I stood before 15 Marino Crescent, Clontarf, Dublin. I was here, at the very place Bram Stoker was born and raised. I continued my journey through Dublin, walking in the footsteps of the master Gothic horror novelist and creator of Dracula. I am now sharing that journey with you. Please click on the link to my Top 10 Bram Stoker locations for Dracula fans everywhere that I have written in my role as Ireland Editor for spooky isles.com
Situated in Ireland’s Ancient East, the County town of Wicklow is shadowed by the imposing and sinister Wicklow Gaol. For more than three hundred years, prisoners have been subjected to torture and hardship and the three storey building with sprawling foundations and walls of granite has witnessed some of Ireland’s must oppressive and historical events.
Over the years it has become a favourite venue for tourists and Paranormal Investigators alike, so let’s find out some more about Wicklow Gaol, listed as one of the world’s ‘Top Haunted Locations.’
HISTORY OF WICKLOW GAOL
Since 1702 there has been a prison on the site at Kilmartin Hill. The existing buildings were constructed over the remnants of the first gaol and were gradually expanded over the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
The Rebellion of 1798 brought ongoing notoriety to the prison as freedom fighters were jailed before trial and exile or execution. This pattern continued through the Famine, Easter Rising of 1916 and the Irish Civil War.
In the mid-nineteenth century overcrowding at Wicklow gaol brought expansion as the authorities feared the granite walls themselves would collapse under the pressure. Britain was forced to bring about changes due to European Prison Reform and that included the gaols of Ireland and as a result, facilities now included classrooms, workrooms and proper medical quarters.
The prison was downsized in 1877 and renamed a ‘Bridewell’, which was a remand prison for those awaiting trial and sentencing for petty crimes.
Wicklow Gaol had been dormant for sometime, however the Irish Civil War of 1922-23 brought the prison back into use for political prisoners, primarily members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and Sinn Féin, including Erskine Childers, notable Irish Nationalist and gun smuggler,
The early twentieth century also brought in a change of use to an army barracks. It became home to the Cheshire regiment, which in a strange twist of fate, was founded thirty years previously by none other than Hugh Childers, cousin of one of Wicklow Gaol’s most famous prisoners.
Finally, in 1924 the Gates of Hell closed on the prison as it fell into disuse and disrepair, until such time as it was respectfully restored and opened to the public.
CRIMES, PUNISHMENT AND EXILE
The prison was used for years for general convictions, however the 1798 rebellion saw its use change to include the incarceration of political prisoners. Many inmates, from those rebelling against the crown to petty thieves were taken from Wicklow Gaol to the convict ships and exiled to distant lands such as Australia. A replica of the deck of the convict ship HMS Hercules, has been built inside the gaol.
There was no segregation within the prison as such and people who had stolen to provide food for their families in times of hardship found themselves sharing with the mentally ill, murderers and political prisoners.
Those who were exiled may have deemed themselves lucky, as the torture and methods of execution, poor conditions and suffering were unpleasant and unending.
Prison reforms introduced rehabilitation through education, although attempts at segregation, silence and torture were the preferred methods of atonement.
Torture devices included the everlasting staircase, a treadmill of sorts designed for maximum fatigue, breaking of spirit and isolation and a shot drill, a metal ball that was required to be held for periods of time suited to the prison guard, or else loss of rations would be enforced.
Flogging was by far the most favoured form of punishment, especially due to increased numbers of local workers being imprisoned for drunk and disorderly conduct.
When it came to execution, in the early eighteenth century prisoners would be hanged from the gallows arm jutting out of the prison walls. After death, the head would be severed from the body which would be buried. The head would then be scavenged and eaten by the gaol’s ‘pet’ hawk.
Other bodies would be unceremoniously dumped at sea, until the problem became enough for local fishermen to threaten to stop fishing due to pollution.
DISEASE, DIRE CONDITIONS AND DEATH
Overcrowding was a consistently major problem and expansion just couldn’t keep up with demand, peaking at an inmate population of almost 800 being housed in just 77 cells.
As a result, the spread of disease was rife and death wasn’t far behind. Often if a prisoner died of an infection they were left in the crowded cell, the rotting and diseased corpse bringing about the hideous deaths of those within the four walls, prison guards or ‘turnkeys’ just looking on, afraid to enter for fear of becoming a victim themselves.
The Great Famine (1845-1952) brought around a very different kind of problem. Upstanding citizens would commit crime in order to be incarcerated in Wicklow Gaol, as prison reforms guaranteed them shelter and regular meals – life staples they could not get on the outside.
There were no asylums or care facilities for the mentally ill in Wicklow, so the insane were mixed in with the general population. The women prisoners would be responsible for the welfare of these inmates.
Attempts were made to ‘employ’ prisoners for local work such as making nets for fishermen, however this practice stopped due to a growing fear of authorities that these items would be used in an attempt to escape.
Some of Ireland’s most famous rebel sons and at least one daughter were incarcerated for their attempts to bring about political change and create a Free State. This included Billy Byrne, mounter of several ambush attacks during the 1798 rebellion who was tried and then hanged at Gallows’ Lane.
James ‘Napper’ Tandy worked long and hard for political change, however after a short imprisonment he was exiled to France despite being convicted of treason. It is believed Napoleon may have exerted some influence, hence his designated place of exile.
Erskine Childers was a London born author and avid sailor. A firm believer in Ireland as a free nation, Childer’s used his yacht the Asgard to smuggle guns into the east coast of Ireland. His arrest was made after being found in possession of a gun, a gift from Michael Collins. Childers was convicted and executed by firing squad on 24th November 1922.
HAUNTINGS BEYOND THE GATES OF HELL
Wicklow Gaol has been the subject of paranormal activity for centuries and has attracted worldwide interest from paranormal investigators including myself and the other members of Irish Paranormal Investigations. Over the years we have found ourselves at the centre of a myriad of supernatural experiences.
At least one medium has entered Wicklow Gaol and claimed to have made contact with Erskine Childers, however there have been many witnesses to other phenomena.
A young child is regularly seen in the former school room and can also be heard. Other ‘inmates’ of the spectral variety are seen shimmering in and out of cells and along walkways.
On the replica of the Hercules deck, visitors are overcome with a sense of foreboding and eerie mists circle unsuspecting visitors.
Certain cells have been the epicentre of extraordinary paranormal occurrences including smells from stagnant to the sublime, female apparitions in black floating and sounds to terrify the hardiest of souls.
A ghostly prisoner can be seen on the walkway, hands behind his back and the eerie sounds of long gone children fill the ancient prison.
Our own experiences have included stones being thrown across a solitary prison cell during a loan vigil and murmuring and ice cold touch in the prayer room. We have had a host of K2 meters collectively responding to questioning by Natalie in a cell previously giving no tangible readings.
We have had REM-Pods going off on an empty landing and voices carrying up from the dungeons. The ship deck has consistently projected a feeling of wariness and fear, goosebumps appearing involuntarily as we felt the temperature drop and the location grow darker. Shadows have darted in the recesses between kegs and footsteps sounding on the stairs.
While our last time within the gaol was probably the quietest, perhaps with 2020 having seen the prison closed for the most part, the spectres of despair are ready once again to call out to you if you enter the Gates of Hell into Wicklow Gaol.
Many a conversation in Ireland starts with ‘do you know who’s dead?’ Death is a normal topic of discussion any self-respecting Seanchái (Irish Storyteller) will include death and haunting in his tale. In modern day Ireland the customs of old still remain and the event is treated with weighted respect and tradition. We seem to have a fascination and fear of our own mortal demise which stems back to our ancient roots and the safeguarding of the soul.
For the majority, it isn’t so much the dread of death itself, but what happens to the spirit and where it goes afterwards. There have always been the takers of souls in the form of demons, fairies, spirits and other ethereal beings. Over the centuries the Irish have got wise and found different ways to repel or hide from those looking to reap the soul and cast it to eternal damnation – or worse.
In order to find the right protection from these creatures of darkness, you have to know who they are and what they want. Some are merely harbingers; others seek to harvest your very essence of being. Those such as the Banshee will (mostly) just warn you that death is imminent, however there are two terrifying beings you should avoid at all costs.
Once thought to be Angels that have tumbled from the grace of God, the Sluagh Sidhe actually have far more sinister origins and purpose. Can you imagine how evil you have to be, that your soul is deemed too tainted for the fires of Hades and you are rejected by Satan himself? Well that is who the Sluagh are – souls of sinners not wanted by Heaven or Hell, destined to roam the Earth and take the departed for no reason other than the thrill of the hunt and to add to their ever growing number.
Unlike other Sidhe (fairies), the Sluagh are unable to walk this mortal coil. They ride on the wind as a host, unable to touch the ground. They travel as a flock and to all intents and purposes look like a conspiracy of ravens, which is probably one of the reasons the raven is seen as a portent of death. As the howling wind and darkening sky take hold they close in and it is clear they are not bird like at all. With wizened, leathery wings and gnarled, skeletal frames, these twisted creatures fly in from the west and seek out the homes of the dying. This is why one of the traditions that still holds today is to close any westerly facing windows when a loved one is taking a last breath.
Sadly, not every innocent (or indeed not so innocent) soul escapes the clutches of the evil Sluagh and these misfortunes are caught up in the host of the soul hunters, not to touch the Earth again or reach Heaven or Hell for all eternity.
The Dullahan and before him Crom Dubh, are descended from the god Crom Cruaich and are synonymous with dark rituals, death and folklore.
Crom Cruaich was first introduced to Ireland some time before the arrival of the Tuatha Dé Danann. Tigernmas was one of the first High Kings of Ireland and as a Milesian brought the worship of this deathly idol to Ireland, building a shrine at the top of Magh Slécht in County Cavan in order to win favour from his god.
King Tigernmas and most of his troops mysteriously died on Magh Slécht on the night of Samhain, now known as Halloween, as they worshipped their dark, sacrificial deity. As the centuries passed, Crom Dubh evolved from Crom Cruaich and became a worshipped figure in his own right. He is still left ‘offerings’ in rural parts of Ireland today on Crom Dubh Sunday.
The darkest incarnation of the sacrificial god however, is the Dullahan, also known as Gan Ceann, meaning without a head. Crom Dubh did not want to be denied human souls following the introduction of Christianity and so disguised himself as the one without a head, a tribute to the sacrifices by beheading that gave Crom Cruaich/Dubh his power.
For centuries the Celts have believed the head to be incredibly powerful, both the sacred and physical resting place of the soul. Warriors would decapitate their foes and keep them to ward off evil and gain more power. Those believed to have died as deviants would have stones placed in their mouths to stop the evil soul escaping. It is no surprise therefore, that one of Ireland’s most feared unearthly beings incorporates all of the Celtic beliefs over the ages.
Gan Ceann is a part of the ‘Unseelie court’ of the fairy realm, filled with the nastiest and darkest of the Sidhe and his job is to reap your soul. He carries his head in the crook of his arm, black eyes darting from the mottled, decaying flesh stretched thinly across his skull, searching for his prey.
The Dullahan carries a whip made from the spine of a human corpse as he stands on his wagon. The wheel spokes are made of thigh bone and covered with dried human skin and the coach is pulled by a jet black horse with eyes of glowing embers.
The headless horseman has supernatural vision and when he senses a soul for the taking he holds his head high, seeing across landscapes, through windows and into the darkest corners of the most remote homes.
The soul taker does not stop for anyone and all locks swing open, no one is safe. If you get in his way, at best your eyes will be lashed out with his whip or the Dullahan will throw a bowl of human blood upon you. The stain cannot be removed and you are marked as his next target.
Certain festivals increase the power of The Dullahan and this is a time to stay in and draw your curtains tightly. If you are out in the still of night, there is no protection from this agent of death. He does however fear one thing – gold. Throwing a piece in his path may make him back off for a while and may be the only thing that will save you.
The Dullahan is only permitted to speak once on each ride and that is to utter the name of the person who is going to die. When he finds his quarry and speaks their name aloud, their spirit is brought forth to be devoured.
So we closed our west facing windows and turned mirrors so souls were not trapped. We paid Sin Eaters to take our transgressions and clear a path to Heaven. We left food as offerings to the Sidhe and the departed that they may look favorably upon us. We hired Keeners to cry at wakes so as not to invoke the Hounds of Hell, sent to collect the dead and take them to eternal torment. All in the name of saving our souls.
The fate of the spirit is of more concern to the Irish than death itself and over the centuries protection of the soul has taken precedence over anything else. Sometimes it doesn’t matter what protections are put in place however, as the malevolent search for souls by the Dullahan and the Sluagh is too powerful and relentless. All we can do is the best we can in this life, maybe close the odd window at the right time, oh, and carry a bit of gold in our pockets – just in case!
Banshees have forever been known as portents of death, however there have been sightings of these wailing spirits seeking death for revenge and torment.
This evil being has the appearance of a wretched old hag, dress shredded, matted grey hair, pointed rotting teeth and long, yellow fingernails. If she sets her mind to have you as her prey, she will stalk you, forcing you to listen to her soul wrenching scream of despair until you go insane and your own soul is lost in the depths of her evil cry. Of course of you are lucky, you will have a quick death by looking into her blood red eyes, filled with enough loathing and agony to kill you instantly. For those who have been strong enough not to succumb to either? She will rip you to death with her bare hands.
THE FOXES OF GORMONSTON
In Irish Peerage the title of Baron or Viscount of Gormonston belongs to the patriarch of the Preston family and has been around since the late fourteenth century, their residence being Gormonston castle in Drogheda, County Meath.
The castle remained in the family until the 1950’s when it was sold to a Holy Order to create a school. Prior to that however, it was the location of one of the strangest occurrences for generations.
With the first instance reported in the seventeenth century, it was documented that the foxes in the surrounding countryside would know when the head of the Preston household was dying, even if that fact was unbeknown to the family themselves.
Arriving in twos and amassing under the window of the Viscount’s bed chamber, the foxes would howl and cry all night long. Servants would do their utmost to drive the animals away, only for them to return to their place of vigil.
Once the Viscount had passed away, the foxes soundlessly faded into the night.
Shucks, or Devil Dogs have long been written about in Irish history. They are black as the night, large, with glowing red eyes, some with cloven hooves instead of paws. Sometimes they are raised to protect treasure such as the one that breathes fire at Castle Biggs in Tipperary, others simply to forewarn of death.
Quite possibly the inspiration for Sherlock Holmes and the Hound of the Baskervilles, they are seen in rural and isolated areas, although once your eyes set on the Shuck the mark of death is upon you.
In Kanturk, County Cork a local man by the name of Foley was walking home when he encountered the hell beast on the road, eyes glowing and snarling. He stood terrified as the Shuck brushed up against his leg. Unable to sleep that night, he told his family of his encounter and died just a few days later.
Crows and Ravens have long been emblematic of death, made all the more foreboding by their predisposition to feed on carrion, the decaying flesh of animals, as well as their black plumage.
These birds were purported to be chaperons, guiding the souls of the departed into the next world as well as conduits between this world and the spirit plain.
In Ireland there are references going back to ancient times and in Celtic folklore, The Morrigan is symbolised by a crow. She is a goddess of battle, strife and sovereignty and a harbinger of doom for those men who cross her path.
No corporeal weapons were needed in order for the Morrigan to take her prey. She relied solely on magic and her ability to shapeshift at will and is known primarily for appearing as a crow to those at death’s door.
The belief has continued over the centuries that when a single raven or crow has appeared at a house, tapping on the window, a death within was looming.
In the late eighteenth century there is an account of the Ross-Lewin family in Kilchrist, in County Clare being terrorised by their own messenger of death. The father of the household was away on business and his children went to spend the evening with friends.
On returning home, they passed the old abandoned church where they saw an old hag crying and waving her hands in the air.
Thinking her crazy the terrified youth went towards her only for the old woman to vanish. They sped home and told their mother of their encounter and the matriarch expressed her fears of a death in the family.
At that moment an enormous raven landed on the window sill and tapped three times on the pane. A few days later the family were in mourning as news reached them of the death of Mr Ross-Lewin.
Of course birds of ill-news do not end there. Thrushes flying in the window and settling and white owls seen during the day are also signs of a bereavement in the home.
So we closed our west facing windows and turned mirrors so souls were not trapped. We paid Sin Eaters to take our transgressions and clear a path to Heaven. We left food as offerings to the Sidhe and the departed that they may look favorably upon us. We hired Keeners to cry at wakes so as not to invoke the Hounds of Hell, sent to collect the dead and take them to eternal torment. All in the name of saving our souls.
The fate of the spirit is of more concern to the Irish than death itself and over the centuries protection of the soul has taken precedence over anything else. Sometimes it doesn’t matter what protections are put in place however, as the malevolent search for souls by the likes of the Dullahan and the Sluagh is too powerful and relentless. All we can do is the best we can in this life, maybe close the odd window at the right time, oh, and carry a bit of gold in our pockets – just in case!
Ireland is a nation with a long, bloody and somewhat peculiar history with laws to match. Over numerous centuries we have been subject to Pagan Law, Brehon Law, Church Law and more than a few dubious by-laws to name just a few. Of course, being Irish we like to amuse and have the craic and some of our bygone regulations do just that! Here are my strangest Irish Laws!
Up until 1993 Suicide was a punishable offence under Irish Criminal Law. More bizarrely, until 1964, the penalty for Suicide was…death by hanging.
The Witchcraft Act of 1735 stated that “Any person who shall pretend or exercise to use any type of witchcraft, sorcery, enchantment or pretend knowledge in any occult or craft or science shall for any such offence suffer imprisonment at the time of one whole year and also shall be obliged to obscursion for his/her good behaviour.” This meant that whether you were a Master Sorcerer cursing thousands or a charlatan soothsayer, the penalty was the same. This Act was not revoked until 2006.
Murder and Theft
Killers and robbers were for centuries given trial by way of ‘ordeal by water’. Prisoners were cast into the nearest deep body of water and if they floated they were acquitted. That sounds fair until you realise that a millstone was tied to them before they were tossed into the murky depths.
For a long time, execution was deemed the last resort for a murderer as it was felt a financial penalty would be more useful. There were two types of fine payable. One was a fixed rate regardless of the deceased. The second was an honour fine and the amount was based on kinship and status. In the event the murderer was unable to pay the fine, the victim’s family took ownership of the convicted felon and had a few options. The first was to just keep the murderer until payment was given. The second was to sell him on. The final choice was to kill him – of course then you have to pay his family and so it goes on…
Until the 1920’s in Teltown, County Meath, if a man and a woman walked towards one another on Saint Bridget’s Day, they could pronounce themselves legally wed.
Brehon Law was first documented in the 8th Century and related to many Pagan customs and ceremonies. There were several levels of ‘marriage’ relating to status, property and so on making it very complicated. Divorce and dissolution of marriage however, were a much simpler affair! A woman could call an end to her marriage after one year for a myriad of reasons including pretty much boredom. She would walk away with all she brought with her, plus everything she gained during the marriage including property provided she was a good wife. A man was legally allowed to hit his wife, however everytime he did he had to pay for it. Quite literally in fact to the point where some wife beaters would be left penniless!
Trinity College Doctrine
It has been for centuries, illegal to walk through the Trinity College Campus without carrying a sword. Oddly enough it doesn’t seem to get enforced much! Of course, if you were a stickler for the rules, carrying that sword gave you entitlement to drink wine as you sat your exams.
As if carrying that sword didn’t give you enough power, it is said that on one day a year Protestants were able to climb the Trinity bell tower called the Campanile and shoot a Catholic. Not sure what degree that would be for!
Fast and Penance by Law
In 1815 an order came from Ireland that the people of Ireland were to offer up a prayer of thanks for the Battle of Waterloo.
Prior to this in 1665, a law was issued that the people of Ireland should fast and give penance on the first Wednesday of each month in a bid to rid London of the Bubonic Plague. With the Great Fire of London not far behind, you would wonder what the Irish were praying for!
Beyond The Pale
The Pale was an area outside of Dublin City Centre which the English used as the base for their rule in Ireland and became full of English settlers. In 1590 a law was passed to prevent the sale of horses in The Pale and the penalty was death. The reason? The Crown did not want the English settlers trading with the Irish Clans who lived…wait for it…beyond The Pale! Yes, that’s EXACTLY where that saying comes from!
Born into a Limerick farming family in 1803, Ellen Hanley’s life was snuffed out in a cold, calculated murder at only fifteen years of age.
Living in the village of Bruree, Ellen’s mother passed away when the girl was no more than six years old and she moved in with her uncle. Ellen grew into a young lady of incredible beauty that was equally matched by her warmth, quick wit and intelligence.
It was not long before she courted the interest of a certain gentleman of distinction by the name of John Scanlan, John himself was in his twenties and very much a socialite of shallow persuasion which would ultimately lead to Ellen’s bitter end.
John Scanlan pursued Ellen relentlessly and begged for her hand in marriage. Ellen had grave misgivings about both the age gap and their different social standing, but John would not take no for an answer. In the summer of 1819, John Scanlan and Ellen Hanley were wed in Limerick city.
True to his form, John grew bored of his child wife within just five weeks of marriage and began to hatch a plot to make her disappear, so he could renew his carefree, lewd lifestyle.
John and his servant Stephen Sullivan schemed and ultimately planned the murder of the new bride.
John Scanlan convinced Ellen to take a boating trip on the River Shannon with his servant, leaving from the shores of Glin Castle. Sullivan boarded the boat complete with loaded musket and murder in his heart, however when the time came he was unable to shoot the innocent beauty.
When John Scanlan saw the boat return to Glin with two people on board he was outraged. He filled Stephen Sullivan with whiskey until he was so drunk he agreed to go ahead with the murder plot. Once again Sullivan rowed Ellen out into the Shannon Estuary and with the threatening words of his master ringing in his ears, the callous servant shot Ellen point blank.
Without an ounce of remorse, Stephen Sullivan stripped Ellen Hanley naked and took her wedding ring, stowing them away in the boat. She was weighed down with rocks and her young, broken body was dropped unceremoniously overboard. Fifteen-year-old Ellen Hanley was enshrouded in the inky black waters of the River Shannon.
Scanlan and Sullivan toasted their successful murder as weeks had passed and they were convinced they had got away with their heinous deed. This was not to be as on 6th September 1819, the porcelain white corpse of the missing Ellen was washed up in Kilrush, County Clare.
So horrific was the discovery of the slain child bride, the people of County Clare and County Limerick became frenzied in anger and dismay and the two guilty men fled.
A huge manhunt was begun and before long John Scanlan was captured. The Scanlan family were a family of high standing in social circles and they were not having their name dragged through the mud. They hired the great Irishman Daniel O’Connell, known as ‘The Liberator’ for his work in bringing emancipation to Irish Catholics in later years.
With his family name and the best barrister in Ireland behind him, John Scanlan sat smugly through his trial fully expecting to be acquitted. He could not have been more mistaken.
Scanlan was found guilty without question of the pre-mediated murder of Ellen Hanley. A horse-drawn carriage was commissioned to take the condemned man to Gallows Green in County Clare. The horse bucked and refused to cross the bridge over to Gallows Green and John Scanlan made his last living steps walking to the gallows to be hanged. John Scanlan was executed on 16th March 1820.
The story does not end here, for just a few months later, manservant Stephen Sullivan was caught, and his Limerick trial made front page news. He also was found guilty and sentenced to execution. In a last-minute fit of conscience, Sullivan recounted the events surrounding the murder of Ellen before the Hangman placed the noose around his fated neck.
In the small, rural Burrane Cemetery near Kilrush the body of the Colleen Bawn, Ellen Hanley is buried. Colleen Bawn is Irish for ‘white girl’.
Ellen lies beneath a Celtic Cross donated by the local community with an epitaph that says:
‘Here lies the Colleen Bawn
Murdered on the Shannon
July 14th 1819. R.I.P’
Over time the curious and the ghoulish have chiselled away bit by bit taking morbid keepsakes until nothing much more remains. The story of the Colleen Bawn lives on almost two hundred years after her untimely death in plays, novels and musical interpretations. It seems that the macabre nature of her demise will never be forgotten.
Thanks to John Moylan for his outstanding shot of the River Shannon. More of John Moylan’s photographic work can be found here:
Overlooking Lough Carra in County Mayo stands the burned out family manor of one of the most influential families in Ireland. A burned out shell that has touched on the worst parts of Irish history and was said to have been built on an ancient curse.
George Henry Moore was a prominent Irish Politician in the eighteenth century and both he and his descendants rose to distinction in military, political and cultural fields. Moore himself emigrated to Spain following the implementation of the penal laws and rose to prominence gaining a place in the Spanish Court. He set up a business trading in brandy and fine wines, which afforded him the luxury of having enough money to build his own mansion upon returning to Ireland.
With many sites to choose from, George Moore settled on Muckloon Hill overlooking Lough Carra. Locals vehemently warned against such a location as the land was deemed to be cursed. In around 400 A.D The King of Connacht, Brian Orbsen was slain by his enemies. The King’s Druid, Drithliu, however made good his escape. He sought sanctuary on Muckloon Hill but failed to outrun his pursuers who caught up with him and Drithliu bled out on the shores of the Lough.
The stubborn landowner went ahead regardless and Moorehall was built by Waterford Cathedral architect John Roberts, with Moore taking up residency in 1795. Shortly afterwards George Henry Moore suffered a stroke and was left blind. And so the curse of Moorehall had begun.
George’s son John trained as a lawyer and was made President of Connacht which was a Republic at the time of his commission in 1798. Unfortunately, his position was a short-lived affair following the appointment of Command-In-Chief of Ireland, the1st Marquess Cornwallis in direct response to the Irish Rebellion. John was arrested by the Lord Lieutenant and was given the death penalty. George Moore used some of his fortune to secure the best lawyers he could find and had his son’s sentence commuted to a deportation order. While on remand awaiting the transport ship John succumbed to the injuries he sustained in custody. Just a few months later George Moore was also dead. The curse had struck again.
The next owner of Moorehall was also named George Henry Moore. His money was made in horseracing yet not without tragedy. In 1845 his brother Augustus was jockeying a horse by the name of Mickey Free in the English Grand National. He fell from his horse during the race and died. George himself won the Gold Cup the following year and used the money to buy grain and cattle for his famine struck tenants. It was documented that not one of the people on Moore land became victims of the Famine.
George Augustus Moore was to be the last resident owner of Moorehall and the great grandson of the man who had built the very same. Born in 1852, he went on to study the arts and become a prolific writer as well as a founder of the Abbey Theatre. George’s social circle included Oscar Wilde, folklorist Lady Gregory and occultist and esteemed writer W. B Yeats, all regular visitors to his grand ancestral home.
While George was residing in England at the height of the Irish Civil War, the anti-treaty IRA took umbrage at his cousin Maurice’s political stance and after commandeering Moorehall, set the mansion with explosives and burned it out. Was this the final part of the curse?
The facade remains, exposed to the elements. Creeping tentacles of ivy crawl through the dark soulless voids where the windows once reflected the beauty of the sky and the Lough. If you pass through the undergrowth and the age weary tunnel at the rear of the once majestic building, you can see the lowest level of Moorehall, left much as it was in 1923, whatever remains within peering up into the twenty first century sky.
Visitors to the cursed site describe ominous sensations and the overwhelming feeling that they are being watched by some unseen presence. There have been reports of hearing children’s laughter and seeing shadows darting through the remaining structure. The woods themselves that encompass the fallen noble home are said to have an oppressive and foreboding silence within them.
Historic tragedy has befallen the residents of Moorehall over generations, which has directly led to accounts of paranormal activity within the ruins and the tale of a serpent like creature known as a péist dwelling in the waters of Lough Carra. It should also not be forgotten that the Moore family are interred close by in their ancestral vault. Included is John Moore who’s body was not located until the mid-twentieth century where he was brought home and laid with his kin following a full military send off.
So could the murder of an ancient Druid on Muckloon Hill have created a curse so strong that is has spiraled down through the centuries? Is part of that curse that the Moores’ remain in residence for eternity? No one will ever know for sure. No one but a Druid named Drithliu.
For generations there has been a fascination with the vampire, creature of the night and blood sucking demon. The origins of such a demonic entity stretch back to ancient civilisations and trail across countries and oceans – from Ancient Greeks writing of blood drinking revenants to current sightings of the South American Chupacabra.
Modern folklore and popular culture have ultimately taken tales and accounts from 18th Century Europe and created a distinctive, deadly and dark evil force that has spawned countless best-selling books, TV shows and films. Transylvania in Romania is recognised as the number one hotspot for discovering the legend of the Vampire, however unknown to many, Ireland has an historic and altogether dark Vampiric trail of its own dating back to the 5th Century at least!
ABHARTACH – VAMPIRE CLAN CHIEF
During the 5th Century in what is now known as Derry, the area was in a constant state of battle between rival clans seeking power and dominion over one another. The leader of one of these clans was the cruel and twisted Chieftain Abhartach. His name roughly translates as dwarf and he was believed to either be such or had several deformities.
Regardless of either Abhartach was a formidable opponent and vicious warrior. He was the definition of pure evil and such was the clan chief’s passion for darkness and depravity he was feared as a powerful and sadistic sorcerer.
So much so in fact, that his own clan cowered in his presence and plotted his demise. They hired the services of a rival Chieftain who slew Abhartach and buried him in a solitary grave standing upright, as was the tradition for warriors of that time.
Celebrations were short-lived however, as a somewhat disgruntled Abhartach returned from the grave the following night, demanding fresh blood from his clan to sustain his life. Clan Chief Cathan was both perplexed and furious that his efforts had failed and knew his reputation was at stake. Once again he killed the dwarf and buried him exactly as before.
In scenes reminiscent of the accounts of Rasputin, it would appear Abhartach was immortal as he returned to his village once again to seek vengeance and drink the blood of his people.
Convinced that Abhartach was indeed wielding some black magic influence, Cathan sought the advice of a Druid Priest and finally cut down the wicked creature with a sword carved from the Yew tree, possibly the most powerful mystical reference for Druids.
Abhartach was interred for the final time head first, never to resurface – or so we are led to believe. In the current area of Derry known as Glenullin, there is a location known as the Giant’s Grave which is itself is interesting when one thinks of the dwarf Chieftain. It is also known as Abhartach’s Sepulchure, or Leacht Abhartach. Upon the grave lies a weighty boulder and through it grows a thorn bush, the thorn being another important Druid symbol. If the Vampire Chieftain does indeed lie within, one most hope he does not rise again.
DEARG DUE AND VAMPIRIC RETRIBUTION
Arranged marriages have always been prevalent in Irish culture, particularly to increase power and wealth between families. The story of the Dearg Due is no exception. A girl in Waterford with exceptional beauty was born into such a family.
As fate had it, she was humble and content and sought love in the arms of a local farm hand. They made plans to wed and have a family of their own. Her cruel father however, was fuelled by avarice and prosperity, regardless of the cost to his own kin. He gave his daughter to a notorious vicious and nasty clan Chief in exchange for land and riches.
With the marriage set and the young woman condemned to a life of cruelty, the wedding day she had dreamed of had become a horrific nightmare. On the day of the wedding the reluctant bride was a vision of blinding beauty, dressed in red and gold. As all the guests revelled long into the night, the girl sat alone, angry and bitter – damning her father to hell and vowing to seek revenge on those who had cost her love and life.
The Chieftain turned out to be far more abusive and controlling then his new wife could ever have imagined. To him the poor girl was nothing but a trophy to be locked away for his pleasure only, savouring the knowledge she was his and his alone. With a complete absence of hope and only darkness ahead, she simply existed – no longer eating or drinking, her life gone long before her body gave in.
Her burial was poorly attended and without ceremony. Her wicked husband had taken another wife before she was even cold and her family were too engrossed in their wealth and greed to give her a second thought. Only one man grieved for the tragic young woman, her lost love. He visited her grave every single day telling her of his undying love and praying for her return.
Unfortunately, his love was not the driving force for her resurrection – revenge was the force that pulled her from her grave on the first anniversary of her death. Consumed with hatred and the need for retribution she burst from her coffin and headed home. As her father lay sleeping she touched her lips to his and sucked the worthless, selfish life straight out of him.
Revenge not yet sated, she called upon her callous husband finding him surrounded by women, fulfilling his lustful desires, oblivious to the dead bride in the room. In a furious rage she launched on the Chieftain sending the women screaming. His former wife was so full of fury and fire that she not only drew every breath, but drained every ounce of blood from his twisted and cruel body.
The scarlet liquid surging through her, leaving her more alive than she had ever been and she had a hunger for blood that could not be sated.
The corpse bride used her beauty to prey on young men, luring them to their demise with seduction, the promise of her body their reward. Instead she sank her teeth into their exposed necks and drank their blood to quench her thirst and desire, but it was never enough. The warm elixir gave her strength and immortality and drove her to her next quarry. That is until the terrified locals restrained her and buried her in a mystical place known as Strongbow’s Tree.
The Femme Fatale’s lustful yearning can only be satisfied on the day she died, so on the eve of her anniversary locals would gather and place stones upon her grave so that she would not rise and fulfill her blood-lust. Sometimes though the rocks are dislodged, forgotten or her insatiable desire is stronger than any boulder could ever be. That is when she can walk into the night, ill-fated men falling victim to the beauty and bloodthirstiness of the Dearg Due.
DEVIANTS – THE RISING OF THE DEAD
The Kilteasheen Archaeological Project was a joint effort between Sligo Institute of Technology and Saint Louis University. They were tasked with searching for a Medieval Bishop’s Palace in use until abandonment following the arrival of the Plague in the middle of the 14th century. They began their excavation beneath flagstones in quiet fields in Kilteasheen, County Roscommon in 2005.
The first shock discovery was that directly under the stones were the crushed skeletons of many humans, piled several deep in shallow graves. The shallowness, together with the positioning of the flagstones indicated that the builders knew they were building directly on top of a graveyard containing upwards of to 3000 corpses.
It was further discovered that on the perimeter of the graveyard were two further burial plots. Once excavations began it became clear that these were no ordinary interments. The deceased had been buried in a manner conducive to what is historically known as a deviant burial. Once the skeletons were revealed, the violent, horrific nature of their post-mortem treatment became clear.
The men had been buried during different time periods. There were no genetic similarities and their ages varied by some twenty or so years, however they were connected in a most disturbing manner. Each body was subjected to the breakage of arms, legs, hands and feet. These limbs were then folded inwards and bound around a large boulder. Both men had a rock wedged so firmly into his mouth that his jaws were close to snapping apart.
These men were not being laid to rest, they were being grotesquely violated and weighted down to ensure they would not return from the dead. The other interesting observation was that the men had not died of natural causes. Blade marks were clearly visible upon the bones.
In medieval times it was believed that the mouth was the portal to the soul. By placing an object such as a stone into the mouth of the deceased, the corrupt soul that had departed could no longer return. By breaking and binding the flesh and bones, the deviant could not walk among the living again.
The extent of mutilation together with the stone in the mouth of the dead pointed to one possibility. That the people who carried out these actions believed they were in the presence of vampires. It was believed at first that the archaeological team were on a Black Death site, as it was thought plague was spread by vampires and the violent nature of the burials was consistent with those thought to be involved in vampirism.
Bone dating however, showed that the corrupt corpses had gone through the most gruesome of rituals centuries before the Black Death took hold. So long before Vampires were written into folklore, before they were romanticised and turned into best-selling stories, the undead were believed to be walking among the Irish, bringing sickness and death to animals and people alike. In a small village in the West of Ireland, locals were using every ritual and method they had to make sure it didn’t happen to them. In Kilteasheen the Deviants would never rise again.
THE DUBLIN MAN AND THE ULTIMATE VAMPIRE
In 1897, a fifty-year-old Dublin man by the name of Bram Stoker published a book with a simple cover and a simple title. That book was Dracula. From humble beginnings, the gothic horror novel was initially met with lukewarm public interest but to great critical acclaim. Like many writers, Stoker was forced to maintain a day job and published his most recognised work during his time as manager of the Lyceum Theatre in London.
The book itself was set between the seaside town of Whitby in England where Stoker had holidayed and Eastern Europe, which the writer had never visited. So where did his inspiration come from? After making acquaintance with a Hungarian writer, he became fascinated by the folklore tales from the regions of Eastern Europe and took it upon himself to conduct detailed research into the tales of vampirism from those very localities.
Interestingly however, Stoker was said to have visited Killarney in County Kerry and in particular the ruins of 15th century Muckross Abbey and graveyard. The ruins of the church, cloister and graveyard are well preserved and stand in the shadow of ancient Yew trees.
The site contains a graveyard and was the burial place of local chieftains. Three of Ireland’s great poets of the 17th and 18th century are entombed here which could well be reason behind the famous Irish writer’s visit. There are two local accounts that Stoker may well have heard that may have been catalysts for ‘Dracula’ as Stoker was in Killarney prior to the creation of the world’s most famous vampire.
The first account is of a religious hermit named John Drake lived in the deserted Friary for more than a decade in the 18th century. He had no worldly goods and slept only in a coffin left in the grounds. The second is the legend of the Brown Man, a newly wed whose bride came looking for him one night, to find her husband knelt over a recently dug up corpse, feasting on its flesh.
With so much in the way of centuries old Irish folklore and legend pertaining to the vampire, together with anecdotes and tales Bram Stoker picked up on his Irish travels, it would not be a far stretch to surmise that this in part contributed to the spark of creation that became ‘Dracula.’
Long before the publication of Malleus Maleficarum, attention was brought to bear on the small medieval town of Kilkenny in the Kingdom of Ossory. One of the earliest ever recorded witch trials took place in the early 14th century against a local businesswoman and serial bride by the name of Alice Kyteler – and what a sensational trial it was.
So who was the local entrepreneur and femme fatale who caused uproar in the Irish legal system and brought the Ecclesiastical authorities of Ireland to their knees?
THE BLACK WIDOW
Alice Kyteler’s family were Flemish brokers and they had settled in Kilkenny sometime towards the end of the 13th century with just one child, a daughter. Alice learned the ropes of the family business and grew up to be very shrewd, so it came as no surprise that her first husband was an affluent local businessman and financier by the name of William Outlaw.
Believed to have married in 1280 when Alice would have been only sixteen or so, they went on to have a son, also called William. The banker’s wife groomed her son for great things and by an early age he had gained positions of authority within the local community. By 1302 William’s father was dead and Alice was already onto her second marriage. Husband number two was another moneylender by the name of Adam le Blund, from the market town of Callan on the Kilkenny/Tipperary county borders.
Both parties were already wealthy before the union, however marriage brought them a new level of power and prosperity. The couple’s wealth and status had left feelings of acrimony running high in the parish and rumours had already began to circulate that Alice’s first husband had not died from natural causes. The locals were convinced that Alice and Adam had in fact, committed murder.
The fire of fear and distrust aimed at Alice Kyteler was beginning to take hold, however it would appear that Alice and the events surrounding her insisted on adding fuel to the growing flames. In 1307, Adam le Blund relinquished all legal entitlement to his own wealth and gave what was effectively full Power of Attorney to his stepson William, together with the complete nullification of William’s debts agreements. This incident was deemed all the more suspicious as Adam had offspring of his own from a prior marriage and was in seemingly good mental and physical health. Two years later he was dead.
1309 saw Alice wed for the third time. Richard de Valle was an affluent landowner from the neighbouring county of Tipperary and once again the marital union was short lived. A seemingly fit and well Richard died mysteriously, leaving all his wealth to Alice. The son of the unfortunate deceased, also called Richard, kept hold of the assets and was the subject of legal proceedings, as the widow demanded her rightful wealth.
By the time Alice Kyteler married yet another wealthy landlord, Sir John le Poer, the local rumour mill was in overdrive and the whispering of foul play continued. In frighteningly similar circumstances to her first three husbands, John’s health began to decline, in spite of his relatively young age. John’s finger nails and toe nails were discolouring and falling out, he was rapidly going bald, and the little hair he had left was devoid of pigmentation. As his ailments increased and his already poor health took a decided turn for the worse, two game changing events took place. First of all, with no regard for his own blood kin, John made a will bequeathing all his money and assets to Alice and her son William. The second, fearing for his life, John turned to the church for help. By 1324 he was dead and the whispers had turned to shouts of witchcraft.
Despite marrying prosperous landowners, Alice insisted that she remain in her birthplace on St. Kieran’s Street in Kilkenny.
As a rich wife and ultimately an incredibly wealthy serial widow, Alice did not need to work, however her focus was on building and maintaining a thriving business. She continued with her practice of moneylending, made easier by having the perfect location to conduct her affairs.
Kyteler’s Inn wasn’t just any old hostelry. It was a meeting place for local businessmen who all vied for the attention of the bewitching Alice, showering her with gifts and money. It should therefore come as no surprise that this was the very place Alice set eyes on her ill-fated husbands to be.
Whilst the attention of so many of the wealthy local male population was scintillating for Alice, she was a canny businesswoman first and foremost. She hired the most luscious and alluring of young women to work in her premises, enticing men from their wives and responsibilities and spending their money in Kyteler’s Inn, making her establishment the most successful in Kilkenny.
It was also here in the inn that Alice was said to work her sorcery and that her patrons were bewitched by Alice and her alleged coven.
SORCERY, THE CHURCH AND THE LAW
Contrary to popular belief, the Church often turned a blind eye to sorcery, accepting that some forms of Malficium were minor offences and that the medical benefits offered by those who practiced such arts outweighed the ‘crime’. As such, any issues relating to witchcraft were dealt with by the local authorities and not the Church, except in the case of direct heretical doctrine.
Unfortunately for Alice, this all changed when Pope John XXII came to the Papal Throne in 1316. He was genuinely terrified of witchcraft and was convinced his life was in jeopardy, leading to the granting of sweeping powers to his Inquisitors.
Pope John XXII published a definitive list of practices that would constitute heresy and subsequent prosecution by the Church, particularly in relation to demon worship and pacts with the devil.
Unfortunately for Alice, this canon law reached Ireland and in particular, Richard Ledrede, the Bishop of Ossory.
ACCUSATIONS, ARRESTS AND ABSCONDING
Whether out of bitterness of being cheated from their respective inheritance or genuine concern that Alice Kyteler was indeed a witch, the children of her last three deceased husbands joined together and called upon the assistance of Richard Ledrede.
Richard was a devout Christian and fanatical with seeking out and punishing heretics. He was unhappy that respect for the Church and canon law were fading and that the law of the land took precedent. He had the necessary background to implement Church doctrine and proceed with charges of heresy against Alice and her son William Outlaw, however he was up against resistance from local law enforcement and Alice’s very powerful contacts.
Having heard the allegations from Alice’s stepchildren, Ledrede went ahead and charged Alice, her maid Petronella and her son William with heresy. The charges included denying the Faith, desecration of the church with black magic rituals, sorcery, demonic animal sacrifice, murder, controlling members of the local community with potions and spells and fornicating with a demon known by many names including Robin Artisson, in exchange for power and prosperity.
Richard’s first attempt at arrest was thwarted by the Chancellor of Ireland, Roger Outlaw, a relative of Alice’s first husband. He advised Ledrede that there could be no warrant issued for the arrests without the accused having first been excommunicated for at least 40 days and a public hearing. Meanwhile the well timed intervention of another relation by marriage, Sir Arnold de Poer, senior steward of Kilkenny allowed Alice to flee to Dublin and saw the imprisonment of Richard Ledrede.
While Richard was in prison, the whole of the diocese of Ossory saw an embargo on funerals, baptisms and marriage. As the majority of the population believed in Hell and eternal damnation, the public outcry was too much and the Bishop of Ossory was released.
Incarceration left Ledrede incensed and he heightened his efforts to prosecute Alice, her son and maid by involving the Justice of Ireland, who insisted upon a full witch trial.
William Outlaw pleaded guilty to the charges of heresy, illegal money lending, adultery and perverting the course of justice. His punishment was to attend three masses a day, donate to the poor and agree to reroof the cathedral with lead.
In the meantime, Alice had absconded and the trial continued in her absence. The alleged depths of her depravity and heresy began to be revealed to the court. The witch Kyteler was said to have used a human skull to brew her potions, with ingredients including parts of corpses, the innards of fowl, worms and insects and the clothing of deceased infants. The concoctions were said to rouse her innocent victims to do her bidding, with acts of love, hatred or murder.
Alice and her coven were said to have conducted black masses in the churches, sacrificed and dissected livestock to bargain with demons at crossroads and Alice herself was accused of continued carnal relations with a powerful demon in order to maintain her position of influence over the local community.
The final accusations were of the murder of each of her four husbands. Evidence regarding her last husband, John le Poer was put forward. He had no nails, they were ripped from their beds and left bleeding, all bodily hair had fallen out and he was completed withered away to a skeleton at the time of his death.
While Alice had disappeared, some say to England with the help of her well positioned male acquaintances, her maid was not so fortunate.
Petronella de Meath was tortured repeatedly in Kilkenny Jail until she confessed to being a witch and a member of the coven of Alice Kyteler. On 3rd November 1324, Petronella was the first woman in Ireland to be burned at the stake as a witch.
THE LEGACY OF ALICE KYTELER
So what of Alice? Well Alice Kyteler was never heard of again – whether she used witchcraft to cloak her whereabouts or was helped abroad by calling on infatuated men of position we will never know.
What we do know, is that the accusations and the trial were very real indeed. They remain documented as they have been for centuries and the trial changed the balance of law and power back in favour of the Church.
The most exciting revelation of this account is that the locations remain. The Jail still stands, bars on windows. As you stand on the street, peering into the eerie darkness of the cold, cramped cells, a shiver runs up your spine at the realization there could be something ethereal staring back at you, perhaps the tormented blackened soul of Petronella de Meath.
Kyteler’s Inn is still the most famous hostelry in Kilkenny and the spirit of Alice is said to remain, watching over her establishment and the revelers within for eternity.
So was Alice Kyteler indeed a witch, or just the most successful and richest business woman in medieval Ireland? Perhaps if you come across her in Kyteler’s Inn, you can ask her yourself!
I shall leave you with Alice, immortalised in the words of W. B Yeats:
"A sudden blast of dusty wind and after Thunder of feet, tumult of images, Their purpose in the labyrinth of the wind; And should some crazy hand dare touch a daughter All turn with amorous cries, or angry cries, According to the wind, for all are blind. But now wind drops, dust settles; thereupon There lurches past, his great eyes without thought Under the shadow of stupid straw-pale locks, That insolent fiend Robert Artisson To whom the love-lorn Lady Kyteler brought Bronzed peacock feathers, red combs of her cocks."
Standing majestically on the Hook Peninsula in County Wexford, Loftus Hall is an imposing structure, ominously shadowing the isolated and sea whipped landscape for hundreds of years. This building on the Hook Peninsula has worldwide recognition as Ireland’s most haunted house, with paranormal investigations from local teams to TV’s the Ghost Adventures for a ‘Halloween Special’.
This weekend marks the 666th birthday of the heritage of Loftus Hall, complete with a paranormal investigation. Earlier this year I was fortunate enough to be asked to take part in a unique lockdown on Friday 13th and this intrepid writer was not going to let this amazing opportunity pass her by!
Let’s look into the history of Loftus Hall, the stories and reports of paranormal activity and what I experienced first-hand in Ireland’s most Haunted House!
LOFTUS HALL – HISTORY
There has been a family residence on the grounds of Loftus since The Black Death reached its peak in 1350. Originally constructed by the Redmond family, they maintained ownership until they were ejected during the Cromwellian confiscations during the seventeenth century.
As the Loftus family were already residing in Wexford, they were given ownership of the entire estate once Charles II regained power. Henry Loftus took official residence in 1666, perhaps a sign of demonic events and tragedies in the years ahead.
Fast forward to the early 20th Century and the empty Loftus Hall was purchased by a religious order and adapted into a convent school for girls wishing to take Holy Vows. It continued under religious ownership until it was purchased in 1983 by a man called Michael Deveraux who was intent in turning the historical local landmark into a hotel, using most of the financial resources at his disposal. Just a few years later, doomed to failure, the Loftus Hall Hotel closed its doors.
Loftus Hall remained under ownership of the Deveraux family until 2011, at which point it was purchased as an abandoned building by the current proprietor Aidan Quigley.
A STRANGER, A CARD GAME AND THE DEVIL.
While under the ownership of the Loftus family, Charles Tottenham, his second wife and daughter from his first marriage, Anne, arrived at Loftus Hall. They were effectively house sitting for the absent landowners towards the end of the eighteenth century.
During their residency, an unusually wild tempest covered the Hook Peninsula in fog and an unfamiliar ship set anchor. A stranger arrived by horse to Loftus Hall seeking refuge from the angry storm and was brought in and given shelter.
The charismatic young man soon charmed his way into the affections of Anne Tottenham and the couple began relations under the roof of Loftus Hall.
One night the family were sat around the table playing cards with the mysterious visitor dealing each hand. As Anne seemed to only have been dealt two cards as opposed to the usual three, she glanced to the floor in case she had dropped one, only to see a third lying beneath the table.
Anne stooped down to retrieve the fallen card and as she did so, screamed out in terror, as the man she had given her heart to had revealed cloven hooves for feet.
Upon his secret being discovered, the creature shot upwards, crashing through the roof of Loftus Hall and out into the night sky.
Anne Tottenham became crazed with grief over her lost love and an embarrassment to her family. Their embarrassment may will have been increased as the young woman was said to have been with child. The circumstances of the birth and subsequent death of the infant remain a mystery, however the skeletal remains of a new-born were found in the wall of the Tapestry Room in recent years.
Anne remained locked away, a prisoner in the Tapestry Room, where she sat stooped and lifeless, not taking any food -just staring out of the window pining and hoping for the return of the ship to Dunmore East until she died. So badly was her body contorted the poor woman had to be buried the way she sat. Was her fatal grief for her lost love, lost child or both?
It was believed that the presence of the Dark Lord lingered and poltergeist activity became rife in the house, escalating to such a point that the Protestant clergy were powerless to abate it.
In desperation the Loftus family called upon Father Thomas Broaders, a Catholic priest residing on the townland also known as Loftus. He performed an exorcism and appeared to banish the demons within.
Broaders rose to the position of Parish Priest and remained as Canon until his death in 1773. He is buried in the old Horetown Cemetery and his gravestone reads:
“Here lies the body of Thomas Broaders,
Who did good and prayed for all.
And banished the Devil from Loftus Hall.”
HAUNTINGS AND MY OWN PARANORMAL INVESTIGATION AT LOFTUS HALL
For all his good work, the priest had failed to drive the supernatural from Loftus Hall and to this day supernatural occurrences, physical, visual and audible have been reported time and time again. This year, on Friday 13th I decided to investigate these claims for myself. Under the watchful eye of owner Aidan Quigley, and with our guide, our lockdown at Loftus Hall began.
The first thing you must realise, is that these investigations take place in total darkness. It takes a while for your eyes to adjust and make the most of any light seeping in, whilst being mindful of tricks of the light, Pareidolia and your own vivid imagination!
The second thing to be aware of are the underlying sounds. The wind outside, the sound of the sea, other people in the room, the house itself. Once you get a ‘feel’ for the location, you can pick out the abnormal or indeed paranormal for yourself and not get swept up in the perceptions and opinions of others.
Thirdly and most importantly I believe you should be respectful, logical and grounded. Unless you are taunting and disrespectful there is nothing to fear. Most sounds and imagery will have a logical explanation, which should be considered first. Once the reasonable has been discounted, it makes the things we cannot explain all the more significant and exciting.
The chapel at first inspection seemed peaceful and in a way, comforting, even though strange noises were coming from behind me and I felt someone or something sit along the pew from me. The longer I sat there the less afraid and more at peace I felt, until a ‘psychic’ entered the room as a late arrival.
At this point things changed. She began crying and screaming and was convinced she could see a dark figure coming towards her as her skin crawled. My personal opinion was that she was hysterical, maybe even acting, however what was clear was that her behaviour was drawing in something of a supernatural persuasion and it was not pleasant.
The room became colder, considerably colder and unbelievably it became darker. While others said they too could see a dark image before them in humanoid shape, I myself could not. It was at this point that the room brightened and the temperature rose once more.
For someone who considers themselves objective and logical, it was an interesting start to the night!
THE MORNING ROOM
In this room our guide told us that other groups had experienced loud noises, banging shutters and other phenomena. We spread out and began asking questions. One of our group stood in front of the shutters and asked more demanding questions, at which point a shadowy figure seemed to appear at his side as the shutters banged behind him. Mind tricks sparked by preconceptions? Perhaps. What was not a trick however, was the disembodied voice coming through the dormant communication unit carried by the guide. A voice that cried out ‘Attention’, a voice that was heard throughout Loftus Hall.
THE UPPER ROOMS
These rooms are not accessible by the general public so we were privileged to be granted access. The first room contained a couch and we just began to chill and talk about writing as we were the writers and readers group. At this point there was the sound of singing, faint but definitely there. Once acknowledged we continued our conversation where I was stopped mid-sentence as I felt a distinctive tug on my hair. My first thought was to check I wasn’t caught on anything and a torch was used to check behind me and nothing was there. As soon as I felt the tug, a young woman with us at the other end of the room began sobbing uncontrollably. Once she regained composure she explained she had felt something or someone touching her and holding her neck!
The second room we entered was stifling. This was strange as the rest of the house was not this way and the door to the room had been open. As the door was closed behind us, there was less air. We began asking questions and it appeared that when I asked such questions as ‘Do you want the door left closed?’ and ‘are you enjoying trying to scare us?’, that sharp, deliberate taps were occurring as if in response on the shutter right behind me. It should be noted that at this point the temperature dropped and there was a release of cool air, even though the door was shut.
THE TAPESTRY ROOM
Fully aware of the tragic circumstances relating to this room, we spread out and once again began trying to communicate. Despite the heart-breaking history, I could not feel anything out of place. At one point our guide was convinced I was stood beside him by the fireplace, however when he switched on his torch, it became clear I was on the other side of the room. We moved places and similarly I became sure that another member of the group was beside me by the mantle so I asked a question only for him to answer me from the window! Were we sensing a presence that was not a part of our team? Possibly. What definitely did happen, is that no one was standing were they had started when the lights came on and everyone had gravitated towards the centre of the room.
THE CARD ROOM
We seated ourselves at the card table and I was sat directly beneath the infamous hole in the ceiling. There were cards strewn on the table and a group member picked up two in the darkness to use as tools to assist in communication. The guide gathered up the rest of the cards so there would be no confusion or misidentification of sounds if anyone were to brush against them.
The first thing I became aware of was a burning sensation on my leg after I had jokingly asked was the stranger or devil under the table. I thought nothing of it, assuming it was my jeans chafing my knee until the man opposite me announced the very same sensation.
I began to feel a sense of unease, hairs on the back of neck standing up and then a definitive yank of my chair! I was startled rather than afraid and suggested I was not welcome in that seat so a member of the group swapped with me.
Interestingly, our team member was still firmly clutching the cards in his fingers, not allowing them to move or slip. After some questioning, the team member stopped mid-sentence as I heard the sound of something land on the table. A card had been forcibly pulled from his hand and dropped onto the playing surface. At that very moment, the signal for the finish of the investigation was given and the lights were turned on as we all vacated our chairs. We turned and looked back at the table to see a solitary card with the face of the Devil staring back at us.
LUCIFER AND LOFTUS HALL
If the account of the Devil reminds you of another tale you may have heard, it should. An identical story was told of a card game being held at the notorious Hellfire Club of Dublin on Montpelier Hill, where a stranger with cloven hooves for feet sat at the table.
As well as the Hellfire Club, Montpelier Hill was the site of a hunting lodge known as Dolly Mount. This lodge was owned by Henry Loftus.
So the question must be asked, with Henry Loftus taking residence in 1666 and the second visit by a cloven hooved stranger to the Hellfire Club on the very land in Dublin previously owned by the Loftus family, was Anne Tottenham an unfortunate victim in the wrong place at the wrong time?
What is the meaning of the Loftus association with signs of the Devil and was a pact made with Lucifer for the Redmond Estate?
We will never know for sure, however this year marks the 666th anniversary of the founding of the mansion house and this weekend the birthday of Loftus Hall is celebrated – will Satan return again and will you dare to be there if he does?
My opinion is there is definitely something more than stone and mortar at Loftus Hall. There is history that you can feel in every corner, there is atmosphere, welcoming and foreboding in equal measure. Is there a supernatural presence? Definitely and more than one.
Ongoing investigations and indeed public lockdowns at Loftus Hall solidify the consensus that the place is undoubtedly haunted. The continued gathering of evidence and reports of activity on such a high profile location maintain the validity of claims, as well as giving the general public an opportunity they would not ordinarily get to experience.
There are undoubtedly many more chilling experiences awaiting those who dare to take part in future investigations, both this weekend and further into the year. These daring individuals, under the watchful eye of a paranormal team will hear the main doors bang shut behind them as they begin their lockdown at Loftus Hall and their own journey into the world of the inexplicable and supernatural. Will I be one of them? Most definitely!
Just off the main N69 Tralee/Killarney Road, just three miles outside of Tralee stands the majestic Ballyseede Castle. Covering some 30 acres and approached from the road via a sweeping drive, the Castle is now a majestic four-star hotel and favourite wedding venue, however its current status is far removed from the dark and violent history for which it has notoriety. It is little wonder that it ranks so highly among in the world’s most haunted hotels.
Built by the Fitzgerald family, the castle was their garrison for what became known as the Geraldine Wars during the late 16th Century. Gerald Fitzgerald, 16th Earl of Desmond joined the Rebellion in defiance of the English and the Fitzgerald family openly refused to swear their allegiance to the Queen.
After years of fighting, Gerald was captured in Stacks Mountains, the range that dominates the Tralee skyline. Charged with treason to the crown, on 11th November 1583 he was taken to the Demesne at Ballyseede and beheaded by the local executioner, Daniel Kelly. As a warning to others not to disobey Queen Elizabeth, Gerald Fitzgerald’s head was taken to London and was exhibited in a cage at London Bridge.
The Crown instructed the Governor of Kerry, Sir Edward Denny to lease what was then 3000 acres of estate at Ballyseede over to Thomas Blennerhassett of Cumberland, England in 1590. The unique annual rent was six pounds and a single red rose to be picked from the Castle gardens on Midsummer’s Day.
Although remaining in the Blennerhassett family, the once proud castle fell into disrepair until the early eighteenth century when William, son of the former lessee, took it upon himself to build the current imposing structure.
Upon William’s death, the entire estate was bequeathed to his son Arthur, who at the very young age of 21 was appointed High Sheriff of Kerry, leading to a successful political career. It was during this time that the castle was expanded and the grounds landscaped further.
Arthur married the daughter of the Knight of Glin from the neighbouring county of Limerick and they had a daughter called Hilda who went on to become a nurse. During the First World War she was awarded the 1914 Mons Star, an honour usually given to male officers, however Hilda was one of a handful of nurses to receive the medal for her work in France and Belgium.
Hilda however, had not seen the last of the bloodshed and horror of war. In 1923, just two years after the Irish War of Independence and just one year after the death of Michael Collins, a quartermaster of the IRA issued an order for the death of Free State Army Lieutenant Paddy O’Connor.
On 6th March the unsuspecting Officer was decoyed to Knocknagoshel and a mine trap where he and five of his unit were killed outright. Outraged, the Free State took immediate retaliatory steps. IRA prisoners were being held at Ballymullen Barracks in Tralee, so shortly before dawn the following day, nine were removed and taken to Ballyseede Crossroads, close to the castle.
The road itself had been barricaded with rocks, tree trunks and explosives. The prisoners were bound, then forced to stand against the blockade, at which point the command to detonate was given. Not satisfied that all the prisoners were all dead, a further order was given and the mutilated men were subjected to machine gun fire in the shadows of Ballyseede Castle gates.
A cross stands at the gates in their memory and a bronze memorial known as the Ballyseede Monument stands further along the road in honour of Irish Republicanism.
Hilda herself died in 1965 and was buried next to her family members in nearby Ballyseede graveyard. In keeping with her persona, there is a simple cross marking her grave. Hilda was the last of the Blennerhassett bloodline and the estate was put up for auction. The single red rose that had kept Ballyseede Castle in the Blennerhassett family for almost four hundred years was no more.
The Castle was converted into a hotel, however one particular member of the Blennerhassett family was checked in as a permanent ghost. Hilda has regularly been seen and indeed conversed with in the hotel, particularly in the Crosby room, which had been hers.
Despite legend having Hilda appear on 24th March each year, she has been seen much more frequently. Interestingly since Hilda’s passing, roses have never been present in the hotel, however on the top floor, the strong scent of roses can be noticed.
Hilda herself can be seen at her window looking out across the grounds and beneath her window the letters RIP eerily appear and then vanish.
The staff at Ballyseede have had many of their own experiences, however Esther has had more than her fair share.
Esther, had been stock taking and had sole access to the premises. As she approached the castle along the drive, she could clearly see a shadow at Hilda’s window and it appeared that the television and lights were on.
After unlocking the door and dashing up the stairs, Esther rushed into the Crosby room to discover everything was turned off. Almost as if to let Esther know it wasn’t her imagination, this occurrence repeated itself the following day.
On another occasion two ladies who were staying in the Crosby room where dining in the Stoneroom, being served by a young girl called Paige. The ladies had told her that Hilda had been talking to them and so Paige asked Esther if she could go to the room and see for herself.
A while later Paige returned, white as a sheet and told Esther that Hilda had spoken with her. The former nurse had told Paige she would be gone from the hotel within the year and overseas. Less than twelve months later Paige was working in England.
Of course Hilda isn’t the only spirit to wander the halls of this stately home. Former landlords keep a careful watch on the upkeep of Ballyseede and undoubtedly those who were executed or died in battle remain in the grounds, or in nearby Ballyseede woods where the original house once stood.
I recently had the opportunity to stay in this magnificent building and whilst I did not encounter Hilda, I witnessed enough to know that the living are not the only guests at Ballyseede Castle, however only the living check out.