The Hell Fire Club
Up high on a hill in the Dublin Mountains sits the ruins of a 1720 shooting lodge known as the Hell Fire Club. Horrendous things happened here – devil worship, human sacrifice, and extreme debauchery – making it one of Ireland’s most paranormal playgrounds. Dating back to 1735, Richard Parsons, first Earl of Ross, and his artist companion, James Worsdale, bought the hunting lodge as a base for the members of the so-called Hell Fire Club – allegedly a twisted cult concerned with occult practice. Locals shunned the site but regularly reported blood-curdling screams, animal cries, and loud roarings of men. It’s widely known that the Devil himself manifested during their macabre satanic rituals. Those murdered still haunt the spot.
The reputation of the Hell Fire Club was to be matched by a house just a stones-throw away, Killakee House. In 1968 Margaret O’Brien and her husband purchased this derelict house with the hopes of renovating it into an arts centre. Mrs. O’Brien as well as the builders hired to help reported numerous sightings of a malevolent black cat with a “foul and hateful glare” and also sightings of a crippled boy said to be the spirit of a child who had been murdered in the house and buried somewhere in the vicinity. When a family member was pushed down the stairs by a “poltergeist” Mrs. O’Brien begged the local priest to exorcise the house. The exorcism took place, however, one night a group of guests who had had too much to drink, decided to hold a séance having heard about the haunting. Their flirt with fear worked as the kitty came back, as did ghosts of two nuns who manifested in the courtyard. A medium visited soon after, claiming that the spirits were those of women who had assisted in satanic rituals carried out by the notorious Hell Fire Club and that the animal apparition was that of a cat which had been tortured in their occult practices.
In 1852, William Burke Kirwan and his wife Maria rowed out to the island with a request to be picked up and brought back to Howth a couple of hours later. The boatsman returned and found only Mr. Kirwan awaiting him who told him that his wife had gone off swimming and had not yet returned. A search party was raised and the wife’s body was found – the verdict, ‘death by drowning’.
In a bizarre lack of compassion Mr. Kirwan entered a relationship almost immediately after the tragedy provoking suspicion. An order was signed for the exhumation of the body where, on further examination showed the woman had in fact been strangled. The murder gripped Victorian Dublin and Kirwan was arrested and sentenced to death, although this was reprieved to a prison sentence.
Some years later a pair of young lovers visiting the island missed the boat back to the mainland and were resorted to spending the night sheltering in the rocks from the wind when they spotted a figure walking along the shoreline. Believing the stranger was another marooned tourist they called out but the dark figure vanished. Today, fishermen often see the apparition, always disappearing as soon as spotted.
Often referred to as the ‘most haunted house in Ireland,’ Loftus Hall sits on the Hook Peninsula, County Wexford. Charles Tottenham came to take care of the mansion in 1666 with his wife and daughter, Anne, while the Loftus family were away on business. One stormy night a ship unexpectedly arrived at the Hook not far from the mansion and a stranger came to the door asking for shelter. He was welcomed in and was invited to join in a card game. During the game a loud clap of thunder startled the party, and Anne accidentally dropped her cards on the floor. On bending down to pick them up, to her terror she noticed that the mysterious man had cloven feet. She screamed, the man sprang up and all the candles went out. When Mr. Tottenham got a candle lighting the guest was gone and the daughter was in a grevious mental state. Ashamed of her illness the family confined Anne to her favourite room where they believed she would be happy. She eventually died, deformed from crouching in the same position for years and years. To this day the ghostly visitations of a young woman, presumed to be Anne Tottenham, have been frequently witnessed around Loftus Hall.
Captain Dermot MacManus, good friend of W. B. Yeats and well-known author recounted in an article an unusual event told to him in 1914. An occurrence on Spike Island concerning a young girl named Eileen who lived with her family on the island as her father was in the army and billeted there. Every day Eileen would meet the boat from the mainland to collect the newspaper. One day, when walking past the local doctor’s house she caught something looking over the wall at her. She described the “thing” as “roughly human” and very tall. It was grisly and slimy and had dark, cavernous holes for eyes. As it began to move towards her she fled to the nearest cottage. To her surprise, the woman residing there didn’t seem too astounded and said that others had seen it too. Years later, Eileen returned to the island on a visit. Now property of the Irish Army she was permitted to look around and was escorted by a lieutenant who, having heard her tale, told her about the ghost that had been seen up at the fort. The very next night, the lieutenant was on duty with another officer when the two witnessed the apparition again. They both fired at point-blank range, but the figure still walked towards them, until suddenly vanishing. To add even more mystery the building from which the figure had emerged caught fire a few days later and was burned to the ground.
Not all apparitions are scary, some are welcome and come in good will. One such spirit, know as ‘Puck,’ resides at Malahide Castle. At the far end of its Great Hall there’s a very small door called Puck’s staircase and was said to originally have led to the quarters of a tiny man four-foot tall with a haggard face. As well as being a jester he was also a watchman who lived in one of the towers from medieval times and had been a faithful retainer to Lord Talbot. When Talbot’s death broke the family connection with the castle after nearly 800 years, ‘Puck’ reappeared in his place as ‘guardian’ of the castle he has served so faithfully. He has been sighted from the eighteenth century right up until his last sighting during the selling of the castle in 1979. Although he has rarely been seen to manifest since, he often appears in photographs.
The original estate was acquired in 1177, yet Howth Castle was built in 1564. It is said that one of the Lords of Howth was responsible for the brutal death of the caretaker’s daughter, Emily. The Lord was besotted by the servant girl’s beauty and courted her privately for some time. Rumours of their relationship began to circulate. The Lord, afraid his wife would find out came up with a cruel solution. One afternoon he suggested a walk in the woods with Emily. Excited with the romantic gesture she wore her favourite lilac dress for the excursion. They arrived at a large tree deep in the forest, notable for one giant protruding branch curved like a camel’s hump. The Lord bashed her head with a rock, hanging her body to the tree to make it look like suicide. Although there were whispers as to the girl’s death they were deemed nothing more than gossip and the Lord was never questioned. The following summer the path that runs alongside the forest produced the most vibrant purple heather for the first time. It was even the caretaker himself who noticed that the colour was the same as the dress of his daughter. This ‘Purple Path’ continues to bloom every year since. Locals and tourists have seen Emily roaming the woods many times.
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