Ghosts of Charleville Castle in Ireland

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I don't know about you, but when I think of castles, it's not the inhabited fairy tale or fantasy film variety. Instead, I picture the dimly lit halls with faded portraits, antique furniture, and vast estates—like some castles tucked away in the Irish countryside, where the air itself carries a sense of tranquility.

A landscape full of rolling hills dotted with sheep, quaint villages of weatherworn stone surrounded by farming fields, and dense forests of ancient trees. In places like this, you'll find the occasional castle with soaring turrets and intricate stonework oozing with Gothic style. Old structures full of grandeur, tales of restless spirits, and maybe even the whispers of the dead.

In County Offaly in Ireland, there's one such place called Charleville Castle. Not only does it fit pretty much everything I just said about my picture of castles, but it's also been said to be one of the most haunted buildings in Europe.

Photo of the front of Charleville Castle.
Charleville Castle, County Offaly, Ireland.

Where is Charleville Castle?

If you don't know where Ireland is in the world, here's a map:

Google Map showing the location of the island of Ireland to the west of the London and the UK.
The island of Ireland. But wait...

Ireland, generally speaking, may refer to the actual island called "Ireland."

Google Map with a red circle around Northern Ireland and another red circle around Ireland.
Republic of Ireland vs. Northern Ireland.

The island consists of the Republic of Ireland (to the south) and Northern Ireland. There's a long and fascinating history behind that. To learn more about the practical traveling differences, check out Wolters World Ireland vs. Northern Ireland - What's the Difference? If you'd like about 1,000 years of Irish history packed into a 12-minute video, check out Why Ireland Split into the Republic of Ireland & Northern Ireland.

Charleville Castle borders a town called Tullamore, near the River Clodiagh.

Google Map showing the location of Tullamore near central Ireland.
Tullamore. A small town located in County Offaly in (Republic of) Ireland.

Tullamore, a relatively small place, has a population of around 15,000 people. Many places in the world of that size aren't really known for much, but Tullamore is quite the opposite. It was home to the world's very first aviation disaster when nearly the whole place burned to the ground. Today, the town has a successful brand of whiskey that's known around the world. Discover a bit more about Tullamore here and more about Tullamore whiskey here.

Did You Know?

Whiskey and whisky aren't the same things, and it's not just a difference in spelling like "colorful" and "colourful."

Whiskey (with an 'e') refers to grain spirits distilled in Ireland and the United States. Whisky (with no 'e') refers to Scottish, Canadian, or Japanese grain spirits." — Thanks, Oak & Eden

For more details, check out Brian Freedman's short guide on whiskey vs. whisky.

Now, grab yourself a whisk(e)y, and let's head over to County Offaly in the Republic of Ireland, near Tullamore, to discover the...

History of Charleville Castle

An old grainy photo of the back of the castle.
Old photo of Charleville Castle.

You'd think it'd be relatively easy to find a concise history of a castle, but oh, how wrong you'd be. There's a big problem on the Internet now, where search engines have been absolutely bombarded by millions of people trying to "get good SEO" (Search Engine Optimization). The result that we're now dealing with is millions of web pages on nearly every subject known to mankind—all rehashing the exact same paragraph to try and get a slice of the search engine pie.

Lucky for you, I don't run ads, and I don't do this for money, so I'm not rehashing the same shallow paragraph (now powered by AI) as everyone else. No generative AI photorealistic art here either. Because of that, you're about to learn all sorts of awesome.

An old stone castle with a large tower in the back.
Charleville Castle near Tullamore.

Heading to Charleville Castle through Tullamore means traveling through Charleville Forest. You can see Charleville Forest on Google Maps, which looks like most greenery around satellite views. If you try to drop the little street-view person inside Charleville Forest, though, you can't. You can drop into street view all around the forest, but not actually in the forest on the road. I can only explain this strange phenomenon by guessing that every Google Maps car that's ventured into the forest has never returned. Making it a veritable Bermuda Triangle. It might also be that the forest was designated a Special Area of Conservation. But I'm going with the disappearing cars theory because once you see pictures of it, it's easy to imagine how you might intend to drive through it, but once you get there, just park your car and never leave.

A lush forest with dense trees and bluebells.
Bluebells and trees of Charleville Forest. Photo by Niall Kearney, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

The place looks like something from a Disney movie or a forest from Lord of the Rings.

A dirt path in the middle of a lush green forest.
Photo of Charleville Woods Loop by Jeff Harvey. See more here.

If you somehow manage to keep driving through the forest instead of deciding to park your car forever and become a forest witch, you'll eventually enter the castle grounds.

A long gravel road surrounded by tall, old trees.
Trees of Charleville Forest in Charleville Castle forecourt. Photo by Niall Kearney, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

And then, if that wasn't enough, you'll find an incredible tree on the castle grounds called the King Oak. It's descended from ancient oak forests that used to cover Ireland. The tree is estimated to be up to 800 years old, with a trunk girth of 8.29 meters (9.07 yd / 27.21 ft), with some lower branches extending 27 meters (30 yd / 90 ft). It's a pedunculate oak tree, and it just so happens that Charleville Castle grounds are home to one of the largest Pedunculate Oak forests in all of Ireland.

A massive tree with long gnarled branches.
King Oak at Charleville Castle. That's probably a ghost kid.

There are records going back to at least the 17th century that mention the King Oak tree. It has its own legend that when a branch falls, it foretells the death of a member of the Bury family (long-time owners of the estate). As hard as it is to prove or disprove this type of legend, it's intriguing that back in 1963, the tree was hit by lightning, splitting the trunk and causing a branch to fall. A few weeks later, the last surviving member of the Bury family, Colonel Charles Howard-Bury, died. You might be thinking, "People die all the time. This proves nothing." Sure...but it's worth mentioning that the Colonel survived a prisoner-of-war camp in WWI, escaped, got caught, survived that one, and then three years later paved the way for expeditions up Mount Everest by leading the first reconnaissance ever. He had a very full life as an adventurer, and then a tree branch falls, and he dies, fulfilling a prophecy about that very thing. #thingsthataresus

The estate was home to a mansion called Redwood, built around 1641 before the castle was built. The estate was handed down, remaining in the Bury family, and in 1798 the famous architect Francis Johnston was commissioned to design Charleville Castle. Fourteen years later, in 1812, the castle was complete, ready to be haunted.

Black and white interior photo of a castle room with large old paintings on the walls.
Charleville Castle from Country Life in 1962.
Interior black and white photo showing a room full of old furniture like chairs and a large rug.
Another photo from Charleville Castle from Country Life in 1962.
Fun Fact

Charleville Castle had an annual music and arts festival called Castlepalooza that ran from 2005 to 2019. Nearly 200 years before Castlepalooza, Lord Byron—perhaps you've heard of him—beat Castlepalooza to the party punch by throwing his own at Charleville Castle. (See more of Castlepalooza here.)

Reported Hauntings of Charleville Castle

Eerie nighttime photo of the castle showing the starry sky above.
Photo by Sebastian Dooris.
Nighttime photo looking up at one of the castle towers.
Photo by Sebastian Dooris.
Night photo of the front of the castle. It is entirely stone, looks to be three stories high by the windows, and has a tower on each side.
Photo by Sebastian Dooris.

On April 8th, 1861, the youngest daughter of the third Earl of Charleville—Harriet, 8 years old—was sent upstairs to wash her hands before eating.

A very creepy multi-level staircase.
This is the Harriet staircase. Photo by Sebastian Dooris.

On her way back down, she thought it would be fun to make a grand entrance, so she slid down the banister. Sadly, Harriet lost her grip, crashed into the hard floor, and died.

Since then, the staircase has been the site of strange encounters by visitors to Charleville Castle. Some claim they've heard a young girl singing during the night, laughing, and even screaming from the staircase. Others have felt a cold touch while climbing the stairs, and some have even seen a small ghostly figure skip past them on the stairs.

Black and white photo of an old staircase with a small toy horse on a table beside it.
Photo by Sebastian Dooris.

Sometimes, visitors have reported that they've seen Harriet, and she's in the company of a young boy about the same age. As it turns out, a boy named Henry died at the age of seven from influenza. He died in London, but his body was brought back to Ireland, to Charleville Castle, and laid to rest in the family vault.

A straight staircase that looks like it might be just inside the front door.
A different staircase, almost equally creepy. Photo by Sebastian Dooris.

Harriet and Henry are now known as the "terrible twins" and evidently like to play pranks on people. Sometimes those pranks are on the staircase—and dangerous. From what I found, the staircase in question is now closed to the public.

The castle has a library with a secret (not so secret now) tunnel leading out to the chapel and an underground room. Some have seen a dark shadow on the ground emerge from the "secret" door in the library—but it seems no one knows who or what this figure might be.

In one of the castle's bedrooms, some visitors have reported seeing a green mist coming out of one of the walls. In that same bedroom, another visitor claimed they were inexplicably locked out and then locked inside—all without having a key.

The castle is undergoing restoration, and a volunteer working on the restoration reported seeing strange lights inside the castle when no one else was present, and there wasn't even electricity turned on.

Black and white photo of an underground room filled with water.
I don't even know what to say about this one photo by Sebastian Dooris.

The entire estate is said to be such a hotbed of activity that it's been called one of the most haunted buildings in Europe, which is probably why so many paranormal researchers have investigated the area. It has appeared on Most Haunted, Scariest Places on Earth, and Ghost Hunters International.

Black and white photo of what appears to be a small cottage or other type of building on the estate.
Photo by Sebastian Dooris.

If the photos feel eerily familiar, you may actually recognize the castle from movies as it was used as a film location for Becoming Jane (2007), Northanger Abbey (2007), The Knight Before Christmas (2019), and The Green Knight (2020).

Some kind of broken wooden gate.
Photo by Sebastian Dooris.
A stone doorway of a brick building with no roof.
Photo by Sebastian Dooris.
Maybe a fireplace?
Photo by Sebastian Dooris.

Today, Charleville Castle is said to be the finest example of gothic-revival architecture in Ireland and, as I mentioned above, is undergoing restoration.

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