Thursday, February 4, 2021

HGB Ep. 371 - Charleville Castle

Moment in Oddity - Croghan Man 

We've featured bog bodies on a previous Moment in Oddity. These are bodies that have mummified after being buried in bogs and are found in various places in Europe. On this episode, we are featuring a haunted castle in County Offaly and it is here that Old Croghan Man was found in a bog in 2003. It is believed that this body dates back to the Iron Age and based on the state of the body, archaeologists believe that he was a man of high status who was murdered. Reasons for the believing that he quite possibly was a member of royalty include the fact that he had manicured nails, so he didn't do manual labor and he had a plaited leather band around his left arm. The body was buried in a bog at the foot of a hill that was used for kingship ceremonies. Croghan Man probably stood around 6ft. 6 in. tall, which was unique for the time period. It is believed he had a diet high in meat, although his last meal was wheat and buttermilk. The man was thought to have died two thousand years ago and it is thought that he was murdered as a Druid sacrifice. Kings were held responsible if a harvest was bad or if the weather was particularly poor. The body indicated that he was stabbed in the chest, decapitated and cut in half. This theory of sacrificial punishment is just one theory put forward. Another is that  
this was just a random member of the community chosen as a sacrifice to a fertility or harvest god to ensure good yields. The Croghan Man, certainly is odd!

This Month in History - Director John Ford Born

In the month of February, on the 1st, in 1894, director John Ford was born. Ford was born in Maine to Irish parents and moved to California in 1914. He had followed his older brother here who had worked his way up to directing after working in vaudeville and starring in silent pictures. John would work as a handyman, assistant and stuntman for his brother. He did the occasional acting as well. Ford finally got his big break as a director and never looked back. He enjoyed using his own stock of actors, which included John Wayne, Maureen O'Hara, James Stewart, Will Rogers and Henry Fonda. He took a break from making movies during World War II to serve as head of the photographic unit for the Office of Strategic Services and the Navy Department enlisted him to make documentaries. He later went back to directing. In a career that spanned fifty years, Ford made 140 films that included "The Searchers," "The Grapes of Wrath," "Stagecoach" and "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" and he won five Academy Awards, four of which were for Best Director. He is considered one of the best directors of all time. He died at the age of 79 in 1973. He is buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City.

Charleville Castle

Several years ago, we featured Leap Castle on an episode. This is not the only haunted castle in the Irish county of Offaly. Charleville Castle borders the town of Tullamore near a forest that was heavily used by Druids, thus the Druidic connection to this location is strong. This castle dates back to the early 1800s and is said to be the most haunted castle in Ireland with legends of devil worship, torture and mystical power. On this episode, we are going to explore the origins of Druids and examine the history and haunts connected to Charleville Castle! 

Offaly (oove all lee) County is said to be the home of High Kings and is known for its religious history, old castles and ghosts. For seventy years, the county was home to the world's largest telescope, which was originally built in the 1840s. Tullamore, which was originally part of the first English plantation in Offaly, is the county capital and has around 15,000 residents. The town shield depicts a phoenix rising from the ashes to commemorate an unpleasant piece of its history. In 1785, a hot air balloon crashed in the middle of town and burned down over 100 homes. This made Tullamore the scene of the world's first aviation disaster. Charleville Castle would be built near the town beginning in 1800.

Of particular interest in the woods near the castle are the remnants of a Druid Initiation Circle. This area was very important to the Druids. That circle means that this was a sacred ritual site. Many scholars believe that the term "druid" is derived from an Irish-Gaelic word for oak tree, "doire." For many ancient traditions, the oak tree is a symbol of knowledge. Many religions and groups have been influenced by the Druids from Christianity to Masonry. At its core, Druidism is a shamanic religion, incorporating contact with the spirit world and holistic practices with herbs and medicine. Druids were very focused on nature and their knowledge dates to megalithic times. The spiritual practice is polytheistic, but one won't find a pantheon of gods here. It differs depending on the Druid. And while many relegate Druidism to the ancient past, many people still practice some form of this today. Druids were said to be some of the first fortune tellers. 

Specifics of Druidism are a mystery. Most believe that Druidism came out of Celtic and Gaulish culture in Europe. Their origin dates to the 2nd century BC when they were mentioned for the first time in writing. Julius Caesar wrote of Druids in 59-51 BC. Druids served as philosophers, teachers, judges, scientists and, of course, priests. They were exempt from paying taxes and serving during battles. They actually were credited with preventing warfare as mediators. Of particular interest was that women were treated as equals. There are claims that they practiced human sacrifice, but no evidence for this has ever been found. Druids wore robes and they were color-coded according to rank. The wisest elder would wear gold and was called the Arch-Druid. Artisitic Druids were called Blue Bards and they wore blue. Sacrificers would wear red and were fighters. Most other Druids wore wimple white, unless they were new adherents. These wore brown or black. They believed in reincarnation and sins from this life would be paid for in the next.

Druids were similar to modern day Pagans and Wiccans who follow lunar and seasonal cycles. There were eight high holy days observed. Their New Year was observed on Samhain, which is our Halloween. This represented the last harvest coming in and the time when the worlds of the living and the dead were the closest, so this was a time of mysticism. The Winter Solstice was Yule and Druids would sit on mounds of earth through an entire night and when the sun rose, it symbolized rebirth. The Oak King would reign at this time. Imbolc was observed on February 2nd and their rituals would center around sheep's milk as they celebrated fertility and motherhood. Ostara fell on the spring equinox. Beltane was observed on April 30th and this was a festival of fertility. Litha was the summer solstice, which was a time where the Holly King took over from the Oak King. Lughnasa was observed on August 2nd and celebrated the first harvest. Mabon was the autumnal equinox. 

This forst near Charleville Castle would be considered one of the "Temples of the Druids." These were secluded and quiet areas in the center of nature. Some megalithic structures are thought to have been built by the Druids, like Stonehenge in Britain. This is shaped like a classic Druid Circle. But some historians disagree as to whether the Druids built this or just started using something that was already there. The Druids are thought to have come to Britain after Stonehenge was built. By the 2nd century, Druids were said to have died off from famine, warfare and disease after being oppressed by many societies, particularly the Romans. There are some who believe the Druids were converted to Christianity. But we all know that the Druids didn't disappear. They probably changed in some ways and in the 1700s, a Druid revival occurred in England and Wales. William Blake was an Arch-Druid.

A man named Thomas Lacy visited the castle in 1855 and he wrote of the forest, "While in Tullamore, the tourist should not forego the advantage of paying a visit to the magnificent castle and demesne of the Earl of Charleville, called Charleville Forest, a privilege which is conceded to respectable strangers. The demesne is of considerable extent, comprising an area of 1,500 acres, and possessing natural beauties of the highest order. The Clodagh river winds in a curving sweep through the beautiful grounds, and produces in many parts of them fine cascades, whose rushing sounds, as they descend into the deep glens, become subdued by the thick and overhanging trees, and finally subside into soft and agreeable murmurs. The widely-spreading lawns and rich meadows are studded and surrounded with timber of great age and large growth, while the more youthful plantations afford covert and security to the very large numbers of deer, hares, rabbits, and pheasants, by which they are tenanted; the latter, the beautiful pheasants, are to be seen in great abundance on all parts of the demesne."

The O'Molloy clan ruled an area called Firceall in County Offaly from the 5th to the 17th centuries. Firceall means "Men of the Churches" and was named such because of the number of churches there. The clan had descended from King Niall of the Nine Hostages or at least that is what legends claim. Historians are not sure King Niall ever existed. If he did live, he died before 382 A.D. After the 17th century, the lands of Firceall passed into the plantations of James I  and Cromwell. This would have been in the 1620s. The land was later given to Sir John Moore of Croghan by Queen Elizabeth I. The Moores relocated to Tullamore in 1697 and John Moore became the first lord of Tullamore in 1716.

Thomas Moore built the first mansion house on the site in 1641. The estate passed through the hands of Charles Moore who was the grandson of Thomas. When he died in 1674, the estate passed to Charles' sister who was named Jane. Jane married William Bury and they had a son named John who had a son he named Charles William Bury. John died in a swimming accident and his son Charles Bury would become the 1st Earl of Charleville, a brand new title, in 1757. He felt that a new home needed to be built on the property and this is when Charlesville Castle was constructed. Francis Johnston designed the castle in the Gothic Revival style after it was commissioned in 1798. Construction began in 1800 and continued until 1812. The castle looks like your typical castle, built from grey stone, with castellated towers. There is a small gothic chapel on the property and a dungeon below the castle for prisoners. The interior has a grand wraparound staircase rising several levels, there is a library and dining room, complete with stenciling by William Morris.

The 1st Earl was a antiquarian, landowner and politician. Much of his landholdings made up the village of Tullamore and he helped to develop much of it. The 1st Earl died in 1835 at the age of 71. His namesake son, Charles, would become the 2nd Earl of Charlesville. The 2nd Earl became a politician as well and was an Irish peer. He was an advocate for homeopathy. Ever heard of the Lord of the Bedchamber? It's a real thing and this Charles served in that position from 1834 to 1835. The duties fulfilled were helping the King get dressed, serving as a waiter, guarding the closet and bedchamber and being a confidant to the King. It was a very powerful position. The 2nd Earl was bad with money and during an economic crisis in Ireland in the 1840s. He had to sell off part of the family estates. He married a woman named Harriet Campbell, whom everyone referred to as Lady Charlotte, and they had three sons and a daughter. Lady Charlotte is credited with many of the interior design elements of the castle. The 2nd Earl died in 1851 at the age of 50 and the title passed on to his eldest son, also named Charles.

The 3rd Earl had five children with his wife, Lady Arabella, and she was described as being of "Hebrew extraction, with fine black eyes and dark hair, and an uncommonly beautiful cast of countenance." Her great beauty was well known. She passed away in 1859 at the age of thirty. He followed two years later, leaving the three girls and two boys behind. The Bury family seemed to have a real stretch of bad luck. Three of the children were dead by 1874. One of them was Lord Tullamore who had inherited the title, so he was the 4th Earl. When he died, the uncle that had raised the children became the 5th Earl. He died a year later. The last of the 3rd Earl's daughters, Emily, inherited then. Before the first World War, James Howard and his wife Lady Emily lived in the castle with their two children, Marjorie and Howard. James took on the surname of Bury in 1881 and he died in 1885. The couple had only been married for four years at that point. Lady Emily soon left the castle, but it remained in the family.

Their son Howard Bury was an adventurous man, He was a big game hunter and a mountain climber. He hiked the Austrian Alps and joined the King's Royal Rifle Corps. He joined the army during World War I and served as a Colonel. He served with distinction during the Battle of the Somme. Before heading off to war, he closed up the castle. It would remain empty for fifty years as he preferred to live at a smaller estate. He left a minimal staff to look after the place. In 1921, he was the leader of the Mount Everest Reconnaissance Expedition, organized and financed by the Mount Everest Committee. He published an account of this as "Mount Everest The Reconnaissance, 1921." In this account, he wrote of finding large loping footprints at high altitude that he assumed belonged to a large grey wolf of some sort. Their sherpa guides, however, said the tracks were from "metch kangmi," which means "filthy snowman." It is thought that this is where the term "abominable snowman" came from. This was written about by a man named Henry Newman who wrote for the Indian paper The Statesman. His account went out to several papers and one critic of this move was Ralph Izzard who published in 1955 "The Abominable Snowman Adventure" In it he writes, "Whatever effect Mr. Newman intended, from 1921 onwards the Yeti - or whatever various native populations choose to call it - became saddled with the description 'Abominable Snowman', an appellation which can only appeal more to the music-hall mind than to mammologists, a fact which has seriously handicapped earnest seekers of the truth." 

Howard Bury was awarded the 1922 Founder's Gold Medal of the Royal Geographical Society after the expedition. He died in 1963 with no family so the property passed to a cousin, Major William Bacon Hutton, who took on the surname Bury in 1964. A young Englishman leased it in the 1970s. By this time, parts of the roof were gone from the castle. Michael McMullen started the restoration on the property in 1973. Two women, Constance Heavey Seaquist and Bonnie Vance, took over after that and a charitable trust, Charleville Castle Heritage Trust" was established. This is managed by Dudley Stewart who oversees many volunteers. Tours are offered and we did read in a couple of forums that overnight stays were offered as well, but we aren't sure on that and even if that is the case, the setting is not like a hotel.

Eleanor Ridley writes in the Offaly History Blog, "The long winding avenue in Charleville was designed in the ‘Romantic’ age of sturm und drang and seems the perfect setting to meet a ghost. Perhaps we may meet that of the old Bishop Pococke of Meath who took a puke after a feed of mushrooms in Charleville and died next day. Or that of the second earl who went mad with upset over his lost fortune. Or that of the third earl who perhaps killed himself with over indulgence and want of exercise. Plenty of possibilities as we face into the many twists and turns in Charleville and of life."

This castle is a favorite of paranormal investigators. The location has been featured on "Ghost Hunters International" and "Scariest Places on Earth" and is said to be the most haunted castle in Ireland. One of the strangest things that happens in the castle, takes place in the red room and the library. Apparently, when visitors stand in a special spot in these rooms there is a weird magnetism that makes any necklace go around in circles by itself. Could this be a result of the practices of the Druids who used this site before the castle? Clearly, the Druid spirits cannot be happy that their old stomping grounds had been built over by a castle. For decades, people have claimed to see hooded figures on the castle grounds. Guests have claimed to see balls of light that dart around inside and outside of the castle. One of the spirits that is here in the afterlife belongs to the 1st Earl of Charleville. This apparition walks the tower as though he is still protecting his former home.

The most famous ghost on the property dates back to the 3rd Earl of Charleville. When he died, it was left to his brother to care for the Earl's five children. One of those children was named Harriet. The children were left to their own devices most of the time and they found great fun in sliding down the balustrade of the main staircase. Unfortunately, Harriet was making her way down the balustrade in 1861 when she lost her grip and crashed head first onto the stone floor. She was killed instantly when her neck broke. She was only eight years old. Her spirit has endured and is the one many people claim to have had experienced. The stairs are her favorite haunt and she is felt and seen often here. She reportedly is seen wearing a blue and white dress and has blue ribbons in her blonde curly hair. People claim to have caught her in pictures as a shadow or small mist.

Sometimes the spirit of a little boy joins Harriet and once a young boy who was three disappeared while in the castle. His family finally found him at the bottom of a stairwell. He claimed that a boy and girl helped him down the stairs safely. Bonnie Vance claimed to have a bevey of ghosts in her room one morning, these included Francis Johnston, Harriet, Charles Bury and a group of around seventeen Druids in black robes who encircled her bed. Most paranormal activity takes place in the library, at the stairwell and in the dungeon. Many prisoners are said to have died in the prison due to torture and the spirit of a sadist is said to be down here. People who go down there get scratched and a cameraman was once dragged halfway down a corridor.

A paranormal investigation group out of England named Haunted Earth, did an overnight investigation in 2009. One of the men on the team, Chris Halton, was a sensitive who could make out what he described as ectoplasmic forms. He believed that he saw something like this on Harriet's stairs. There was a heavy feeling every time the group came back to the stairs. They left an audio recorder in the nursery and caught several EVP, including the name "Brandy" and there was the sound of a woman humming. In another area of the castle, they caught the word "rocky." Two of the investigators had what they described as the shock of the night. A door very clearly slams loudly. The crew had a hard time figuring out which door had closed as most were either open or locked. Now, of course, someone off camera could have slammed it, but the group seemed legitimately startled by the noise. 

Scariest Places on Earth featured the castle in 2001. A family named the Ulriches had plans to stay overnight in the castle. This episode had some crazy information. It described the first residents of the castle as trying to harness the powers of the dead and doing demonic stuff, including cutting the limbs and fingers off people. The show claimed that since this was an ancient burial ground, the castle was infested with spirits. One of the caretakers at the time of filming said that every time she said the name of Harriet, a door to a tower room would slam shut and so she assumed that this had been the little girl's room. We did find this interesting as the Haunted Earth group was in that area when they heard a door slam loudly. Diane watched bits and pieces and it seemed like the Ulriches were a really jumpy family that screamed a lot. Most camera shots were up their noses - lol!

Another group investigated the castle in 2006. One of the members told a story about an earlier visit he had with his wife. They were walking away from the castle when they looked back to get a full view of the structure. They both saw a woman all dressed in white, standing in the lowest double windows on the tower. She appeared to be cleaning the windows in a circular motion. The couple walked back towards the castle and watched as this figure seemed to back away and disappear from the window. They knocked on the door and asked the woman who answered if there was someone up on that second floor cleaning windows. The lady looked confused and said there were only two of them there and no one was up on that floor. 

There are tales that the original Charles Bury chose this site because it was on ley lines. The castle's two towers have an eight-point star design, reflecting a freemasonry influence. Two of the Earls of Charleville were Grandmasters in the Freemasons of Ireland. And as the Scariest Places on Earth claimed, the original Charles was said to be fond of devil worship. Could these points have led to hauntings? Is Charleville Castle haunted? That is for you to decide!

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