Leap Castle (pronounced “lep”) is one of the oldest continuously inhabited castles in Ireland. Built in the early 1500s by the O’Bannon clan, the current building is believed to have been built over an even older building, and before that the site was used by druids for initiation ceremonies, according to the castle’s website.
The castle has a violent and horrific past. Originally named Leim Ui Bhanain, or Leap of the Bannons, the legend is that two O’Bannon brothers were fighting over the chiefship of the clan, and the only way to sort it out was through a test of their bravery and courage.
The brothers were to leap from the rocky outcropping where the castle was being built, and whichever one survived the drop would be named chief.
The O’Bannons were secondary chieftains under the O’Carrolls, and the O’Carroll clan used Leap as a primary stronghold. It guarded a pass between the Slieve Bloom Mountains, and there was no castle better fortified. The O’Carrolls were known for their ambition and desire for power, and in its pursuit, they fought many battles with others, and even among themselves. They kept the castle until 1642, when it was taken away from them by an English soldier named John Darby.
The Darby’s inhabited Leap Castle until 1922. That year Leap was the target of an uprising, and the castle was burnt to a shell during its course. After that, it lay empty until 1974, when it was purchased by an Australian named Peter Bartlett, who began renovating and refurbishing the 600 year old building. Bartlett eventually sold the castle to Sean Ryan, who holds it now.
Given its history, it’s unsurprising that Leap is known as the Ireland’s most haunted location.
In addition to its centuries-long history of conflict, the castle sits on an old site for druidic initiations. The druids chose the spot because it’s a site where two ley lines cross. The area is thick with spiritual energy, and the veil that separates the physical world from the spirit realm is more permeable there than in most of the rest of the world. These conditions mean that it’s much easier for entities to manifest. The centuries of aggression and war in Leap’s history have focused that energy, and the castle’s environment has a very sinister feel to it.
When she lived there, Mildred Darby spoke of hearing noises at night that sounded like furniture being moved around. She noted that visiting guests had been known to ask in the morning why the servants were doing work like that so late. She also recounted that the bell at the front door would ring sometimes, but no one would be at the door.
Sean Ryan reported hearing chanting coming from outside the castle, and hearing his name being called when no one was there.
One man who owned the castle briefly before its purchase by Peter Bartlett said that his mother had been friends with Cicely O’Bannon-Darby, and when she was invited to the castle for a ball she said she couldn’t sleep well at all, owing to the constant feeling that something was hovering over the bed.
Both Ryan and the castle’s previous owner, Peter Bartlett, have said that there were instances of weird poltergeist-like occurrences during the course of castle renovations. Bartlett didn’t give specifics, just told a friend that there were a number of occurrences.
Ryan stated that tools would suddenly move across the room when his back was turned, and that one of his carpenters left the castle for no reason, and never returned. Ryan’s own renovation efforts came to a halt when a ladder he was standing on was suddenly pushed away from the wall, and he was forced to make a jump of several stories, causing a fracture in his knee.
When he had healed and returned to his restoration work, another accident gave him a broken ankle.
The most interesting spirit at Leap is the Elemental. The exact story of its origin and first appearance are not known, but one theory is that the druids put the entity there, to watch over their sacred site. Another theory is that the Elemental was put there by the army of an opposing force to burn the castle from the inside during a battle.
The local legend is that the Elemental is one of the O’Bannon brothers who died of leprosy. The reason for this particular belief is when the entity manifests, it has a foul odor associated with it, and reportedly appears to have decomposing facial features.
This particular spirit only seems to become active when it’s been provoked, however. The Ryans have owned the castle since 1991 and have never seen it.
Whether you are a skeptic, or a true believer who is fascinated by all things supernatural, Leap Castle is a remarkable site. It is a private residence, and doesn’t take paying guests, but sometimes the owners welcome visitors. All the relevant details are on the castle’s website.