The name “Leap Castle” might conjure up romantic visions of a grand stone fortress rising over Irish hills. In reality, Ireland's Leap (pronounced ‘lep’) Castle has a history more violent than entire seasons of Game of Thrones–and this bloodshed isn’t fantasy.
In the nearly 800 years since the County Offaly castle was constructed, families have been divided and executed, and fights over the true ownership of the castle led to battles so gruesome that the history has often been hidden. Uncovering the truth also means discovering a story of murder and intense betrayal.
The castle was built by the wealthy O’Bannon family somewhere between the late 12th century and the 15th century, although likely around 1250. Before it was actually built, two of the O’Bannon brothers were constantly at odds over which one was set to inherit their father’s riches and the control over the castle. According to legend, they proposed a competition. Each brother would both jump off of a huge rock located on the site of the future castle. The one who lived would get to control the building of the castle and the family clan. While the winner of the deadly competition (if ever there was one) is now lost to time, it likely explains why the castle was originally known as Leim Ui Bhanain—or O'Bannon's Leap.
Though the O’Bannons were powerful in their own right, they were pledged to the O’Carroll family, who took control of the castle away. The O’Carrolls used the castle as a site for battles, and numerous massacres occurred inside the walls.
The chief of the O’Carroll family died without specifically naming which of his sons was to be his successor. Once again, brothers fought, bloodily, over who would inherit the castle. One of the brothers, Thaddeus, was a priest. His brother, Teighe, convinced that he was the rightful heir, killed Thaddeus while he was in the middle of saying Mass in the castle’s chapel. The chapel became known as “The Bloody Chapel”, and it is said that you can see Thaddeus’s spirit roaming the halls of the castle late at night to this day.
Hidden behind the walls of the Bloody Chapel, you’ll find an oubliette, which was once filled with hundreds of human skeletons. Many of the skeletons were mounted on wooden spikes. Two explanations remain for this mass grave–either the O’Carrolls launched a mass attack in the chapel, then pushed the remains into the hidden room, or they used the wooden spikes as a method of surprise attack for unsuspecting visitors to the castle.
Elsewhere in the castle, you’ll find the Red Lady, who is seen wandering the castle in a red gown, holding a knife. Allegedly, she was held hostage by the O’Carroll family, some of whom raped her repeatedly. When she delivered a baby, the O’Carrolls killed it, and the Red Lady was inconsolable. She wanders the castle nightly, hoping to find the men who killed her child.
Lording over all the eternal residents of Leap Castle is the Elemental. The origin of this sinister presence is shrouded in mystery—some believe it was conjured by Druids or summoned by an invading party, while others claim it's the troubled spirit of a former castle inhabitant. Regardless of its origin, it's easy to understand why the Elemental is so memorable: those unlucky enough to encounter it describe a rotting human-like figure, reeking of putrefying flesh.
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A new clan took over the castle in the 17th century, with another violent transition, to say the least. An O’Carroll daughter fell in love with an English prisoner, Darby, and she would sneak him food while they plotted a way to run away together and get married. When she let him out, Darby fought an O’Carroll son in the stairwell and killed him. The O’Carroll daughter became the only heiress to the castle, meaning that the English Darby would inherit the castle too.
Although the couple soon owned Leap Castle outright, Darby began to lose his grip on sanity. He began to obsessively focus on his money, going so far as to hide it throughout the castle. He then forgot where he had hidden it and was unable to stop searching for the money that he wanted so desperately. His ghost is said to be seen around the castle, still looking for his riches.
Darby’s children, and their children, remained in Leap Castle for the next century or so. In the late 1800s, a woman named Mildred Dill married Jonathan Darby, the current owner of the castle. Mildred had long been interested in the paranormal, and when she moved into Leap Castle, she discovered fresh inspiration within its walls. Mildred wrote about the ghosts she encountered, the séances she held, and the disturbing stories of Leap’s past throughout her life.
Mildred loved her home deeply. Unfortunately, in 1922, she and her husband were forced out of the castle due to the ongoing Irish rebellion. Since the Darbys were English, they feared for their life.
Leap Castle was abandoned in 1922, when the Darby family moved out. The Irish were fighting for independence from the English, and, since the Darbys were an English family, they were in danger of being killed. Much of the castle was burned after their escape. In 1974, after years of neglect, a restoration project was launched to rehabilitate the castle.
Although Leap Castle is now privately owned, paranormal investigators can still visit. The current owner, Sean Ryan, offers tours and is immensely knowledgeable about the strange, bloody, and ghostly history of Leap Castle. Care for a visit? Click here to learn more.