Situated just four miles north of the heritage town of Roscrea, Leap Castle has a reputation of being the most haunted castle in Ireland. Leap is a 14th Century tower house with (now ruinous) 18th Century wings.
Leap Castle was built on top of an existing stone structure. It is possible that the site has been occupied in some form since Neolithic times. The castle here served two purposes. It stands guard over the pass from the Slieve Bloom Mountains into Munster and it would have defended the fertile lands around the castle.
Leap Castle was built by the O'Bannon clan who were subject to the ruling O'Carroll clan. It later became the principal seat for the O'Carroll clan.
Local folklore tells of two brothers who both wanted to build a castle. They decided to settle the argument by jumping off the rock here. One of the brothers was killed and with the argument settled, the other built the castle. The earliest recorded name for the place was Leim Ui Bhanain (O'Bannon's Leap).
The core of the castle is the four storey 14th Century tower. The tower stands 13 metres high and has 2 metre thick walls. A machicolation hung out from the tower over the entrance, part of which still survives and there is a bartizan on the north-west corner.
Leap Castle was attacked on numerous occasions. In 1516 Gerald FitzGerald, 11th Earl of Kildare, took Leap for King Henry VIII as part of his invasion of the O'Carroll clan's territory. The castle was at least partly demolished in the process.
By 1557 the O'Carroll clan was back in charge, but it was a clan divided. There were bitter leadership struggles throughout most of the 16th Century. At Leap the chapel above the main hall became known as the 'Bloody Chapel' after Teige O'Carroll killed his brother, a priest who was performing mass at the time, on the altar.
In the corner of the chapel was a chamber which was modified to serve as an oubliette. With a trapdoor in its ceiling, prisoners would be thrown into the dungeon and forgotten about. When the chamber was cleaned out by later owners it was reported that three cartloads of skeletons were removed.
In the middle of the 17th Century the castle came into the possession of the Darby family. Rumour has it that Jonathan Darby who held the castle during the English Civil War was a Royalist and that he buried treasure in the grounds of the castle.
In the 18th Century the Darbys renovated and extended the castle and gave it a Gothic restyling as was fashionable at the time. They moved the entrance from the south wall to the western wall, added the north and south wings and renovated the Priest's House.
The Darbys held on to the castle until 1922 the castle was burned during the Irish Civil War.
The accounts of ghosts at Leap Castle go back centuries. There have been references to a 'troublesome spirit' there for some time.
The castle's most famous ghost is 'The Elemental'. It has been described as a short, evil-smelling, human-like creature which is blue-grey and has black holes for eyes.
It couldn't claim to be Ireland's most haunted castle with just one ghost. There are also supposed to be ghosts in the chapel, the Priest's House, the Muckle Hole room and several in the great hall. The castle has also been visited by the Most Haunted TV series.
In 1974 Leap Castle was bought by Peter Bartlett, a descendant of the O'Bannons. He undertook extensive repairs and renovations to the castle. The gatehouse was rebuilt and started rebuilding the upper floors.
Today the castle is still a private residence. It is owned by Sean Ryan and Anne Callanan-Ryan who have owned it since 1991. They have continued Peter Bartlett's reconstruction work.
There is an unofficial website at http://leapcastle.net/ which has more information on all the hauntings and the castle's history.
It is possible to visit the Leap Castle by prior arrangement.
Status: Private Residence
Owner: Sean Ryan & Anne Callanan-Ryan
Tel: +353 (0)868 690 547
Opening Times: By appointment only.
Front of Leap Castle
Most Haunted crew at Leap Castle