Ireland is steeped in castles and castle ruins that are filled with many stories of ancient dwellers and spooky encounters, and these castles and their stories reach across the whole of Ireland, from Clifden Castle in County Galway to Ballygally Castle in County Antrim.
Expedia have released a list of the 10 spookiest castles you can visit in the country, and they make for the perfect road trip for adrenaline seekers.
Do you dare visit these haunted hotspots?
1. Ballygally Castle, Antrim
Today, Ballygally Castle is a popular hotel along the Antrim coastline, about 40 minutes from Belfast, but the castle is said to have haunted ties. The original caste at Ballygally dates back to the early 17th Century with the central tower said to be haunted by the ghost of Lady Isabella Shaw.
Lady Isabella’s ghost is said to walk the corridors of the hotel and even knock on doors – so it might not always be room service should you plan a short break to Antrim. The hotel owners (the Hastings Hotel Group) have made this haunting a feature of the hotel, with a Ghost Room dedicated to Lady Isabella.
2. Loughmoe Castle, Tipperary
Tipperary is home to some famous castles, with the Rock of Cashel, Cahir Castle and Nenagh Castle all attracting visitors throughout the year. Loughmoe Castle is a ruined castle in the village of Loughmoe, about 15 minutes from Thurles and 30 minutes from Cashel. Today, the castle is said to be haunted by someone who died in it in the mid-1900s.
There’s something extra eerie about visiting a ruined castle at Halloween.
3. Leap Castle, Offaly
Considered by many to be Ireland’s most haunted castle, Leap Castle was home to some brutal atrocities in centuries gone by. Many of these revolved around the O’Carroll clan who occupied the castle for many years.
Today the castle is the home of the Ryan family, and while access is restricted, thousands of visitors still flock to Leap every year in hope of catching a sign of the spirits that wander Ireland’s most haunted castle.
4. Clonony Castle, Offaly
Another haunted castle in Offaly, Clonony Caste is a 16th-Century Tudor castle that had typical Tudor features including mystery passages and a murder hole. The castle was a gift to Thomas Boleyn from King Henry VIII in exchange for the hand in marriage of his daughter Anne (Henry’s second wife who was rather infamously beheaded).
Anne’s cousins are said to be buried within the grounds of the castle, and a ghost known as ‘The Thin Man’ has appeared in the past atop the tower at the castle.
5. Clifden Castle, Galway
The Connemara region of Galway is one of the most popular destinations along Ireland’s west coast, and the town of Clifden is one of the main towns in the region. While the beaches are often a reason for many flocking to the seaside town of Clifden, it’s the town’s castle that has something spooky in store for visitors this Halloween. Clifden Castle was built in the 19th Century but went into decline during the Great Famine of 1845.
The castle is said to be haunted by the spirits of the poor and deprived who sheltered in the castle grounds during this period.
6. Tully Castle, Fermanagh
Located on the shores of Lower Lough Erne, a short drive from Enniskillen, Tully Castle is a ruined 17th-Century castle that is a must-see for anyone visiting the Fermanagh Lakelands this Halloween. The castle was burned down on Christmas Day in 1641 during an Irish rebellion, with women and children among the many people killed in the massacre.
Local legend has it that the ghosts of those who died return to the castle every Christmas Day, but if you’re planning a break to Fermanagh this Halloween, be sure to add Tully Castle to your itinerary and see if the spirits arrive earlier this year.
7. Belvelly Castle, Cork
Located near Fota Island and a short drive away from Cobh, and Cobh Heritage Centre is the ruined 15th-Century Belvelly Castle. The castle is said to be haunted by several spirits with the most famous being the faceless ghost of Lady Margaret. Lady Margaret Hardnett was captured and brought to the castle in the 17th Century, were she is said to have been starved and lost her beauty, before smashing all the mirrors in the castle.
Her spirit is believed to still haunt the castle to this day.
8. Leamaneh Castle, Clare
Located in the famous Burren region of Co Clare, and approximately 30 minutes from the famous Cliffs of Moher, Leamaneh Castle is said to be haunted by the legend of ‘Red Mary’. Mary is rumoured to have had over 20 husbands, with most of them meeting a similar fate of death.
The legend of Red Mary is believed to have been ended by locals who sealed her alive in a hollow tree trunk, and today she haunts the grounds of this ruined castle.
It is said you can hear her cackles as you explore the grounds – are you up for the challenge?
9. Killua Castle, Westmeath
Killua Castle is a 17th-Century castle in Westmeath that once belonged to the Chapman family after it was inherited by Benjamin Chapman. The castle is said to be haunted by a former land Stewart of Chapman who is believed to have cheated Chapman out of money, before drowning in a nearby lake.
The last Chapman to live at Killua Castle was Thomas Chapman who left his wife and family in Westmeath and moved to England where he changed his surname to Lawrence, found love and started a family.
Thomas Chapman had a son called TE Lawrence who would later become more famously known as Lawrence of Arabia.
10. Castle Leslie, Monaghan
Castle Leslie is a 17th-Century castle that has been converted into a luxury hotel in Monaghan, close to the Northern Ireland border. The castle has been in the Leslie household since 1665 and is said to be haunted by the ghost of Norman Leslie who died during the First World War.
Indeed, the room that Norman haunts is one of the main attractions of the hotel – the Red Room.
11. Blackwater Castle, Cork
You can still stay in this castle, and yep, it has a ghost. It's believed that Lady Roche defended the castle against Cromwell forces in 1650, but unfortunately was unsuccessful. She was then imprisoned and hung after two years. She is thought to still haunt the castle to this day. We don't blame her to be honest.
12. Ross Castle, Meath
This castle overlooks Lough Sheelin, and is known to be haunted. In the 1500s, the castle was run by Lord Richard Nugent, an English lord who was a harsh ruler.
Sabina, his daughter, fell in love with an Irish man and they decided to elope, but in a tragic turn of events, the Irish man drowned and Sabina never recovered. She returned to her father's castle where she fell into a deep sleep and never woke up. Sabina is thought to still haunt the castle to this day.
You can read the story in more detail on their website here.
13. Clontarf Castle, Dublin
All castles are thought to house ghosts, and Clontarf Castle in Dublin is no exception. Guests frequently report on ghostly sightings, but that doesn't stop many from enjoying this 4 star hotel for occasions and weddings.
One experience, which was added to the website Spirit Isle, said: "We loved our stay at Clontarf Castle many years ago, maybe 1999. I would love to return, but I must add I do believe there is a resident ghost. While resting from my long journey, while asleep—the TV turned itself on and off again. The shower came on and shut itself off." Very spooky indeed.
Are you brave enough to visit these?
Header image: Clifden Castle/Tourism Ireland