A place as old as Ireland is due to have its fair share of ghost stories. When you have a land covered in castles from the middle ages and a history of wars and famines, it’s easy to turn up a ghost or two.
The tradition of Halloween goes back even before the death of its most famous ghosts. The festival was originally called “samhain” or “end of summer” by the ancient Celts. For these pagans, this period was when the spirits of the dead would visit the living. This was a much scarier experience than Mexico’s Day of the Dead; the early Irish would light a fire and dress in disguises to keep the evil spirits away!
Some of the Halloween traditions we use here in America have their roots in Ireland! The Irish carved Jack-o-Lanterns out of turnips, with the intention of keeping wandering spirits away from their home. When the Irish emigrated to America and turnips were harder to get, they adapted to using pumpkins!
The tradition of dressing up in costumes is also derived from Samhain! Originally used to confuse mischievous faeries and evil-minded spirits, costumes have now become a source of fun!
Of course, the Irish love of telling stories is particularly prominent around Halloween. Gathered around the fire, the Irish have been telling stories of haunting figures and intriguing myths for hundreds of years. No one can tell a spooky story better than a Celt!
Read on to hear of a few of Ireland’s most interesting ghosts!
The Faceless Woman of Belvelly Castle, Co. Cork
Sometime in the seventeenth century, Margaret Hodnett and her family inhabited the Belvelly Castle in Co. Cork. Margaret was renowned around the county for her beauty, and it is said that she knew it; she spent many days admiring her reflection in the mirror. An independent and vain woman who had little interest in marriage, Margaret lived her wealthy life in content happiness. A local lord named Clon Rockenby asked for Margaret’s hand many times, but she always refused him.
Rockenby, enraged at Margaret’s continual refusal of his advances, laid siege to Belvelly Castle in an attempt to force her to accept him. Despite the guard of Rockenby’s small army, the Hodnett’s held out for an entire year.
The siege came with a price for both Margaret and Rockenby. When Rockenby at last entered the castle, he found that Margaret had been ravaged by the forced seclusion. She had become skeletal, and her beauty had worn away.
Rockenby was irate, and smashed Margaret’s favorite mirror to pieces. After he did so, Margaret’s brother killed him with a sword, and Margaret watched him die.
After these events, Margaret descended into insanity. She is said to have sought out mirrors, checking to see her beauty ever returned. Every time, she was disappointed to see her gaunt face staring back at her. Eventually, all the mirrors were removed from Belvelly Castle. Margaret died of old age inside the castle.
Her ghost still haunts the castle today, appearing as a lady in white with a veil covering her face or with no face at all. Those who have seen the ghost claim that she stares at a spot on the wall as though it holds her reflection, and often rubs the spot. One spot in the castle, perhaps where her mirror once hung, has been rubbed smooth over the years.
The Founder of Marsh Library, Dublin
Ireland’s oldest public library is located in bustling Dublin City. The Marsh Library was founded in 1707 by Archbishop Narcissus Marsh. Marsh was a man of faith and learning; he adored spending time among the thick volumes of literature and history, and spent a life passionate about teaching others.
As an unmarried archbishop, he raised his niece, whose parents had died of some eighteenth century malady. Marsh loved his niece, and the young girl spent many hours with him in the library.
When the girl was eighteen, she ran off and eloped with a curate. The Archbishop Marsh was blindsided by this, and never heard from the niece again. He never discovered her fate, and it haunted him the rest of his life.
He was told that the girl hid her explanation, a note, in one of the volumes of the library. He spent the rest of his life looking for it, but never found it.
Some say that Marsh’s ghost still lurks in the library, searching for the note that might bring reason and hope into his afterlife.
The Murdered Jester of Malahide Castle, Dublin
Built in the 1100’s, this lavish medieval castle was once home to the most wealthy English nobles and their courts. Now, hundreds of years later, it is home to many spectral figures.
The most famous figure is a murdered jester. This jester, nicknamed Puck, fell in love with a lady prisoner at a banquet. The lady was beautiful but gaunt, and it was clear that her imprisonment would lead to a slow and lonely death.
The jester made up his mind to help his lady-love escape. He snuck down into the dungeon many nights to visit the lady, and together they made their plan to leave the castle. On the seventh night, Puck stole the keys from a guard and unlocked the cell of his lady. The two made it out of the dungeon, only to be faced by another guard, who stabbed Puck to death.
With his dying breath, Puck said he would forever haunt the castle. His lady was taken back to her cell, and later died. It is said they both wander the castle, each one forever searching to rescue the other.
I hope you have a spooky and story-worthy Halloween! Did you see any ghostly figures when you were in Ireland? Let us know!
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