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Lay of the Land: Ireland's creepy castles of spooky squatters


Ferns Castle is a feature on the new driving route

Ferns Castle is a feature on the new driving route

Ferns Castle is a feature on the new driving route

Fog travels down the river that runs behind my backyard like a murky monster. The usual creaks and groans of this country-town cottage are louder during wayward weather, amplifying the eerie sounds of someone padding around upstairs.

Not that there's anything particularly peculiar about hearing someone mooching around overhead - except it happens when nobody else is here. The supernatural shenanigans don't stop there. The lights often dim or brighten for no apparent reason, while the electricity sometimes randomly cuts off at night.

It doesn't bother me - but it sure can give the heebie jeebies to visitors. I returned from a weekend away last winter, to find the dogsitter camped out on a couch in the sitting room. She was so spooked by the freaky footsteps that she wouldn't sleep in the upstairs guest room.

Maybe these ghostly goings-on have something to do with the 1,000-year-old tower that stands opposite this cottage? Much folklore surrounds castles in Ireland. Legend has it that many were magically built in one night, using bullock's blood in the mortar for good measure.

Certainly, there are no shortages of supernatural stories connected to these ancient stone structures. It is said that the wails of the slaughtered garrison at Carrignacurra, near Inchigeela, may still be heard on stormy nights - the sort of tale that is repeated about many castles.

Other hauntings abound, some of a romantic nature. Ireland's very own Romeo and Juliet are apparently still in residence at Ross Castle, beside Lough Sheelin. The ghosts are those of two unhappy young lovers who got caught up in the feud between their families - the Nugents and the O'Reillys.

Sometimes the spirits are malicious minxes. Like Cathleen Clare who lived at Ferns Castle and made a practice of enticing young men to visit. She then showed them to a bed which opened like a trapdoor, hurling them into a foul pit below. This went on until one lucky lad escaped. The sadistic siren paid for her crimes, we are told, at the market cross in Wexford.

Meanwhile, the gentle ghost of poor Sibeal Lynch still wails near Pierce Ferriter's castle at the end of the Dingle Peninsula. Pierce had stolen his charming captive away from her people. They were happy together, until the day Pierce's infuriated in-laws surrounded the castle. Pierce hid Sibeal out of harm's way - or so he thought - in a cave beside the sea. Only to find, when the danger was past, that she had been drowned by the rising tide.

Ballymoy Castle in Laois is swept by mysterious beings every Saturday; which could be handy if you don't fancy housework. But unless you're quicker on your feet than the ones up my stairs, it might be best to avoid my haunted home.

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