Leap Castle, Co. Offaly was built by the O’Bannon chieftains, in the 14th or 15th century. It is perfectly poised at the intersection of Irish literary and architectural Gothic. It is a classic example (like Birr Castle) of a small medieval structure enclosed by a Gothic Revival shell, it was inhabited by Gothic novelist Mildred Darby, and it is the source of some of the most bizarre tales of Gothic hauntings in Ireland.
One of the rooms in the castle, christened ‘the Bloody Chapel’ was the scene of a fratricide in 1532, where one of the O’Carroll’s killed his brother, a priest, in mid-celebration of a mass. However, although the floor-plans of Leap are somewhat confusing (caused by alterations to the castle structure over the centuries) it appears that there is an oubliette in the corner of this Bloody Chapel, adding to its Gothic attractions. This grisly repository of bones was found in the year 1900, and although most of the remains found were late medieval, a pocket watch dating from the 1840′s was allegedly found amongst them. Locals also tell another tale connected with Leap, that of a young girl whose lover was murdered by her father, who in turn was then murdered by his daughter and the ghost of whom then subsequently murdered her. Although this figure of a young girl has been sighted in Leap, strangely enough, the most famous Leap ghost of all does not seem to relate to either of these three narratives, but to something more mysterious.
The infamous Leap ghost is said to be an ‘elemental’ – usually defined as a powerful but primitive ghost-force that is based in a specific location; here, Leap Castle. Darby, who wrote an eye-witness account of the Great Famine in Ireland (The Hunger) was interested in the occult and wrote of her experiences with the Leap ghost in an article for the London Occult Review (1909)
“I was standing in the Gallery looking down from the main floor, when I felt somebody put a hand on my shoulder. The thing was about the size of a sheep. Thin, gaunt , shadowy…its face was human, to be more accurate inhuman. Its lust in its eyes which seems half decomposed in dark cavities stared into mine, The horrible smell one hundred times intensified came up into my face, giving me a deadly nausea. It was the smell of a decomposing corpse”
Legend has it that since Mildred Darby’s séances in Leap, that this elemental, usually referred to simply as ‘It’, has actively haunted the spot.