Ireland the Land of Haunts & Legends – The Midlands
From the most haunted castle in Ireland, Leap to the scientific observatory at Birr Castle the midlands of Ireland have a lot of legends and haunts to explore. To the northern part lie some of the most fascinating neolithic sites ever uncovered in the heart of Ireland and possibly the world.
The seven counties of the Midland region cover both sides of the Shannon River and go as far south as Lough Derg and are topped by Cavan and Monaghan to the North and the Slieve Bloom mountains in the south. Sometimes known as ‘Lakeland’ the area has a vast amount of historic sites, its fair share of castles and monasteries and while tourists do wander to some of the sites it is a very relaxed and pleasurable part of Ireland to visit.
For those of you with strong hearts a visit to the the most haunted castle in Ireland is demanded. Leap Castle is world renowned as the most haunted castle in Ireland if not the world. Its dark halls and history contain many secrets and tragedies. The “Bloody Chapel” where a murder between a Priest and his brother took place during high mass is just one tale. The oubliette is home to many secrets of a dark and terrifying past. In 1922 workmen at Leap Castle found an oubliette in a secret dungeon hidden behind a wall in a corner of the Bloody Chapel. When they explored the sinister dark hole further they made a horrific discovery – there were enough human skeletons amassed on top of wooden spikes that it would take three cart loads to remove them for a Christian burial.
A tale of infamous treachery is said to have taken place at Leap Castle. The O’Carroll’s, who owned the Castle, hired 40 men from the McMahon Clan to train their men in the new methods of warfare. After the training sessions the McMahon men were invited to a feast, however the men were unaware that the dark and evil O’Carrolls had poisoned the food so they could avoid paying the bill.
The gruesome history of Leap continues with the Darby’s who in the early 1900’s practiced the dark arts of the occult. Mildred Darby is said to have dabbled in these black arts and it is she who is held responsible for unleashing an Elemental. These are primitive malevolent ghost spirits that attach themselves to a place and cannot be removed.
Local people avoid the Castle completely when dark falls it reputation for hauntings and ghost sitings have terrified folks for centuries. For over 70 years the castle was boarded up after it had been gutted by fire and the local citizens’ report seeing the windows light up at the top of the castle where the ghostly priest is said to walk. Leap was burnt out and destroyed in 1922 by the IRA while the Darbys were living in England. The castle lay in ruins until it was purchased by the current owners in 1991 that are touring musicians and when they are at home provide tours to help with the restoration of the castle.
There are many places to rest in the area of Leap Castle and here are a few of the top choices:
Lissanerin House is a stunning restored Georgian mansion set at the foot of the Slieve Bloom Mountains on Co. Offaly. A lovely boutique BnB with four ensuite guest rooms, of which one is a suite. Ideally located only 45 minutes from Leap Castle the area is also a great place to stay if you want to explore Tipperary.
A relatively new 4 star hotel the Tullamore Court was the first luxury hotel to be built in what is known as the Irish midlands. A central location from which you can enjoy getting to many sites within an hour and a half’s drive. This luxury hotel has 72 rooms, a swimming pool and some of the areas best dining.
Dooly’s Hotel in Offaly has been standing since 1747. It is one of the oldest coaching inns in the country. Situated in Birr it is a short walk to another major attraction in the area Birr Castle. Given its location it is another fabulous place from which to explore the Irish midlands.
The Neolithic Northern Midlands
Uisneach is the mythological and sacred heart of Ireland its roots lay beyond recorded history. At its centre is Aill na Mireann, or the Catstone, where the five provinces of Ireland meet. Legend has it that Uisneach is home to the goddess, Ériu, after whom Ireland is named, she is said to rest under the Catstone. The fifth province was known as Mide, which also refers to the magical otherworld and the Catstone is widely regarded as the gateway to this world.
Visiting the site all the Irish legends roar in your ears, looking out over the green heart of Ireland you will see in your mind’s eye the legends of the ancients of Ireland; Lugh who gave name to the harvest celebration of Lughnasa, Dagda who stabled his solar horses here, St. Patrick who visited the area and it is claimed made a Christian Saint by giving Brigid the veil here. Many though still worship the Celtic Goddess Brigit in her role as the goddess of healing, smith craft and poetry. Legend also has it that Brian Boru tried to lay claim to the province of Mide in this spot and other visitors include; Éamon de Valera, James Joyce and many more poets, writers, bards, Druids and pagans.
From Uisneach you can travel to the Loughcrew Cairns, also known as the Mountains of the Witch. The Neolithic cairns at Loughcrew are dedicated to the earth Goddess in her form as a Witch or Hag, a wise woman. Dating back 3000 years the tombs or Loughcrew have to be one of the most beautiful and powerful sites in Ireland. The Neolithic chambered cairns are the oldest monuments, and are one of the best examples of a Stone Age landscape remaining today.
The tombs are located on three different hills inside Cairn T; the largest tomb is a cruciform chamber, with a corbelled roof and some of the most beautiful examples of Neolithic art in Ireland. During the Vernal and Autumn Equinox people gather at dawn in Cairn T to watch sunlight enter the chamber and illuminate the inside of the tomb.
You can also take a drive from Loughcrew down to Newgrange if you would like a side trip. At Newgrange there is a lottery held every year which you can apply for to watch the equinox solstice from inside the cairn.
From these legendary sites book a night or two in a luxury hotel the Castle Bellingham situated in the picturesque medieval village of Castlebellingham on the river Glyde in County Louth. The entrance to Bellingham Castle is via a beautiful stone tower and gate lodge, built by Sir Henry Bellingham in 1880, and a long avenue flanked by tall broad leaf trees. The castle sits high above the River Glyde and stone steps lead to the water’s edge and to a beautiful weir with footbridges and walkways. A millrace diverted from the river forms a long wooded island with a splendid weeping willow hanging over the weir.
The Castle itself is a vision of crenellated towers, quoins and stepped buttresses, painted stone gargoyle bosses, wrought-iron balconettes, stone mullions and a myriad of gothic embellishments, are reminders of the earlier medieval castle which was burnt by King James’ soldiers before the Battle of the Boyne.
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