A turbulent and bloody history, used as a fortress, home and tomb. Leap Castle is home to many fascinating and sometimes horrific spirits. Built in the early 1500’s under the supervision of the powerful and warring O’Carroll clan, Leap Castle has been the centre of much bloodshed and brutal attrocities.Situated in County Offaly, Ireland.
A Bloody History
For more than a century Leap Castle (pronounced Lep) in Offaly, Ireland, has been the focus of countless articles, books and visits from eager ghost hunters. Visually, it is forgettable and fairly listless looking. But locals in Offaly don’t speak about it in hushed tones because of how it looks to the naked eye, it’s because of the cruel dark history that’s attached to it - lethal trap doors, poisoned guests, slain priests, supernatural occurrences and men found walled alive.
In the 13th century the O’Bannon clan, a wealthy and powerful family, built the original Leap Castle. Their rule was fraught with bloodshed and bitter in-fighting, but nothing out of the ordinary for the time and certainly no indication of the rotten horror that would follow for centuries thereafter.
In 1532, ownership was passed to the O’Carroll’s, a ruthless clan of landowners. Disputes among the O’Carroll’s for full control of the castle lead to one of the most infamous chapters in the castle’s history - the murder of Thaddeus O’Carroll.
Thaddeus was a priest who held mass for the family inside a small chapel. While holding mass, his brother Teighe ‘The One Eyed’, entered the chapel with his sword drawn and sliced him open in front of his kin. Thaddeus bled to death on the altar. The chapel became known as the Bloody Chapel and very much survives to the present day.
In the 1590’s, the O’Carroll’s invited the noble McMahon family from Monaghan for a feast as their special guests. The McMahon's had performed admirably in battle against a mutual enemy. All major McMahon family members attended. All were poisoned to death. Head of the family, Charles O’Carroll was of the belief that their recent victory in battle might have emboldened them a bit too much.
In the 1900’s the castle was owned by Johnathan Darby. During renovations, construction workers found a secret trap door, or ‘oubliette’ underneath the Bloody Chapel. After opening a small wooden hatch, they discovered a room with a 10-foot drop, rigged with spikes and designed to kill or impale anyone who fell in. Disturbed workers carted 150 intact skeletons out of the oubliette over the next two days. Found among the bones was a pocket watch dating to the 1800’s. What makes the oubliette – which translates into ‘to forget’ in French - so unsettling is that many of the victims would not have died from the fall. The worst fate befell those who lay injured, perhaps partially impaled or with broken backs or legs, and dying a prolonged and agonizing death in total darkness.
Johnathan Darby made another grim find, not long after his workers did. He stumbled upon three upright standing skeletons behind a crumbling wall, three men whom by all indications appear to have been walled up alive. Deeply unsettled by this, Darby had them immediately walled up again, this time permanently, believing that whatever reason the O’Carroll’s had for concealing these men must have been a good one.
Darby’s wife Mildred, so intrigued by the discovery, and that of the oubliette, began to hold seances to reach out to the dead, in an attempt to uncover what madness had taken place centuries earlier. She wrote a lengthy article of her experiences which was published in the 1908 edition of Occult Review magazine. Thanks to her publication word spread around Europe and visitors flocked from far and wide to try to catch a glimpse of the ghostly goings on in Leap Castle.
In Irish folklore a banshee is the ghost of an old woman who wails at your window at night, warning you of the impending death of a family member. There have been dozens of banshee sightings over the decades and many have reported seeing the apparition of the 'Red Lady'.
Today the castle is owned by Irish musician Sean Ryan who doesn't care much for ghost stories. He has permanently sealed over the oubliette, but upon request does occasional day tours of the castle interior. However, under no circumstances does he allow visitors to stay in Leap Castle overnight.