Ireland’s Chilling Charleville Forest Castle!

Charleville Forest Castle.
Nr. Tullamore. County Offally.

A sense of genuine antiquity prevails over the sylvan landscape that cradles Ireland’s most enigmatic and impressive Gothic revival castles in a protective embrace. It is approached via a long and pitted drive that meanders through sinister tunnels of massive oaks whose crook-necked shadows dance before you, their writhing forms beckoning you onwards. Then, as your nebulous escorts fall suddenly away, you find yourself confronted by an awesome vision of breathtaking splendour as unyielding walls, punctured by mullioned windows and crowned by towering turrets, loom gracefully over you.

Built between 1798 and 1812 by Charles William Bury (1764-1835), the first Earl of Charleville, and designed by Francis Johnston, Charleville Forest Castle is a proud testimony to Johnston’s vision and the sheer extravagance – unhindered by the constraints of their purse strings – with which successive generations of the Charleville family enthusiastically embraced life. Every so often, the pressure of living beyond their means would necessitate the temporary closure of the castle, although subsequent re-openings would often be marked by a suitably flamboyant gesture, such as engaging the talents of William Morris, much of whose exquisite dining room ceiling work, amazingly, still survives. But the family’s inability to curb their excesses sounded the castle’s death knell, and periods of occupancy became more intermittent until, by the early 1960’s, it had been all but abandoned.

It is now owned by Bridget Vance – a charismatic American – who is slowly rousing the castle from its slumber and, with the aid of local craftsmen, restoring its echoing rooms to their past grandeur. But, as her family go about their task, the spirits of bygone residents have begun to stir, and an abundance of ghosts now wander the what has recently been dubbed “Ireland’s spookiest castle”.

The silence of the early hours is sometimes shattered by the playful whoops of children, enjoying a phantom game in what was once the nursery. It may be these same children who were responsible for once locking Bridget’s daughter, Kate, in a dark cupboard in their playroom. Older revenants appear to have been to blame for disturbing Richard Hayes who, following a party at the castle, placed his bedroll on the floor and settled down to sleep. Next morning, the children asked Bridget why he had slept with the door open and the lights on? He told her that, just as he was nodding off, two elderly English Men – who, from the style of their speech, were evidently of another era – had struck up an animated conversation, interspersed with the downing of copious amounts of alcohol and, although he could hear them close-by, he could not see them! I too experienced an unexplainable occurrence when I visited the castle. I was talking with Kate Vance who asked me if I had ever seen a ghost. Just as I began to answer, the huge chandelier above our heads suddenly switched on, and at the same moment, a radio in the room next door – which was definitely empty at the time – began blaring out classical music.

The wraiths of both Charles William Bury and Francis Johnston have also been seen here. One morning, at around 3am, Bonnie Vance, awoke to find them leading a ghostly cavalcade across her bedroom in the tower. It consisted of a woman in a black hood, a little girl and a group of around seventeen “monks or druids” who encircled her bed and appeared to bestow a blessing upon her.

But the most poignant of all the spectres that walk this most haunting and atmospheric of castles, is that of the little girl in a blue chiffon dress, whose shimmering shade has been seen many times on the great, winding staircase, the faded walls and creaking boards of which are imbued with a decidedly chilling aura. Her name in life was Harriet, and one day she was sent upstairs to wash her hands. Having done so, she was playfully sliding down the balustrade when she suddenly lost her balance and plunged to her death on the floor below. Many people, walking down the staircase where the tragedy occurred, have frequently felt the cold draught of her invisible presence as she brushes past them, whilst others have seen her phantom form, skipping playfully in front of them. The ghost of a small boy occasionally joins her and once, when he was around three years old, Bridget’s son went missing. Fearful of the steep stairs and precarious drops around the property, the family began an anxious search. They eventually found him at the bottom of the stairwell where he told how “the little boy and girl” had looked after him as he came down the stairs.

Charleville Forest Castle is a special place and, despite the abundance of ghosts that roam its corridors; you leave it with a sense of sheer wonder. It is a welcoming place whose spectral residents are, on the whole, friendly. But, as you make your way back along the driveway, you come upon an ancient reminder of the castles more sinister past. Towering over you, its lower branches almost touching the road, is the prodigious “King Oak” the massive girth of which testifies to its venerable age. Yet its majestic splendour is tinged with a fearsome reputation, for it was always maintained that, whenever one of its branches fell, a member of the Charleville family would die. In May 1963, a huge bolt of lightning smashed into it and shattered its trunk from top to bottom. Although the oak survived, relief was muted when, two weeks later, Colonel Charles Howard-Bury, the head of the family and the last of the line to own the castle, suddenly dropped dead.


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About Andrew

Co-founder & lead investigator of Paranormal Encounters. I've experienced the paranormal all my life, having encountered ghosts, angels and demons. I live in a haunted house and when not exploring and researching the unknown, I enjoy single malt Scotch whisky & potato chips (though not necessarily at the same time).