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
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
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
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.