Monday, July 28, 2014

Ross Castle, County Meath.

Ross Castle, County Meath.

Ross Castle, County Meath is located overlooking Lough Sheelin.  It was built in the early 16th century by Richard Nugent, the 12th Baron Delvin.  He had a sinister reputation and was said to be ill tempered and cruel, possibly giving rise to his nickname, the Black Baron.  One story that illustrates his evil nature concerns the nearby village of Ross.  It all started when a local woman having baked a loaf of bread placed it upon the window sill of her cottage to cool.  A passing dog saw this as an opportunity to avail himself of a free meal and promptly grabbed the loaf and ran off with it.  The woman, seeing what had happened yelled out of the open window “Stop thief”, the dog dropped the loaf and headed for safety.

A beggar was passing through the village as this was going on, it was a warm day and as he felt a little tired he decided to rest under the shade of a tree.  The Baron and his entourage were out hunting along the shores of the lake, when he heard the story about the bread thief, he became angry as he felt any crime reflected upon his position as a Lord of the realm.  Unfortunately for the beggar, the Baron rode into the village to question the woman as to the theft when he saw the beggar sleeping under the tree.  The Baron demanded to know what he had done with the loaf and the beggar, knowing he had done nothing wrong, denied any knowledge of the crime.  The Baron flew into a rage and accused him of being a thief and a liar, the beggar begged him to believe him but the Baron refused to listen. As the local Lord he had the right to pass judgement as he saw fit and he immediately ordered the locals to provide a strong rope.  He hanged the poor beggar from the branch of the tree that shortly before had provided him with protection from the sun. Shortly afterwards the locals found the missing loaf.  They placed a cross at the place where the beggar was hanged and hundreds of years later the black deeds of that day are still remembered.

The Black Baron went on to have a daughter who they named Sabina. Although a sickly child she grew to be a beautiful young woman.  It is said that she loved walking along the shores of Lough Sheelin and that these walks brought her into contact with many of the local villagers.  Although she was the daughter of the cruel and evil Black Baron the locals knew her to be kind and she was well liked by all who knew her.  One fine day, as she was walking towards the bridge that crosses the River Inny she met a handsome young man and they began to exchange pleasantries.   His name was Orwin and he was the son of an O’Reilly chieftain, there was an immediate attraction and before parting company they agreed to meet again.  Their meetings had to be kept secret for she was the daughter of an English Lord and he was the son of an Irish chieftain and in those days any relationship between them would not have been looked upon favourably.  It wasn’t long before love blossomed.

As time passed they realised that they could never be together, they wanted to marry but knew their families would oppose such a union as the two sides were constantly at war with each other. Orwin and Sabina longed to be together and the only way this could become a reality was for them to run away together.  They knew that if they stayed there could be no future for them, one night they met in secrecy.  They had arranged a boat down by the lakeside and planned to row across the lake and into freedom; they climbed aboard and began their ill fated journey.  As they crossed the Lough a sudden storm began, these storms were well known in the area but this one caught them by surprise, a strong wind caused a swell that engulfed their boat and capsized it.  Sabina was rescued but lay in a coma for three days, Orwin was not so lucky, his body was eventually found, washed up on the shore.  Sabina, upon being told of her lover’s fate fell into a deep depression, she locked herself in the castle tower and refused to eat or drink. Eventually she fell into a deep sleep from which she never woke.

Locals believe that her ghost haunts the castle walls; it is as if she walks the battlements looking out over Lough Sheelin searching for her lost love, hoping in vain to be reunited with him.  Some people suggest that it is her revenge upon her father and his cruelty, he is cursed to wander through eternity by the victims of his cruelty, his evil deeds, and for the grief he suffers for the loss of his only daughter.

The Legend of Carrickaphouka Castle.

The Legend of Carrickaphouka Castle.

Cormac Tadgh McCarthy.

After the battle of Kinsale In 1601, Cormac Tadgh McCarthy, Lord of Muskery, was made High Sheriff of Cork County.  The new ruling English were having problems with the defeated Irish Lords who refused to obey their new masters and McCarthy was given the


job of rounding up troublemakers.  Carrickaphouka Castle had a sinister reputation; its name means’ Rock of the pooka’, which is one of the most feared creatures of the fairie realm.  The Pooka was a shape shifter and could take many different forms; sometimes a horse, a goat with large horns, or a black dog.  McCarthy’s Castle stood upon this rock and the Pooka was said to inhabit the castle and its evil spread through the veins of Cormac Tadgh McCarthy.

One of the most troublesome rebel Lords was James Fitzgerald who was extremely popular and had a large following among the displaced nobility.  McCarthy invited Fitzgerald to Carrickaphouka Castle under the pretence of broaching a peace agreement between the Irish rebels and the English.  The meal that was served to Fitzgerald was poisoned but McCarthy wasn’t satisfied with just killing Fitzgerald, he wanted to impress the English Lords who were present. 

McCarthy ordered that the body be drained of blood and then cooked. He then started to eat the flesh and wash it down with goblets of Fitzgerald’s blood, the English were horrified.  When news of the night’s proceedings was spread throughout the countryside all of Ireland was horrified and outraged by his behaviour. In order to remove themselves from association with these gruesome deeds McCarthy’s clansmen tried to say that he was possessed by the evil spirit of the pooka but to no avail. Cormac McCarthy had to flee to France where he disappeared into obscurity.

However, after his death, Cormac McCarthy’s spirit was drawn back to the castle. It has been suggested that due to his depravity and cannibalistic tendency’s he has returned as a vampire like demon. Today, the Castle lies in ruins, locals will tell you that the sounds of wailing and painful screams can be heard at night coming from the ruins.  Anyone unlucky enough to have to walk past the castle at night will be attacked by unseen claws that rip the skin badly enough to draw blood, which is then lapped up by some invisible tongue.  There have even been reports of fresh blood seen on the castle gates.



The ancient Celts believed that when they died their spirits travelled to the Otherworld, a place where the supernatural reigned, home of the dead and kingdom of the fairies.  This was a place of beauty or dread, hope or despair depending on how you had lived your life or even how you died.  At certain times the dead could return to the world of the living in order to influence decisions taken and even to interact with the living, they did not however return in spirit form but in a solid shape, in fact they might look just the same as when they were alive.  They would eat, drink, and make merry and join in with those activities which they enjoyed in life, in fact, here in Ireland it was a common custom to set an extra place at the table for the returning entity at certain times of the year such as Beltaine or Samhain.  It was at these times when the veil that separated the two worlds was at its thinnest, the barriers were down, and the dead could cross over. The dead didn’t just come back to enjoy earthly pleasures though, they could return in order to warn you of some impending disaster, to offer advice, to complete some unfinished business or to take revenge on those still living.

The coming of Christianity to Ireland changed the way death was viewed.  The pagan belief in the Otherworld did not really fit in with heaven and hell so a very clever compromise was reached. Purgatory, a place where the soul could wait before it was to receive its final reward or punishment, and of course it was to prove to be a lucrative compromise.  While the soul waited in purgatory its time there could be ended and the soul could carry on its journey to heaven and its final reward.  However there was a catch, in order to gain freedom from purgatory the soul required prayers to be said and a mass celebrated in its name, and the only one who could perform this function was the priest, who had to be paid for his service.  The church decided to set up a special day for the purpose of saying mass for the souls of the departed and this day was called All Souls Day and of course it just coincided with the Celtic festival of Samhain, now there’s a coincidence.  The church even taught the people that the dead could return for one night only and this was to remind the living of their obligation to them, and woe betide those who failed to pay, for the dead would have their revenge.  The Clergy also told their parishioners that this obligation to the dead included making sure that they had a proper Christian burial, of course the only one who could perform the ceremony was the priest, and of course he had to be paid.

This notion of the vengeful dead soon caught on, and people began to fear the returning spirits. They even thought that the dead would punish them by harming, their livestock or making them weak by drinking the blood of the cattle or other animals that they depended on for their livelihood.  It was just a short step from domestic beast of the field to their own families, if the animals could be attacked then why not the members of the family.  The myth of the vampire was born.  Years later we have our own Irish contribution to the vampire stories Carmilla, written by Sheridan Le Fanu and of course the most famous of all, Dracula by Bram Stoker.