Located near the town of Tullamore, Charleville Castle is nestled among the huge and ancient oak trees that were once held sacred by the Druids. The building site was originally home to the Lynally monastic community, which existed as a part of the Durrow settlement.
By the 1500s, the site was no longer ecclesiastical in nature, but used as a plantation settlement for the Moores. This thickly wooded acreage at the very centre of Ireland has been occupied through generational succession until the late 19th century.
The castle itself, Ireland’s premier example of Gothic Revival architecture, was a work in progress from 1798 until it was completed in 1812. It was designed and erected in the style of a “tin soldier fortress” partly to commemorate Cornwallis’s victory over French revolutionary forces that had made their way into the Irish midlands.
From 1912 until 1971, the unoccupied castle fell victim to the ravages of time. The years that followed the war for independence and the accompanying economic difficulties reduced the structure to a nearly roofless, ruined condition by 1968. The restoration and renovation work that was begun in 1971 by Michael Mc Mullin continued under the supervision of Constance Heavey Seaquist and Bonnie Vance.
The castle is open to the public and is currently funded by a charitable trust under the direction of Dudley Stuart. It occupies 30 acres of land that includes gardens as well as densely wooded areas. The castle building was designed by Francis Johnston, and Charles Bury was the original owner. Johnston was responsible for several classic Georgian buildings in Dublin, including the General Post Office.
The exterior of the building is dominated by stately turrets and a flag tower, and features many mullioned windows. A large window located above the main entrance is the focal point of the façade. Inside, the rooms are gigantic, including the dining room designed by William Morris that still bears its original stenciled wallpaper. The estate also includes a small outbuilding that resembles a gothic chapel and actually houses the kitchen and storage area. The stable yard is located just beyond this building.
Lord Byron visited Charleville Forest Castle often and it is said that he held many parties here.
Many ancient oak trees line the driveway. One of the largest is referred to as “King Oak”. Legend says that a member of the Charleville family has died every time the tree lost a branch to weather or old age. Colonel Charles Howard Bury died in May of 1963 – two weeks after the tree was nearly destroyed by a lightning strike.
Ghosts and Hauntings
The house and the surrounding grounds are said to be haunted by Druids and past occupants of the castle. It has been featured on several television programmes, including Most Haunted and Scariest Places on Earth.
Another haunting, reported by Bonnie Vance, included an early morning visitation of the ghosts of Charles Bury and Francis Johnston, accompanied by a large group of Druids. They appeared to be invoking a blessing upon Bonnie as she lay in her bed. Also, disembodied voices of two men have been heard as they spent the evening drinking at the castle, as well as children’s voices and shrieks in the empty playroom.
Many of the visitors that arrive are paranormal experts, investigating the reports of various hauntings. People also come to attend a diverse range of events that includes plays, shows and auctions.
Charleville Castle. Image by Irish Fireside
Interior / main landing of Charleville Castle. Image by Mark Grealish