Irish hauntings tend to be seen as being a bit whimsical, from Hollywood movies depicting the Irish afterlife (like "High Spirits" and "Darby O'Gill") to Oscar Wilde's very own Canterville ghost. And it is also said that where other countries have ghosts and ghouls, the Irish have fairies. The Irish X-files on this aspect of the supernatural may actually be quite short. So, apart from a few well-known haunted hotels and pubs, is there anywhere to ghost-hunting?
There is indeed, though some locations may be a bit more suspect than others:
Ghost Rider - Ross Castle, Killarney
Killarney has a long affiliation with horsemen - witness the sheer endless procession of "jarveys" ferrying tourists to and fro. But while their owner-operators may occasionally scowl at each other and mutter curses, they are never downright scary. This part belongs to a medieval knight.
Every May Day a O'Donoghue rides across Lough Leane near Ross Castle. And has been doing so for hundreds of years, interrupting his rest underneath the waves for this spectacle. For it is not only O'Donoghue himself riding out. Spirits scattering flowers and playing "magical" music accompany him.
You may also like to see the painting "The Legend of Killarney" (1857) by Dennis Malone Carter, on display in the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin.
From Here to Eternity - Kilmainham Gaol
Many of those who entered did not only abandon all hope, they left with their feet first - in a pine box. Witness the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising, shot after a short trial under martial law. Easily the best remembered inhabitants of Kilmainham Gaol, even though many others stayed significantly longer than Pearse, Connolly and their co-conspirators.
Today the gaol is a museum and believed to be haunted by both former inmates and the ghosts of wardens. With the twist that the wardens seem to be the unhappy, malevolent spirits more likely to harm you. The area around the prison chapel is often cited as being "most haunted".
Drowning, Not Waving - Lough Sheelin
You can ask around in the area, it is a known fact: Lough Sheelin, one of the largest lakes in the area, will take a life every seven years. The local Civil Defence volunteers indeed have to do the odd search for bodies after angling or swimming accidents. Living nearby I am not tempted to go for a splash there ... but that might also be explained by the sub-arctic temperature of the water.
But anybody between Finnea and Mount Nugent knows the story of Sabrina, whose lover was drowned when they tried to elope across Lough Sheelin. And guests at Ross Castle occasionally have a close encounter with Sabrina herself ...
Tears of a Clown - Malahide Castle
Malahide Castle today is best known for its extensive grounds, a restored interior and the odd rock concert. But up until 1976 this was the home, for nearly 800 years, of the Talbot family.
Puck was the name of the Talbots' resident jester. Nobody was amused, however, when Puck fell in love with a noblewoman from Lady Elenora Fitzgerald's retinue. As it happens, Puck was one night found outside the castle walls, stabbed through the heart. Death somehow failing to be instantaneous, the jester managed to announce his intention to henceforth haunt the castle. In 1976 he made an appearance, disapproving of the sale of Malahide Castle's contents. He may still hang around ... people claim to sense "presences" everywhere in the castle anyway.
A Wedding and Three Funerals - Charles Fort near Kinsale
When you visit Charles Fort and encounter a bride, make sure she's still alive - or you might be congratulating the late Wilful Warrender. Wilful married an officer named Sir Trevor Ashurst, who swapped places with a sentry who was sent to fetch some flowers on the wedding day.
Seeing the "sentry" asleep, Wilful's father (and commander of the fort) shot him without further ado, only the realizing that he had killed his son in law. Cue Wilful jumping to her death from the battlements. Cue Commander Warrender shooting himself. Henceforth the "White Lady of Kinsale" has haunted the fort. Or so they say ...
Dead Men Floating - Dun an Oir on the Dingle Peninsula
The Spanish meddled in Irish affairs for ages - supporting uprisings against England for instance. Or plundering the shore as pirates. In 1579 a Spanish force was sent to support local rebellions against Elizabeth I. And in the spirit of Irish history was betrayed by the allies. The Spanish dug in at Dun an Oir near Ballyferriter on the Dingle Peninsula, the English besieged them, the Irish stayed decidedly neutral. When the Spaniards ran out of hope and provisions, they surrendered. Only to be slaughtered and left without a burial on the shore.
Ever since then Spanish voices (and cries for mercy) have been heard by locals, skeletons occasionally are seen floating by and a smell of rotting flesh now and then comes with the breeze.
Phantoms of the Opera - Belfast's Grand Opera House
Belfast's magnificent opera house was a victim to urban decay, but has been restored to its splendid, slightly over-the-top glory again. Complete with ghosts. Actors claim to have seen a face staring at them through an outside window. A figure wearing a long black robe has been seen in the stage area. People had the sense of being followed when alone on stage.
Hysterics? The Northern Ireland Paranormal Research Association would tend to disagree. They, after all, have contacted Harry and George (deceased stage hands), an un-named cleaner (gone to the great broom in the sky) and an electrician who lost his spark forever. All apparently still hanging around.
Tower of Power - Thoor Ballylee
Nothing much to see here except a tower house from the 16th century, restored by Irish poet and mystic W.B.Yeats. As was his wont, Yeats was convinced that the tower was haunted. Identifying the ghost of an Anglo-Irish soldier as the culprit.
In the late 1980s this local lore was stoked into a blaze by a photo. Taken in Yeats' rooms (now a museum), it seems to show a boy standing around forlorn. As this does not tally with Yeats' soldier the suggestion was that it could be Yeats' son. There remains the small snag that the photo is not totally convincing.
Young Soldiers Never Die - Castle Leslie
These days, when you mention Castle Leslie, people tend to think of a modern spa hotel first, maybe of the cookery school second. Fair enough - but have they forgotten about the castle's resident ghosts? Apparently every room had its own apparition at one time or the other. The most famous being the Red Room, where Norman Leslie first appeared to his mother, Lady Marjorie. Having just been killed on the front.
On another curious note Castle Leslie is even more connected to the Irish X-files - Desmond Leslie was a great eccentric and firm believer in UFOs, given to observe them from his ancestral home. Without overwhelming success, it has to be said.
I See Dead People - Saint Michan's Church in Dublin
Call me a sceptic, but the crypt below Saint Michan's Church does not feel very haunted to me. Okay, there are the mummified corpses, but I for one fail to sense anything there. On the other hand several guidebooks to haunted places feature this Dublin church and mention "a presence", voices and ice-cold finges running down spines. Maybe I should try the midnight tour?
Then again British author (and "the UK's number one TV psychic") Derek Acorah also mentions that some corpses "look as if they have just fallen asleep" in his "Haunted Britain & Ireland" - thereby making it a pretty safe bet that he hasn't really examined the corpses up close.