10 Strange Tales

As you journey through Ireland’s Ancient East, it’ll be the stories you unravel and the conversations you partake in that will help you understand its ways.

Strange tales are part of the rich tapestry of the landscape, from immersive tours of mist-shrouded castles, to yarns spun by the fireside in local pubs. This collection of the weird and wonderful mysteries of Ireland’s Ancient will inspire you to take the road less travelled as you explore its destinations.

Left: Loftus Hall by day Right: Actors "haunting" Loftus Hall

Ireland’s most haunted house

Said to be Ireland's most haunted house, Loftus Hall, near New Ross in Wexford, contains a dark and strange history. A large mansion house on the Hook Peninsula, rumour has it that the estate is haunted by the ghost of a young woman. As the story goes, Charles Tottenham Loftus – Loftus Hall’s 18th century owner – invited an unkown visitor, looking for shelter on the peninsula, to stay the night in the mansion.

Over a game of cards, this dark stranger captivated Charles’ daughter, the beautiful Lady Anne. But when she dropped one of her cards on the floor and stooped to pick it up, she witnessed the cloven hooves of the stranger under the table and screamed in terror. Flying into a rage at his unmasking, the devil burst out through the Hall’s roof, which was to remain forever damaged. The ghost said to haunt the house today is the ghost of Lady Anne, who never recovered from the shock of seeing the devil.

Originally built in the 14th century during the time of the Black Death, Loftus Hall has seen many owners over the centuries, and renovation work on the five acres of walled gardens began earlier this year. Today the house is famous for spookily immersive tours of the ground floor, conducted by day and by night—your chance to discover the secrets of Loftus Hall for yourself.

The Whispering Door at Clonmacnoise
The round tower at Clonmacnoise
Left: The Butterslip in Kilkenny Right: The interior of Kilkenny Castle

Midnight visitors to the Medieval Mile

What exactly goes on in Kilkenny Castle after dark? Quite a lot, if the electronic counter in the Parade Tower is to be believed. This state-of-the-art electronic gadget bewilders staff by regularly recording visitors to the 13th century section of the fortress during the hours of darkness—registering up to 100 extra people per night when the castle is closed. Kilkenny Castle management were so puzzled by the phenomenon they had the turnstile checked by the installation company—it was found to be working perfectly.

Visit Kilkenny Castle’s Parade Tower yourself by day to see if any traces of the mysterious nocturnal guests remain.

The beguiling Butter Slip

There’s nowhere in Kilkenny City with more medieval atmosphere than a little stone passageway called the Butter Slip. With its arched entry and stone steps, it’s the perfect place to ponder the strange legends of Kilkenny’s Medieval Mile, like the story of how the city got its name. The 17th century Butter Slip connects the High Street and Saint Kieran’s Street and was once lined with butter vendors: the narrow stone street guaranteed a cool place to store their produce.

Interior of a vast church
Ruin of a church
Left: St Peter's Church in Drogheda, home of the relic of St Oliver Plunkett Right: The Rock of Cashel, said to have been formed when a chunk was taken out of the Devil's Bit Mountain in Tipperary

The legend of Saint Oliver Plunkett

In a quiet side alter of Saint Peter’s Church in Drogheda, an extraordinary relic is on display—the head of 17th century Archbishop and Catholic martyr Oliver Plunkett. After the (since beatified) Saint Oliver was found guilty of treason and hung, drawn and quartered at Tyburn, his head was thrown into a fire nearby. The followers of Saint Oliver quickly retrieved the relic, though scorch marks from the fire may still be seen on his left cheek. Visit Saint Peter’s Church in Drogheda to discover the legendary story of Saint Oliver Plunkett.

The toothsome tale of the Devil’s Bit

​The iconic profile of the Devil’s Bit Mountain near Templemore in Tipperary simply cries out for a chilling back story.

And the locals do not disappoint—according to their tales, the strange chunk that appears to be missing from the flat summit of the mountain was caused when a fleeing demon took a large bite out of the rock. Legend has it that he broke one of his teeth on the gravelly mouthful, dropping the tooth across Tipperary’s Golden Vale to form the Rock of Cashel. Walk the 5km marked Devil’s Bit Loop on a clear day to get a great view of the Devil’s Bit summit, and keep your eyes peeled for any returning demons.

The Whispering Door at Clonmacnoise
The round tower at Clonmacnoise
Left: The Whispering Door at Clonmacnoise Right: The Clonmacnoise Round Tower

The whispers of Clonmacnoise

Clonmacnoise Monastic Site in Offaly is epic at the best of times, but delve into its history and you’ll find plenty more to capture the imagination. Inside the cathedral you’ll find the Whispering Door, a Gothic doorway that, according to legend, was once a confessional. Priest and penitent would stand facing the wall at the north entrance to the cathedral, one on each side of the doorway, and whisper their secrets into the stone. The confession of the parishioner would reach the priest around the curve of the door, remaining unheard by others. Over the years, the Whispering Door became a place where lovers came to whisper their true feelings to each other. Whatever the truth of the legend, you’ll certainly hear the whispers if you try it for yourself...

Huntington Castle
A Cooley Mountain road
The Cooley Dolmen
Left: Huntington Castle Middle: A Cooley Mountain road Right: The Cooley Dolmen

The mysteries of the Temple

Deep in the basement of Huntington Castle in Carlow, visitors searching for unusual experiences will stumble upon the mysterious Temple of the Goddess. In 1976, the former dungeons and old kitchen of this 17th century plantation castle became the home of the Fellowship of Isis, a spiritual organisation founded by Olivia Robertson, her brother Lawrence Durdin-Robertson and his wife Bobby. 

Today this ornate and colourful temple is at the heart of a recognised world religion, with thousands of members from all over the world. Explore the temple on a guided tour to see this fascinating part of the estate, as well as the sacred well of Saint Brigid, a main altar and dozens of other side altars celebrating different goddesses and zodiac signs.

Traversing the Táin Trail

The Táin Bó Cúailnge (or The Cattle-Raid of Cooley) is one of the great epics of Irish literature—and visitors can immerse themselves in its stories by following the Táin Trail, a waymarked circular route, or joining the Táin March, a festival that recreates the march made famous by the epic saga. The original march was undertaken by Queen Maeve of Connacht, when she and her armies crossed Ireland’s historic heartlands from her royal palace in Rathcroghan to Cooley to fight Cúchulainn for possession of the great Brown Bull. This is a land steeped in legend; apart from The Tàin, plenty of evidence of the Cooley’s rich historical past survives in its passage graves, portal tombs and the medieval town of Carlingford. As an off-the-beaten track destination, the Cooley has an aura of agelessness and is the ideal place to make your escape to. 

Sunrise at Newgrange

Solstice at Newgrange

Solstice at Newgrange

Starry heights of Newgrange 

​One of Ireland’s most famous historical attractions, the Newgrange World Heritage Site is a place steeped in magic and mystery.

Uncover the secrets of ancient people and the methods they used to trace the movement of the moon and stars by visiting the Newgrange passage tomb on the shortest day of the year, or alternatively, the stone circles of Lough Gur on the longest day of the year. Every year both destinations attract crowds, as they are illuminated by the sun almost 5,000 years after they were constructed. Loughcrew Cairns shares a similar fate during the Spring equinox, when its inner chamber is illuminated.
Couple sitting on a wall at the Cavan Burren Park
The Visitor Centre at the Cavan Burren
Left: Couple sitting on a wall at the Cavan Burren Park Right: The Visitor Centre at the Cavan Burren

The Giant’s Leap

​Legend has it that many centuries ago, a giant named Lag fell to his death while trying to leap across a gorge to win the heart of his love.

Lag’s final resting place is said to be nearby, at the Bronze Age Giant’s Leap wedge tomb, dolmen tomb. You can explore both the location of this famous leap and the tomb for yourself in Cavan Burren Park, a prehistoric landscape of monuments, megalithic tombs and spectacular geology on the site of an ancient Ice Age valley. A visitor centre and four walking trails provide plenty of activities for explorers of all ages.

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