There are varied accounts as to when exactly the main tower/keep was constructed; ranging anywhere from the 13th century to the late 15th century, but most likely around 1250 CE. It was built by the O’Bannon clan and was originally called “Léim Uí Bhanáin” (as was the fertile land around the castle which was associated with the Bannon clan), or “Leap of the O’Bannons”. The O’Bannons were the “secondary chieftains” of the territory and were subject to the ruling O’Carroll clan. There is evidence that it was constructed on the same site as another ancient stone structure perhaps ceremonial in nature, and that that area has been occupied consistently since at least the Iron Age (500 BCE) and possibly since Neolithic times.
Leap Castle is said to be the most haunted castle in Ireland. It has had a horrific history with each passing century being punctuated by ferocious acts of violence.
One of the most gruesome murders to take place in the castle occurred in a room above the main hall of the castle which is now know as ‘The Bloody Chapel’ where in 1532 ‘one-eyed Teige O’Carroll’ murdered his own brother as he celebrated Mass in for the rest of the family. The priest’s spirit is said to haunt the Bloody Chapel and is thought to be one of Leap’s earliest ghosts.
The Bloody Chapel is said to be the home of many a ghoul. People have said on passing the Castle at night they have seen a very bright light shooting out of the upper windows.This occurrence has been reported since the time of the Darbys. However neighbours have called the current owners the Ryan’s to report that the Chapel was in full Illumination. Strange smells of rubber have also been reported during peoples visit to the upper hall.
One of the more sinister features of the Bloody Chapel is the oubliette. The oubliette is a small chamber located in the North-Eastern corner of the Bloody Chapel. It is thought that the original use for these chambers was to store valuables. They were also used as a place to hide in the event of a siege. The O’Carrolls used this chamber for a more a deadly purpose. They adapted this chamber to serve as a small dungeon where the poor prisoners were thrown in, dead or dying. The entrance to the chamber is a narrow hole originally fitted with a form of trap door. The name is derived from the French “to forget”.
Since the burning of Leap Castle in 1922, the Priest’s House is still an empty shell so most of the accounts relate to the times of the Darbys. At present, shadowy forms are most seen wandering through the empty building.
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 Sean and Anne Ryan in 1991. Sean has restored the castle and was a most gracious host when I called to visit Leap to take these photographs. Sean has frequent sightings of the numerous spirits of Leap but thankfully the Ryan’s have never encountered the Elemental who for now seems to have retreated. Despite some early skirmishes he has found that his family and the resident spirits have been able to coexist quite happily at Leap.
The photos are property of respective owners