We Irish love a myth and a legend. WB Yeats wrote poem after poem about our faeries and ghosts and the like, in between attempting to buck members of Cumann na mBan, and our music goes deep on the intersection of religion, the paranormal and our sometimes wild landscape. It all goes a long way towards making Halloween a great time to be Irish.
First of all, we invented the thing. Sure, the Americans have really gone to town on it since, but the idea dates back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, when our ancestors would come together to celebrate the death of summer and the start of winter. They lit bonfires, made masks and dressed up and generally had a grand spooky time of it around this time of year. It's a tradition that continues to this day, unless, like me, you come from the North, in which case there's always bonfires all the time because, urgh, how long have you got?
This time of year is one to celebrate the spookiest that Ireland has to offer, and in that regard, we are blessed. Let's go on a ghost train around our four green fields and work out where to celebrate Halloween this year.
The obvious place to start is at Dublin's famed Hell Fire Club. While it might sound like a metal pub, it's actually the original gathering place for Satanists, actual devil-worshippers and occultists in Dublin. Remember, Satan isn't just for Halloween, he's for life. Or death. Or something. The club was created in 1735 on top of Montpelier Hill in the Dublin Mountains, where the ruin still stands to this day: it was the site of black masses, debauchery and drinking a weird combination of whiskey and hot butter. While it is entirely possible that the whole Satanism thing was a ruse to keep nosy eyes away from a load of 18th century top shaggers going about their business, there are also rumours of a giant cat haunting the hill and the ruins.
Heading north, look no further than Ballygally Castle in Co. Antrim. Situated on the north coast, close to Larne, it is now a hotel, but was originally one of the first houses built by Scottish Presbyterian planters back in the 17th century. The castle is said to be the oldest continuously inhabited building in Ireland and, having had about 400 years to accumulate ghosts and ghost stories, one of the most haunted. The most famous ghost is Lady Isobel Shaw, who was said to have been left to starve in the building by her husband, but instead jumped out of the window to her death. She can be heard moving through the corridors, knocking on doors and then disappearing. In fairness, knocking doors and running away was hilarious when I was a kid, but after 400 years you'd have thought the joke would wear a little thin. There's also a room called the Ghost Room, which you'll be pleased to hear isn't rented out to guests.
Down south, we can meet the White Lady of Kinsale. She haunts the ruins of Charles Fort in Co. Cork, an old castle dating back to the 16th century. The story goes that she was a local girl who married a soldier at the fort, only for the soldier to be killed after falling asleep at his watch. In despair, she threw herself from the walls of Charles Fort and has haunted the area ever since. There were sightings in the years following her death, which usually involved a woman in a white wedding dress being seen by children - there were even reports of soldiers at the fort being pushed down stairs by the ghost, although that sounds like the sort of story you might make up after falling down the stairs of your own accord and scrambling for an excuse.
Right in the centre of Ireland, our final destination is Leap Castle in Co. Offaly, home to the Bloody Chapel. It might be the most haunted place in Ireland. There's the story of the Red Lady, the woman travels through the castle carrying a dagger, or the two girls who are said to be found haunting the spiral staircases after one of of them fell to her death from a window. The castle's former owner, novelist Mildred Darby, said that she encountered a creature that she came to call "the elemental" after finding a mass grave of 150 bodies in the castle. She described itas "about the size of a sheep, thin, gaunt and shadowy in parts. Its face was human, or to be more accurate, inhuman, in it's vileness, with large holes of blackness for eyes, loose slobbery lips, and a thick saliva-dripping jaw."
To be fair that sounds like me with a hangover, but Midred wasn't to know that.
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