13 Spirited Irish Sites for St. Patrick's Day Mar 16, 2016 19:41:21 GMT -5
Post by Joanna on Mar 16, 2016 19:41:21 GMT -5
13 Spirited Irish Sites for St. Patrick's Day
If you celebrate St. Patrick's Day in America, it's obligatory to familiarize oneself with its country of origin beyond all the fun and games. In celebrating the spirits of the year's greenest day, it’s only fitting to note some of the best, scariest and most fascinating places in Ireland. Given its tragic history and vibrant folklore, Ireland seems to have more than its share of creepy places. In the course of researching Moon Ireland (as well as my latest novel, Immaculate Heart) I've gone for a late-night wander through the monastic ruins at Glendalough as a thick swell of fog rolled in over the headstones; I've wedged myself inside a passage tomb older than the Pyramids, using my iPhone flashlight to see the spiral carvings on the walls; I've been the only living soul in a 16th-century castle B&B, waking at 5 in the morning to the sound of two sharp knocks on my door. (I could go on!) It would be impossible to choose a favorite haunted (haunting) spot, but in honor of St. Patrick's Day, following are a few particularly memorable Irish locations:
Downhill Estate (County Derry). The 18th-century Downhill Castle (above), home of Bishop Frederick Augustus Hervey, is one of the most haunting ruins on the island. Looking at the sky through every window frame, it takes a bit of effort to imagine the naughty bishop sprinkling talcum powder down the bedroom corridor to see which of his guests were hooking up in the middle of the night. Perched on a nearby cliff, Mussenden Temple was designed to be a library hideaway for the bishop's cousin (and rumored lover), Frideswide Mussenden, but she died young – worn out by scandal, so they say – and the Roman-style folly was finished as her memorial.
Dark Hedges (County Antrim). Better known as the Kingsroad on Game of Thrones, this tunnel formed by gnarled old beech trees is shiveringly picturesque. The owner of nearby Gracehill House planted more than 150 of them in the late 18th century to create a pretty avenue, though only 90 or so beeches remain. The Dark Hedges have their own ghost, an unidentified "grey lady" who vanishes as she passes the last tree on the avenue.
Grace Neill's Pub (County Down). Vying for the title of the island's oldest pub, the delightfully atmospheric King's Arms in Donaghdee was later renamed Grace Neill's for its much-beloved elderly bartender, who died in 1916. Locals insist Grace was so at home in the pub that she never really left. People occasionally see her in their peripheral vision as she polishing glasses or sweeps the floor!
The Janus Stone (County Fermanagh). The Janus figure (above) on Boa Island on Lower Lough Erne is a striking Celtic idol, roughly 2,000 years old. The effigies on either side have pear-shaped heads and crossed arms; one is bearded and the other is said to be female, though it's difficult to tell. The hollow at the top of the stone may have been used for sacrificial blood, but these days, all you'll find are a few coins in the rainwater.
Sligo Abbey (County Sligo). Sligo Abbey has several intriguing effigies and burial markers and it also served as inspiration for Bram Stoker's Dracula. Stoker's mother, Charlotte Thornley, lived in Sligo Town during the 1832 cholera epidemic and years later, she would captivate her son with firsthand stories of still-living victims struggling to pull themselves from mass graves, bodies piled on the altar in the abbey's church and heavy rainfall that dislodged the shallow burials in the churchyard. Thornley's diary is on display at the abbey's visitor center.
Harry Clarke's Last Judgment (County Mayo). You can see the brilliant work of stained-glass artist Harry Clarke all over Ireland, but the Last Judgment altar window at St. Patrick's Church in Newport is arguably his most memorable. Clarke's depiction of hell features a grotesque tableau of damned souls and other monsters – and, taking after Michelangelo, the artist sneaked in his own self portrait among them.
Loughcrew Cairns (County Meath). Everyone knows about the megalithic burial complex at Newgrange, but the hilltop passage tombs at nearby Loughcrew are just as awe-inspiring and more beautifully situated. The Irish name is Sliabh na Caillighe, "hill of the witch," and if you climb the hill on a gloomy day, you can almost believe the legend that these peaks were formed by a giant beldam dropping stones from her pocket as she leapt across County Meath.
St. Michan's Church (Dublin). North of the Liffey, St. Michan's Church offers some of the most macabre sightseeing in Europe. The crypt's limestone walls draw the moisture from the air, leaving the bodies interred relatively well-preserved, and because coffins in the tiny family crypts are customarily stacked three or more high, over time, the boxes collapse and the mummies are exposed. Talk about a gruesome way to contemplate one’s own mortality!
Malahide Castle (County Dublin). In 1690, 14 men of the Talbot family took their breakfast in the banquet hall at Malahide Castle (above) before riding off to fight in the Battle of the Boyne, but only one of them came back. The other 13 are still around, though, in a manner of speaking. Another Malahide ghost is Puck, the sentry-jester who hanged himself from the musicians' gallery in the dining room and has frequently appeared to spook the staff, though he hasn't been spotted in a while.
Leap Castle (County Offaly). The spirits at Leap Castle are colorful and include a man who murdered his brother, a priest, in what is known as the "bloody chapel" on the top floor of the tower in 1532; a bizarre entity with a human body and the head of a sheep who emanates a foul odor; and two little girls who fell from the ramparts at different times in the 19th century, and there are others. Over the last 25 years, musician Sean Ryan has done a beautiful job building a home from the ruins, so if you notice an elderly see-through gentleman in a rocking chair by the open fire, you might feel oddly comforted.
The Aran Islands (County Galway). John Millington Synge, the Anglo-Irish playwright and folklorist, spent a great deal of time on the Aran Islands, circa 1900, soaking up the traditional culture. He was struck by how calmly the islanders lived with the likely prospect of an early death, as fishermen frequently drowned during storms. In his travelogue The Aran Islands, Synge wrote of the funeral of a young man whose body washed ashore three weeks after he was swept overboard. An older coffin in the family plot had to be broken up in order to make space for the new burial, allowing the mother of the drowned man to reach into the grave to pull out the skull of her own mother.
Rag Trees. These are devotional in nature and usually seen near holy wells. Catholics tie scraps of clothing to the branches or leave other belongings of loved ones in need of prayers. The resulting scene is often quite poignant, even eerie. One might find baby shoes, pacifiers, stuffed animals, jewelry, teacups,and more.
Kyteler's Pub (Kilkenny). Dame Alice Kyteler – tried for witchcraft in 1324 after four husbands died in suspiciously quick succession – was Kilkenny's most infamous resident. Dame Alice managed to escape, but her loyal maid was burned at the stake. One can have a pint or a complete meal in her old sitting room on St. Kieran's Street.
Source: Camille DeAngelis, PopSugar, March 16, 2016.