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Leap Castle

Leap Castle is an Irish castle in County Offaly, about four miles north of the town of Roscrea on the R421. It was built in the late 15th century by the O'Bannon family and was originally called "Léim Uí Bhanáin," or "Leap of the O'Bannons." The O'Bannons were the "secondary chieftains" of the territory, and were subject to the ruling O'Carroll clan.

The Annals of the Four Masters record that the Earl of Kildare, Gerald FitzGerald, tried unsuccessfully to seize the castle in 1513. Three years later, he attacked the castle again and managed to partially demolish it. However, by 1557 the O'Carrolls had regained possession.

Following the death of Mulrooney O'Carroll in 1532, family struggles plagued the O'Carroll clan. A fierce rivalry for the leadership erupted within the family. The bitter fight for power turned brother against brother. One of the brothers was a priest. The O'Carroll priest was holding mass for a group of his family (in what is now called the "Bloody Chapel"). While he was chanting the holy rites, his rival brother burst into the chapel, plunged his sword into his brother and fatally wounded him. The butchered priest fell across the altar and died in front of his family.[1]

In 1659, the castle passed by marriage into the ownership of the Darby family, notable members of which included Vice-Admiral George Darby, Admiral Sir Henry D'Esterre Darby and John Nelson Darby. The central keep was later expanded with significant extensions. However in order to pay for these extensions, rents were raised and much of the land accompanying the castle was sold. This is one theorised motivation for the burning of the castle during the Irish Civil War in 1922.

Many people were imprisoned and executed in the castle, and it is supposedly haunted by several spectres, the most terrifying of these beings is a small hunched creature whose apparition is said to be accompanied by a rotting stench of a decomposing corpse and the smell of sulphur. Some call this an Elemental.

While renovating the castle, workers discovered an oubliette, a dungeon where people are locked away and left to die. There are spikes at the bottom of this shaft, and when it was being cleaned out, it took three cartloads to carry out all the human bones at the bottom. A report indicates that these workmen also found a pocket-watch dated to the 1840s amongst the bones, it is unknown who it belonged to. These series of spikes are now covered with a vast amount of twigs, grass and dirt, to protect anyone entering it.

Since 1991, the castle has been privately owned by Seán Ryan, who is undertaking restoration work.

The castle was featured on the cover of several editions of the novel The Riders by the Australian author Tim Winton.

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