There are many factors that attribute to giving this castle its sinister reputation. Most of these factors revolve around decades of bloodshed and tragedy. Blood has been spilled at Leap before the laying of the first stone of construction. Legend has it that two O’Bannon brothers were contesting the chieftainship of their clan. The O’Bannon clan were the secondary chieftains under the ruling of the O’Carroll clan. The only way to settle this argument was a display of strength and bravery. They were to both jump off the rocky outcrop where the castle was to be built. The survivor won the honour and right to be Chieftain
Leap Castle /ˈlɛp/ is a castle in Coolderry, County Offaly, Ireland, about 6 km north of the town of Roscrea and 10 km south of Kinnitty on the R421.
There are varied accounts as to when exactly the main tower/keep was constructed; ranging anywhere from the 13th century to the late 15th century, but most likely around 1250 CE. It was built by the O'Bannon clan and was originally called 'Léim Uí Bhanáin' (as was the fertile land around the castle which was associated with the Bannon clan), or 'Leap of the O'Bannons'. The O'Bannons were the 'secondary chieftains' of the territory and were subject to the ruling O'Carroll clan. There is evidence that it was constructed on the same site as another ancient stone structure perhaps ceremonial in nature, and that that area has been occupied consistently since at least the Iron Age (500 BCE) and possibly since Neolithic times.
The Annals of the Four Masters record that the Earl of Kildare, Gerald FitzGerald, tried unsuccessfully to seize the castle in 1513. Three years later, he attacked the castle again and managed to partially demolish it. However, by 1557 the O'Carrolls had regained possession.
Following the death of Mulrooney O'Carroll in 1532, family struggles plagued the O'Carroll clan. A fierce rivalry for the leadership erupted within the family. The bitter fight for power turned brother against brother. One of the brothers was a priest. While he was holding mass for a group of his family (in what is now called the 'Bloody Chapel'), his rival brother burst into the chapel, plunged his sword into him and fatally wounded him. The butchered priest fell across the altar and died in front of his family.
In 1659, the castle passed by marriage into the ownership of the Darby family, notable members of whom included Vice-Admiral George Darby, Admiral Sir Henry D'Esterre Darby and John Nelson Darby. During the tenure of Jonathan Charles Darby, séances were held in the castle by his wife Mildred Darby who was a writer of Gothic novels: this led to publicity about the castle and its ghosts. The central keep was later expanded with significant extensions, but in order to pay for these, rents were raised and much of the land accompanying the castle was sold. This is one theorised motivation for the burning of the castle during the Irish Civil War in 1922. After its destruction, Mr. Darby obtained a reinstatement estimate from Beckett & Medcalf, surveyors in Dublin, that was issued in September 1922. Confusingly, it gives the address as Leap Castle, Roscrea, Co. Tipperary. The net 'Amount of Claim' was £22,684.19.1, equivalent to about €1m in 2018. The claim was settled for a lesser amount.
In 1974 the now ruined castle was bought by Australian historian Peter Bartlett, whose mother had been a Banon. Bartlett, together with builder Joe Sullivan, carried out extensive restoration work on the castle up to the time of his death in 1989.
Since 1991, the castle has been privately owned by musician Seán Ryan and his wife Anne who continue the restoration work.
During renovation of the castle in the 1900s, workers found an oubliette behind a wall in the chapel. At the bottom of the shaft were many human skeletons amassed on wooden spikes. When cleaned out, it took three cartloads to remove the bones. Today, the dungeon is now covered over in order to keep people away from it. It is believed that the O’Carrolls would drop guests through the trap door to be impaled on the spikes 8 feet below. A pocket watch found at the same time, dating from the mid 1800s, shows how recently the oubliette may have been used.
A Red Lady ghost is reported to walk the halls holding a dagger. Two little girls named Charlotte and Emily are reported to run up and down the spiral staircase. Emily does after she fell from the battlements on the top of the castles tower and Charlotte can still be seen running around after her sister and calling her name. The castle has been visited by paranormal investigators from ABC Family's Scariest Places on Earth and Living TV's Most Haunted in its first season, as well as The Atlantic Paranormal Society (TAPS) from Syfy's Ghost Hunters. Most recently in August 2014, Travel Channel's Ghost Adventures filmed their tenth season Halloween special at the castle. The castle is allegedly haunted by a sinister elemental spirit referred to only as 'It'. The creature is described by Mildred Darby as being about the size of a sheep with a human face, black holes for eyes and a nose and giving off the smell of a rotting corpse. The castle describes itself as 'the world's most haunted castle'.
This castle was featured on the cover of several editions of the novel The Riders by the Australian author Tim Winton.
In 1996, Leap Castles history and hauntings where examined in 'Castle Ghosts of Ireland' presented by Robert Hardy.