hair covering its head, neck, and body. Its forearms were thickly coated with the same hair, so were its paws, large, loose, and hand-shaped; and it sat on its hind legs, one hand or paw was raised, and a claw-like finger was extended ready to scratch the paint. Its lustreless eyes, which seemed half decomposed, and looked incredibly foul, stared into mine, and the horrible smell which had before offended my nostrils, only a hundred times intensified, came up to my face, filling me with deadly nausea. I noticed the lower half of the creature was indefinite and seemed semi-transparent-at least, I could see the framework of the door that led into the gallery through its body.

In 2002, a cameraman was filming at the castle and recalled how he was charged at by a white mist and felt a sharp pain in his ribcage as the energy passed through him. He felt unwell for the remainder of the shoot and the audio equipment stopped working too. Other visitors have encountered feelings of threat, the energy of a bull that is ready to charge at them from the darkness at any moment, and strange animalistic noises. The most common report surrounding the elemental is the rancid smell that comes with it.

Strangely, the Ryan family themselves have never encountered the Elemental in all the years that they have lived at Leap Castle, but then they respect the many ghostly energies around them and do not seek them out or provoke them. Ghost hunters be warned!

It was during Mildred’s time here that an oubliette was discovered in the chapel. An oubliette (deriving from the French “oublier” or “to forget”) was a hidden dungeon chamber into which enemies and unwanted guests would be dropped through a trapdoor and left to rot. At Leap Castle, those unfortunate enough to have been dropped would have been impaled on the 8-foot spikes at the base of the shaft. While those dropped into the chamber would have been badly injured, the drop was not significant enough to cause an instant death resulting in a slow, agonising one instead. As many as 150 bodies were removed during renovation works.

The castle chapel where the oubliette was discovered is known as “The Bloody Chapel”. In 1532, a bitter battle broke out between members of the O’Carroll family over who should succeed Mulrooney O’Carroll as head of the clan. One of the O’Carroll brothers was a priest and began saying a mass at the chapel before one of his siblings arrived. Enraged that the service had commenced before he arrived, the priest was slain in front of his family by his own flesh and blood. The ghost of the priest has been spotted on many occasions in and around the chapel. According to the owner of Leap Castle, another male spirit also haunts this space. He has been spotted walking down the stairs towards the dungeon. There have been reports of a mysterious light streaming from the upper windows of the deserted chapel. Even the burning of the building during the Irish Civil War did not put a stop to the reports of light emanating from the derelict shell.

Notwithstanding the number of bodies removed from the dungeons and the fact that brother would slaughter brother, it would certainly appear that some members of the O’Carroll clan who seized the castle from the founding O’Bannons, were particularly nasty, especially towards women. A female form in a red dress has been spotted on many occasions throughout the years. It is believed that she was held against her will by the O’Carrolls and that she was raped by a family member resulting in her becoming pregnant with his child. When the child was born, the family claimed they could not afford the costs associated with a baby and killed the poor child. In anger and grief, the new mother killed herself using the same dagger that was used to kill her child. She appears, still carrying the bloody dagger, and those who have witnessed her, report feelings of intense cold. The ghost of a semi-naked woman, another woman who was murdered by a member of the family in the 16th-century, has also been spotted running for her life and she screams before disappearing.

The ghost of an eleven-year-old girl has been seen falling from the battlements of Leap Castle. Witnesses believe this may be one of two young girls, Emily and Charlotte, who have been seen playing together in the Main Hall and on the spiral staircase. Sometimes the two girls are accompanied by a nanny. The ghost of an elderly man has also been spotted sitting by the fireplace in the great hall.

The shell of a former Priest’s House can also be found on the site. Again, targeted during the Irish Civil War, the building already had a reputation for being haunted. Guests staying the house before it was destroyed claimed to have felt the weight of another sleeping body on top of them, while the ghost of a monk has also been spotted walking in one end and out of the other.

Visitor Notes

Leap Castle is a private family home but the owner does sometimes accommodate tours by arrangement.

Ghost Advisor

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Further Information

Venue Name
The Leap, Roscrea, Offaly, E53 VK51, Ireland

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Admission Policies
Open By Arrangement Only
Restricted Access
Donations Welcome
Suitable For Adults
Private Property - Open But Please Respect
Facilities & Services
Guided Tour Only


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