Leap Castle

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Leap Castle
Leap Castle, view from the southwest

Leap Castle, view from the southwest

Alternative name (s): Caisleán Léim Uí Bhánáin
Creation time : 12th - 16th century
Castle type : Niederungsburg (Tower House)
Conservation status: restored
Standing position : Irish nobility
Construction: Quarry stone
Place: Coolderry
Geographical location 53 ° 1 '41.2 "  N , 7 ° 48' 30.5"  W Coordinates: 53 ° 1 '41.2 "  N , 7 ° 48' 30.5"  W.
Height: 147  m
Leap Castle (Ireland)
Leap Castle

Leap Castle ( Irish Caisleán Léim Uí Bhánáin ) is a castle in Coolderry in County Offaly, Ireland . It is about 7.5 kilometers north of Roscrea and about ten kilometers southeast of Birr in the barony of Ballybritt . In the immediate vicinity there are further fortifications with two earthworks and a moth .

The complex emerged from an Irish tower house , which was enlarged and expanded by the Darby family in the 17th century . Like many Irish aristocratic residences owned by English families, Leap Castle was badly damaged in the Irish Civil War from 1922 to 1923 by opponents of the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty . The castle was completely in ruins until the 1970s , before it was gradually restored and rebuilt from 1974 onwards . Work on this continues to this day. Since April 15, 1976, the plant as is National Monument under monument protection .



The exact founding date of the plant is controversial, there are different details about its creation. While some publications ascribe the oldest parts of the Tower House to the 12th century, other sources assume that it was founded in the 14th century or even in the early 16th century. The information about the founders of the castle complex is also contradicting one another. Due to the oldest known name Léim Uí Bhánáin , which means Leap of the O'Bannons ( German  jump of the OʼBannons ) (see sagas and legends ), some see the OʼBannon clan as the builder, while others attribute the foundation to the OʼCarrolls . The Tower House replaced an older fortification that is said to have been built on a place sacred to the Celtic druids . The location was strategic because the castle dominated the pass from the Slieve Bloom Mountains to Munster . It is still called The Leap today.

Property of the O'Carrolls

The Annals of the Four Masters ( English Annals of the Four Masters ) report an unsuccessful attempt by the Earl of Kildare to take the castle in 1514. Two years later, his son of the same name was more successful. A cannon used by him during the siege caused great damage to the headquarters of the O'Carrolls of Ely, which was then rebuilt. After the clan chief Mulrony O'Carroll died in 1532, a fight for the successor broke out. In order to assert their interests, the family members did not even shrink from murdering their closest relatives, but no one was able to maintain their position at the head of the clan for long. In 1558 the lords of the castle set their property on fire to prevent English troops from using it. Despite this, Leap Castle was taken by soldiers led by the Earl of Sussex after a siege. However, the O'Carrolls managed to retake the castle the following year, and they rebuilt the complex.

Property of the Darby family

From the clan-internal disputes of the O'Carrolls ultimately benefited the English crown, which brought their territory under their control at the beginning of the 17th century. Leap Castle remained the seat of the O'Carrolls, as John O'Carroll became lord of the castle in 1629. Through the marriage of Finnola (Fiona) O'Carroll to the English officer John Darby, the property passed to his family in the middle of the 17th century. In 1664 the castle was temporarily given back to John O'Carroll because he had been loyal to Charles I as a royalist and was rewarded in this way by his successor, Charles II , but in 1667 the English king revised his decision and Leap Castle was reopened given the darbys. They remained the owners of the facility until the 20th century. John's descendant Jonathan Darby (IV.) Changed the existing Tower House in 1753 and had it enlarged with additions. He added short, two-storey side wings to the north and south and gave the complex a Gothic appearance by installing pointed arched windows and instead of the previous entrance in the south wall of the Tower House on its west side, a large, Gothic-looking portal . In addition, all components received a crenellated wreath as a top end, and the priest's house ( English Priest's House ) from the Jacobean period to the north of the castle was changed in the Georgian style .

Admiral Henry DʼEsterre Darby was lord of the castle until 1823; Portrait of Sir William Beechey, 1801

Jonathans (IV.) Son of the same name inherited the enlarged property and died in 1802 without heirs. He was succeeded by his younger brother, who later became Admiral of the Royal Navy Henry DʼEsterre Darby , who did not leave any children when he died in 1823. And so Leap Castle came to his brother John († 1834). John's son William Henry Darby died in 1880 and left the castle to his grandson Jonathan Charles, who married the English author Mildred Darby in 1889 . She was a believer in occultism , which was in vogue at the time. By publishing haunted and scary stories about Leap Castle, she played a major role in establishing the castle's reputation as a haunted place. At Mildred's instigation, hidden areas or rooms of the facility were exposed again and walled-up doors were opened again. In 1897, for example, she had the ground floor access to the spiral staircase exposed again and cleared it of rubbish and rubble. Around 1900 workers discovered a narrow space in the wall thickness on the second floor of the Tower House that had a hole in the floor. Below was a hidden room that was said to have contained numerous human bones. A pocket watch from the 1840s is said to have been found when it was cleared. Since then there have been bloodthirsty stories about this " dungeon ".

When Jonathan Charles Darby came into his inheritance, the castle owned 4,367  acres (over 17.5 km²), but with the inheritance he also took on some very heavy payment obligations. In order to be able to settle this, he had to sell parts of his land and spend all of his cash. To make matters worse, his grandfather had not lived in Leap Castle for a long time and now expensive repairs and maintenance work had to be paid for. To supplement his tight finances, Darby increased the rents of his landlords by 30 percent, which made him very unpopular with them. This unpopularity of the English was increased by the Irish Land War in the last quarter of the 19th century, the Irish War of Independence from 1919 to 1921 and the Irish Civil War that followed. Darby, however, refused to take back the increase in rents and was also unwilling to sell land to his tenants. From 1921 onwards, they no longer paid the rent and only wanted to give in when the large landowner showed some concession. Meanwhile, attacks on Darby's property increased. As he later stated, his property was robbed or ravaged nine times in 1922 alone. Because of the unsafe situation, the Leap family left Castle in April or May 1922 and moved to County Longford . Richard Dawkins, a former soldier, was hired as castle caretaker and gardener to look after the property, but could not prevent the north wing of Leap Castle from being destroyed in an arson by irregulars on July 30, 1922. In a second attack just one day later, the Tower House and the south wing were devastated and looted and then also set on fire. Since that time the castle had been in ruins, its valuable interiors - such as Chippendale furniture made of mahogany and walnut wood , silverware, many family portraits, a large collection of short stories and as yet unpublished manuscripts by Mildred Darby - almost completely destroyed. The lord of the castle therefore went to court to obtain compensation for the loss suffered, but was awarded only 6,950  pounds instead of the 35,000 pounds he had claimed. Due to its persistent refusal to land to his tenants to sell, he was also in October 1928 by the Irish Land Commission to a large extent expropriated .

Restoration and current use

After the fire, the castle stood empty for almost 70 years. The Irish-born Australian Peter Bartlett acquired the ruin in 1974 from Peter Gerrard and initiated a gradual renovation. He rebuilt the gateway to the complex and began restoring the upper floors of the Tower House. After his death in 1989, the Australian musician Sean Ryan bought the property. He continued the reconstruction work of the previous owner together with his wife Anne. Large parts of the Tower House and 75 percent of the south wing have now been restored. The Ryans use the southern wing as an apartment, while the northern wing and the priest's house are still waiting to be rebuilt. Visits to the facility are possible by prior arrangement.


The castle stands on a sloping terrain to the east. Their eastern outer walls are flush with a steeply sloping terrain. To the west of the buildings there is a courtyard, the boundary walls of which seem to have been heavily modified in the 18th century. Nothing is left of the settlement that once surrounded the castle. Already at the beginning of the 20th century there were only ruins left.

Tower House and extensions

Northwest view of the castle

The core of the facility is a square tower house with external dimensions of 13.2 × 10 meters. The walls, up to 2.2 meters thick, were built from unplastered , roughly hewn limestone . The three floors of the tower are closed off by a crenellated parapet . Behind it rises a flat gable roof , which was previously covered with stone shingles. The Maschikulis that were supposed to protect the former entrance there are still preserved on the south side . The Tower House is followed by two short, two-storey side wings with only one axis to the north and south . They date from the middle of the 18th century. The northern one connects the tower with a building that was probably erected around 1571, which was changed and enlarged in the 18th century. This is called the priest house .

All rooms of the Tower House - with the exception of the second floor - were restored by 2010. All floors are connected by a stone spiral staircase in the southwest corner of the tower. The former entrance on the south side is still clearly visible on the ground floor. The opening now serves as a window. The barrel-vaulted hall on the first floor has a large fireplace in the northeast corner and a restored gallery . It used to have a cornice made of stucco and a flooring of polished slate and sandstone , which looked like black and white marble . The large room on the second floor is due to a legend Bloody Chapel ( German  Bloody Chapel called). It has a narrow opening in the northeast corner that leads to a small, narrow room called the oubliette (from the French oublier for forgotten). In its floor there is a square opening that was probably closed with a trap door in the past and leads to a hidden room below. Local tradition made this a dungeon into which prisoners of the castle lords were pushed and then simply left to their own devices (forgotten). But it is probably more of a hiding place for valuable property. A door in the north-west corner of the room leads to a bay window and a narrow corridor within the north wall, from which the north wing of the castle was previously accessible.

Farm buildings

To the southwest of the main castle lies the former farm yard of the complex, which was built around 1860 by the Darby family in neo-Gothic style. It consists of two parallel buildings that are connected to each other by walls in the east and west, thus forming a closed square with an inner courtyard. Today the buildings are used for residential purposes.

The two-storey north wing with a slate hipped roof used to house stables and is divided into seven axes by windows on the north exterior. In the middle is the ogival gate passage . Its limestone and sandstone masonry ends with a crenellated crown over a limestone eaves cornice . The ogival windows are framed from yellowish brick . This material is repeated along with red bricks in the building's unusually shaped chimneys . Today's main entrance to the north wing is on the western side of the street on the upper floor.

The ground floor of the southern farm building used to be used as a coach house , as evidenced by the large arched gates on the courtyard side. The upper floor used to be a single large room called the Orange Hall . Its name comes from the Orange Order , whose members are said to have met there earlier. This building is completed by a slate-covered hip roof.

To the east of the farmyard there is a garden area surrounded by a wall ( English walled garden ).

Myths and legends

There are a number of sagas and legends about Leap Castle. Many of them are about bloody fights or devious murders.

A founding legend provides the explanation for the name of the castle. Two brothers of the O'Bannon clan argued over the position of clan chief. In order to bring about a decision in the dispute, a competition was decided: They both had to jump from the high rock on which the castle would later be built. Only one of the two brothers survived the jump and became the new leader of the O'Bannons.

After the facility passed into the possession of the O'Carroll clan and its leader Mulrony died in 1532, protracted battles for his successor broke out. Teig (h) e O'Carroll is said to have even murdered his brother, a priest, when he was holding a Holy Mass on the second floor of the castle. Since then, the room there has been called the Bloody Chapel .

Another legend deals with how Leap Castle came from the O'Carrolls to the Darby family. A daughter of the O'Carrolls fell in love with an English soldier incarcerated in the castle and helped him escape his prison. While they were on the run together, they were caught by the woman's brother. Darby killed him, and since the daughter was now the only legitimate heir to the castle, she passed on to the groom's family after the two of them married.

Ghost apparitions

The bloodthirsty traditions about the castle, which are always associated with deaths, helped to establish and consolidate the reputation of the complex as a haunted castle . Leap Castle is said to be the most haunted castle in Ireland or the world. The numerous apparitions that should visit the property regularly include:

  • various ghosts of people who were allegedly murdered by the O'Carrolls, for example the priest killed by his brother and a woman
  • a ghost known as The Elemental , who is said to be half human, half monster and always accompanied by the hideous stench of rot and sulfur
  • the Red Lady ( English Red Lady ) called the form of a slim, tall woman in a red dress; their emergence is always accompanied by great cold.
  • Emily and Charlotte, ghosts of two girls who are said to have lived at Leap Castle in the 17th century and one of whom is said to have died from falling off the battlements; The two are supposedly always spotted playing in the castle hall, sometimes accompanied by their governess .
  • an old man sitting by the fireplace in the castle hall

Leap Castle was visited and explored in 2002 by the team on the hit British show Most Haunted . In 2006, a team from TAPS was on site to investigate the alleged haunted investigation as part of their TV series Ghost Hunters International .


  • Constance Louisa Adams: Castles of Ireland. Some Fortress Histories and Legends. Elliot Stock, London 1904, pp. 264-271 ( digitized version ).
  • Mark Bence-Jones: A Guide to Irish Country Houses. Constable & Company, London 1988, ISBN 0-09-469990-9 , pp. 182-183.
  • Brian de Breffny: Castles of Ireland. Thames and Hudson, London 1985, ISBN 0-500-27398-7 , pp. 162-163.
  • Thomas Lalor Cooke: The early history of the town of Birr, or Parsonstown. Robertson & Co., Dublin 1875, pp. 216-221 ( digitized ).
  • Marigold Freeman-Attwood: Leap Castle. A place and its people. Michael Russell Publishing, Norwich 2001, ISBN 0859552632 .
  • Caimin O'Brien and P. David Sweetman: Archaeological Inventory of County Offaly. Stationery Office, Dublin 1997.

Web links

Commons : Leap Castle  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files


  1. ^ A b c d C. O'Brien and PD Sweetman: Archaeological Inventory of County Offaly. 1997, entry OFO39-047.
  2. Information about the castle on roscreaonline.com , accessed on October 27, 2016.
  3. a b c B. de Breffny: Castles of Ireland. 1985, p. 162.
  4. The Castle's founding history on Leap Castle's website , accessed October 27, 2016.
  5. Brain de Breffny's book Castles of Ireland and the information on the official website of the castle are representative of the two different founding theses .
  6. a b c irishcultureandcustoms.com , accessed October 27, 2016.
  7. a b John O'Donovan: Annála Rioghachta Éireann. Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland by the Four Masters, from the earliest period to the year 1616. 2nd edition, Volume 5. Royal Irish Academy. Dublin 1848 ( online ).
  8. a b c d e History of the castle on the Leap Castle website , accessed October 27, 2016.
  9. thestandingstone.ie , accessed October 28, 2016.
  10. ^ Entry by Leap Castle in the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage , accessed October 28, 2016.
  11. a b c History of the O'Carrolls on the Leap Castle website , accessed October 28, 2016.
  12. Information according to the entry of the castle in the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage . According to other sources, Jonathan Darby received Leap Castle in 1649 for his service in the Cromwell Army. See, for example, the story of the O'Carrolls on the Leap Castle website .
  13. a b History of the Darbys on Leap Castle website , accessed October 28, 2016.
  14. a b c d e f g h i j The burning of Leap Castle on offalyhistory.com ( Memento of the original from March 2, 2016 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. , Accessed October 28, 2016. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / www.offalyhistory.com
  15. a b c Information on the spirits of Leap Castle on the castle website , accessed October 28, 2016.
  16. ^ CL Adams: Castles of Ireland. Some Fortress Histories and Legends. 1904, p. 268.
  17. ^ CL Adams: Castles of Ireland. Some Fortress Histories and Legends. 1904, p. 267.
  18. a b c d e Entry of Leap Castle farm buildings in the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage , accessed October 28, 2016.
  19. ^ CL Adams: Castles of Ireland. Some Fortress Histories and Legends. 1904, p. 264.
  20. Information on Bloody Chapel on the castle website , accessed October 28, 2016.
  21. spukorte.de ( Memento of the original from December 11, 2015 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. , Accessed October 28, 2016. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / www.spukorte.de
  22. discoveringireland.com , accessed October 28, 2016.
  23. A comprehensive list of haunted apparitions on Leap Castle can be found on this castle website and its sub- pages .