When I found out I was going to be tracing 5,000 years of history in the oldest region of Ireland, one word immediately popped into mind.
Now, I’m a staunch believer that we do not inhabit this earth alone. That there are spirits living in a parallel realm that we can’t see but are definitely there. Being a natural optimistic bundle of positivity, I am also very sensitive to negative or heavy energy. I am by no means clairvoyant, but my senses get hyper heightened when I walk into places with so much history and residual energy that sometimes I get spooked and have to leave. Oftentimes, the energy isn’t always negative but you feel its presence anyways. I could barely sleep the two nights I spent at the magnificent Ashford Castle in Cong, County Mayo, a few years ago. Heavy raindrops lashed at my windows and the wind howled all night, adding to the already charged atmosphere.
So I was super excited and probably in a state of heightened awareness as we began our travels around Ireland’s Ancient East – starting from the Rock of Dunamase late afternoon with an overnight at the stunning Castle Durrow, continuing on to the Rock of Cashel which was the most physically impressive ruins I witnessed in Ireland as well as the eerie Hore Abbey which looked on at Cashel from its isolated position in a field like a jealous neighbor.
Then it was on to Waterford, Ireland’s oldest city which was founded by Vikings in 914 AD. We traversed Jerpoint Park which was once a medieval town buried beneath thick brush with the nearby Jerpoint Abbey rumoured to be “very” haunted.
I also spent time in charming little Kilkenny and all along the way, I fished for stories. Ghost stories. The ones whose main characters were from that other realm. Stories which left the hairs along my arms standing.
So here are some of the ghost stories I heard as well as some personal encounters I experienced while exploring Ireland’s Ancient East.
An elegant stone country house from the 18th century, Castle Durrow is quite the stunning sight to behold with its pristinely manicured gardens and greens. It was built in the early 18th century between 1712-1715 and has been home to barons and viscounts for hundreds of years. Intricate wooden and antique pieces fill its hallways with large mirrors and crystal chandeliers hanging over wide winding staircases. There’s a particular wing of the gorgeous property that the reception desk had told me people had reported feeling spooked or watched. We definitely weren’t trudging through that backroom area or staying in that wing.
Castle Durrow was also where I had my first unexplained encounter and it happened in a completely different part of the building.
I had come down very early in the morning to the lobby (around 5:50 – 6am) to catch up on some work on my laptop. The night watchman John* had been milling around, attending to chores. He helped me get set up, got me some tea, and made me comfortable as I settled in to work. When his replacement at the front desk arrived, we (me and the newly arrived lady at the reception) were both there. We watched him put on his jacket, say goodbye, and leave his shift.
In other words, he was gone and out of the building.
I was back at my spot working on my laptop, facing the open door of the bar area. From the rim of my laptop, I saw someone walk across the bar, from left to right. I quickly looked up, unsure of if my mind was playing tricks on me. So I quickly got up, rushed over to the bar door and looked in. There was no one there and no doors were creaking or left ajar as if someone had walked in or out. Nothing. Plus, John* was already gone so it couldn’t have been him.
So I walked up to the lady at the reception desk and had to ask her.
“Has anyone shared any stories about that bar area over there?” I pointed.
Her eyes widened, a tad bit nervous. “No?! Why?”
“Well… I think I just saw someone there.”
As with any historic place, there are also local legends. Two stories I learned from the area around Durrow are:
- There is a field opposite Castle Durrow with a local monument called the Obelisk which is said to mark the spot where a young lady was thrown off her horse and killed. So rumor has it that this lady wearing all white often makes “nocturnal visits” to her monument.
- There was a “highway man” called Captain Jeremiah Grant who terrorized the local community in the 19th century. He and his band of criminals were hung in 1816 and many believe the treasures they stole are buried deep within the forests and protected by their evil spirits.
From the impressive Rock of Cashel, I could see the remains of a 13th century Cistercian monastery called Hore Abbey in the distance. Founded by the Benedictine order in 1266, Hore Abbey was given to the Cistercian monks from Mellifont Abbey in 1272 by David McCarvill, Archbishop of Cashel.
While Cashel was packed full of tourists, Hore Abbey stood isolated in the middle of a field, looking on at all the admiration Cashel was receiving.
So we decided to go over and explore Hore Abbey.
The energy I felt while at Hore Abbey was a lot heavier than at Cashel. Even before I reached its ruins, I could feel that energy hitting me as I walked up, sidestepping cow dung, making my way towards it. More intense. The type of energy that raises the little hairs on the back of your neck.
The minute I was within its walls, I felt like I was being watched and even stumbled forward a bit as if I was pushed. It could have been me just being clumsy but that stumble felt weird. I took some quick photos and was ready to leave its premises.
I wonder what Cashel’s and Hore Abbey’s neighbors think, living their everyday lives with such a massive chunk of Irish history right in their backyards.
There are some places I dare not wander alone at night. Hore Abbey and the graves surrounding The Rock of Cashel are most definitely two of them.
I’ve already shared the amazing story of Farmer Joe O’Connell who discovered this fascinating place when he was just shopping around for some land to retire on. When they cleared the land, they discovered the lost town of Newtown Jerpoint which was mysteriously abandoned in the 1600s, the ruins of St. Nicholas Church, and the very grave of St. Nicholas of Myra himself.
But land like Jerpoint Park certainly comes with its own stories and tales from the past. From the image of an old butler which was captured in a photo and cries of a child which required the intervention of a local priest at Belmore House, the manor of the property.
Farmer Joe shared a story about when he was leading a group of Chinese tourists through his fields two years ago. In the group was a boy who was about 12 years old. The boy was scared and through his translator, said he didn’t like all the people who were in the fields staring at him.
People the rest of the group apparently couldn’t see.
Jerpoint Park was also where I had another personal experience. In my post about Jerpoint, I wrote that there was a special burial section where members of the Hunt family which had owned the property for centuries lay buried under broken tombstones. The air immediately felt denser as I stepped into that particular section of the property. Cooler and thicker and I felt restless.
As I walked out, I had to ask Farmer Joe. “Has anyone experienced anything unusual in that particular graveyard?”.
“Only two people,” he mentioned. Only two over the decade he had been maintaining and running Jerpoint Park. “The first lady came running out in fright, saying she had heard a voice telling her to get out.”
The second person, according to Joe, was me.
Waterford goes way back to the Viking era with a founding date of 914 AD so you know you’re bound to stumble across lots of stories. But one particular experience which some might say was coincidental happened deep within the 15th century wine cellar of the Medieval Museum in Waterford Museum of Treasures.
The wine vault is said to be the oldest in Ireland and was built in 1440 by the mayor of Waterford at the time who was also a wealthy wine connoisseur called Peter Rice. His son, James, who served as Mayor of Waterford 11 times, was also a wine merchant, and he finally gifted the cellar and house above it to be used by priests from 1468-1520.
Well, the weird personal experience was that as our history tour guide was telling us the story of the cellar and how it was built in 1440, at that exact moment I looked down at my cell phone to catch the time.
And it read 14:40.
Kilkenny has been having a resurgence of unexplained activity over the last three years, our guide Pat of Kilkenny Walking Tours, told me. He wasn’t sure if there was something particularly interesting or some sort of historic anniversary that was falling around these dates.
But there have been sightings of a lady wearing a white dress who has been roaming the grounds of Kilkenny Castle recently. Especially during the off-season around October. She is rumored to be the 18th century ghost of Lady Eleanor Butler who lived in the Butler House, which was the Dower House of Kilkenny Castle. The house has always been associated with the Butler Family as well as a variety of dukes and earls who resided at Kilkenny Castle for over 500 years.
However, spending my last night in Ireland having dinner at the famous Kyteler’s Inn, one of the oldest inns in the country, was what did me in.
No, I didn’t see any apparitions or witness anything with my naked eyes, but the energy in its basement was enough to turn me into a child-like mess.
The story goes that the original owner of the inn was Dame Alice le Kyteler who was born and bred in Kilkenny in 1263. She gained some unflattering attention for having breezed through four husbands, amassing a ton of wealth in the process.
In 1324, she was accused of witchcraft and was destined to be burned at the stake. Through her personal connections in high places, she escaped to England while her dear maid Petronella who was left behind was tortured, dragged through the streets, and burned.
So needless to say, while Kyteler’s Inn is your quintessential Irish pub with foot-stomping live Irish music matched by festive energy, the tales of apparitions and unexplained events within its walls have gone on for years.
From guests visiting the pub who captured a black shadowy figure in their vacation photos which you can clearly see here (creepy!) to beer glasses being thrown off the bar and shattered in the basement. Not taking into account staff who often say they have felt a presence at some point. Many say it isn’t really the dame herself but her maid Petronella who was made her scapegoat.
So yes, the far corners of the Kyteler’s basement bar were spots I couldn’t physically push myself to explore. Maybe my nerves got the better of me. Maybe not.
But exploring the inn under the watchful eye of Dame Alice le Kyteler’s portrait did nothing to calm my nerves.
This is also one of the reasons why I absolutely love coming back to Ireland time and time again. This hypersensitive grounding the entire country gives you.
Ireland makes sure you remain in the present while soaking up its past. It makes sure you tread with humility across its centuries’ old grounds. It makes sure you listen to its storytellers with reverence.
Because Ireland is also about the in-betweens and unspoken words. The untold stories which those stone walls are aching to tell you if they could talk. It’s about souls from its ancient past eager to tell you their own stories.
*Names have been changed for privacy reasons. You can browse my image bank galleries of photos from this fascinating region of Ireland.
I explored this region of Ireland on the #IrelandsAncientEast campaign, created and managed by iambassador in partnership with Tourism Ireland. As always, I maintain full editorial control of the content published on my site.