When it comes to “haunted” things, we’re generally pretty skeptical people. It has nothing to do with religion, superstition, belief in the afterlife or any of the other stuff that motivates people to believe in it; we’re just pragmatic. We just try to limit the things we worry about to stuff we’ve seen and touched.
But when the team from Tullamore D.E.W. reached out and invited us to Dublin to spend some time in one of Ireland’s supposedly most haunted castles, we knew it would be a great test of our paranormal beliefs under pressure. Especially considering we’re right in the middle of Halloween season.
Did we hear anything go bump in the night? See anything that made the hair on our necks stand up? We’re not going to make any wild assertions about the things we experienced, and while we admit that a couple of them could have been our imaginations running away from us, there’s one thing that we truly can’t figure out. No embellishing, no exaggerating, what you’re going to read is exactly what we experienced, as we experienced it.
First, The Castle
Kinnitty castle is located a little under two hours west of Dublin, in the tiny village of Kinnitty, in County Offaly. And when we say tiny, we mean it—the population, according to the 2011 census, is just 359 people. The village itself has spooky origins, with its name derived from an old myth that the head of an ancient princess is buried beneath it.
Kinnitty Castle is thought to have originally been built sometime in the 11th Century, but, as things stand, no one really knows the exact date. The structure that was there didn’t last and was destroyed in 1209. The Normans elected to rebuild the castle in 1213, an undertaking that also included, at the time, the construction of an Augustinian abbey. To this day, the 13th Century High Cross and Abbey Wall remain on the site.
After the Normans, the castle wound up with the O’Carrolls of Ely until it was confiscated in the 17th Century as part of the plantation of Offaly (part of the English attempt to breed out Irish natives), when it was then gifted to Col. Thomas Winter as thanks for his military service. After that, it wound up with the Bernards, who had it until 1946. In 1922, the IRA burnt down the castle, although it was rebuilt via government grant in 1928. When the Bernards decided to sell it, the castle went to Lord Decies, who sold it back to the state in 1951.
From 1955 through 1985, the Kinnitty Castle was used to host the Forestry Training College until it was purchased in 1994 by the Ryan family of Limerick. It was here that the castle was transformed into an immaculate four-star hotel, compete with 37 bedrooms and a wedding venue. The castle was seized by the bank in 2008, unfortunately, where it was eventually purchased by a group of American and Irish investors.
And that pretty much brings us up to date. Now on to the scary shit.
Getting the Atmosphere Right
Right off the bat, we were able to confirm Internet rumors about a Druidic altar on the castle property—we saw it for ourselves. While it’s important to understand that Druidic monuments aren’t any kind of bad omen or associated with evil, mythically speaking, Druids are regarded heavily in Irish folklore as having supernatural abilities, the ability (and inclination) to communicate with spirits, prophesize the future, etc. If you’re looking for creepy shit going down in an ancient Irish castle, you should be skeptical if there aren’t any Druidic relics lying around.
There’s also a massive Celtic cross just outside the rear of the castle that has been there since the 13th Century, around the same time the Castle was first constructed by the Normans.
Both these features perfectly prepare tourists for any potential visitors they might have that night. In fact, we’d say both these are responsible for the more dubious, less specific claims. Seeing a pagan altar has almost always made people think they’re not the only one in the room.
The Alleged Hauntings
The thing we loved most about the castle is that there’s none of the standard gimmicky advertising for how haunted it is. You won’t find a corn maze out back beside the “I Survived A Night at Kinnitty Castle” t-shirt stand. In fact, it seems the new ownership, which took over in 2015, has opted to scrub the castle’s haunted history from its website completely.
The only way you’d ever know it was haunted before you got there is if you did your research, or saw any of the various bad reviews about it left by unsuspecting patrons. Apparently visitors aren’t too keen on hearing someone breathing across the room in the middle of the night, or being woken up to the sounds of an unexplained ringing phone or laughing children. Or, of course, if you’d seen the episode of Most Haunted where investigators found the castle to be to be haunted. At least as definitively as those shows ever get.
Inside the castle, the first and most popularly encountered spirit is that of “The Phantom Monk of Kinnitty,” who’s usually found in the castle’s banquet hall. Although people only report positive encounters with the monk (he tends to appear most frequently during joyous events in the castle), his appearance is off-putting. Those who’ve seen him say that he’s tall, cloaked in a black robe, and has a shadowy “face” void of any features.
The castle is home to two “confirmed” haunted guest rooms—The Geraldine Room and The Elizabeth Room. In The Geraldine Room, guests have reported seeing a little girl and hearing her footsteps up and down the hallway, sometimes while she laughs. Lady Catherine Hutchinson, wife of Thomas Bernard, is also thought to haunt The Geraldine Room, though others suspect it’s just a standard, unidentified lady—you know, no big deal. No specific stories pop up about the Elizabeth room, but many seem to agree that space is equally possessed.
Of course, those are just a couple spirits. Paranormal experts also believe that Thomas Bernard himself is one of the spirits roaming the halls of the castle, along with quite a few others.
So, What Did We See?
We spent two nights in Kinnitty Castle, the first of which was spent downstairs in the library bar, working on some deadline stuff (Because Cool Material never sleeps!). We spent the majority of the night with Martin, the castle’s night watch guard, who told us a lot about the castle and his personal experiences inside its walls over the last couple decades. Martin’s seen and heard it all.
We also participated in a séance on Night 1, which came up empty-handed—a shocker to Martin, who says the spirits in the Castle are usually very communicative.
All in all, Day 1 was a wash.
On Day 2, however, things went from 0-100 MPH. With deadlines to meet and work to hand in, we left our friends at the pub in Tullamore (located about 15 minutes from the castle) and caught an early cab back to Kinnitty. We grabbed some coffee, headed down to the castle’s already-eerie Library Bar—complete with creepy old Victorian furniture, drab green paint on the walls, and dim lights—and worked for a few hours. At around 1 in the morning, and two cups of coffee later, our compatriots made it back from the pub. After a quick goodnight they were gone, and again, we were alone.
We worked for another half hour before sending off our final drafts and packing up. We caught up with Martin again in the kitchen, and started casually conversing with him about our night—dinner, the pub, blah blah blah—when out of nowhere, we heard a loud crash come from the Library Bar.
Martin, smirk on his face, started walking briskly to the bar, had a quick look around, and immediately noticed the candle on the table we’d just been occupying minutes earlier had somehow fallen out of its holder, onto the table, and then rolled onto the wooden floor.
Now, believe us when we tell you that we tried everything to see how this candle could have somehow accidentally fallen out of the candlestick holder. We checked the window next to the table to see if there were somehow any drafts. There were none. We checked the table to see if it could have somehow wobbled and accidentally displaced the candle. It was steady as a rock. We even checked the candlestick and holder themselves to see if there was any possible way that gravity could have gotten the best of everything. Here, specifically, we were baffled, as the candles had to slip snugly inside of the holder, the base of which was at least an inch or two deep. Try as we might, we couldn’t figure out how the candle had slipped from its holder—unless, of course, someone (or something) purposefully removed it.
We should also note that no one would have had enough time to yank it from the holder and quickly slip out of the room. We were located in the kitchen, which is adjacent to the Library Bar, and after the event occurred, we were on the scene in 10-ish seconds. Sufficiently startled—but not yet spooked—we packed up our stuff and headed back up the room.
The rooms in Kinnitty Castle are absolutely beautiful. Huge four-post wooden beds, separate open-plan bathrooms with new tiling and claw-foot bathtubs, old wooden desk furniture—they’re truly gorgeous. Which made it all that much worse when not 5 minutes after we turned the lights out, we started hearing strange noises coming from the bathroom. And we’re not talking noisy pipes or creaky floorboards. We heard things shuffling around, falling into the sink, etc.
We actually forced ourselves out of bed to check everything. While the room we were in wasn’t one of the two notoriously haunted ones, it apparently isn’t untypical for people to hear and see apparitions throughout the castle. It’s a bit of a toss up. Plus, for what it’s worth, we’d be lying if we weren’t whispering to ourselves about how we probably shouldn’t have been laughing while splashing whiskey on an ancient Druid altar just a day earlier.
Anyway, as we did in the Case of the Phantom Fallen Candlestick, we checked everything. It was a big open bathroom, and there was a window located about seven-ish feet from the sink. It was particularly windy that night, too. But no drafts that could have blown anything around. We walked all around the room, inspecting every corner, every towel hanger, and faucet. Nothing save for the toothbrush seemed amiss. Admittedly, we are talking about hearing strange noises in an 800-year-old castle. We get that. But things were just… off in the room, in ways that made the hairs stand up on the back of our neck. The entire time we were looking around, it felt like we, too, were being looked upon.
After about 10 minutes of that, we decided it’d probably be best to sleep with the lights on. But even then, things didn’t stop. Outside in the hall, just outside the door, we heard footsteps and other strange noises—including one particularly loud smash down at the end of the hallway.
Then, too, we got up out of bed, slinked quietly over to the door, and quickly jumped into the hallway (we’re sure we looked quite silly, too). If someone was playing a trick on us—Martin the security guard, the team from Tullamore D.E.W., or any of our other travel companions—we wanted to make sure they didn’t hear us coming. Alas, the hallway, where just moments earlier we’d heard footsteps, was empty. The stairwell from which we heard the loud crash? Deserted.
It’s funny, really, how when you’re not staying in a haunted bedroom and things aren’t going bump in the dark (and, worse, the light) all around you, it’s easy to dismiss ghosts and ghouls as the result of overactive imaginations or outdated superstitions. But when you’re there and it’s happening and you can’t explain how in the fuck a toothbrush rolled off the edge of the bathroom sink and onto the floor, or where those footsteps came from, or any of the other strange and unexplained noises, it all becomes very real.
When our hearts stopped racing long enough for the room to stop spinning, we were able to fall asleep and wait out the night.
The next morning at breakfast, we asked everyone if they’d experienced anything, and they looked at us like we had several heads. To them, it seemed, the mere idea that we might have experienced something real on the trip was in itself ludicrous. It’s important to note that one of the other people on the trip stayed in a room directly across from the Geraldine Room, reputed to be the castle’s most haunted single room. He reported sleeping like a baby both nights.
Before we got to the castle, we were open-minded skeptics about the castle’s haunted claims, but by the time we were heading back to Dublin the next morning, we were absolute believers.