Gormanston Castle was the home of the Preston family. The family lived there from the thirteen hundreds until the late 1940’s when the Franciscans bought it for a school.
According to legend, when the head of the Gormanston family is in his final hours, all the foxes of Co Meath, except for nursing vixens, make their way to the door of Gormanston Castle to keep vigil until he has died. The foxes’ strange behaviour is said to have begun during the seventeenth century when the then Lord Gormanston saved the life of a vixen and her young during a fox hunt. Another local story suggested that a witch transformed herself into a fox and the then Lord Gormanston saved her life. The Preston crest is a running fox, which does not appear on any other family crest.
When the twelfth Lord was dying in the winter of 1860, Lord Fingall, related that a villager said to him, “My Lord, you will not find any fox today, all the foxes have gone to Gormanston to see the old lord die”, which he did that very day. Foxes were seen about the house and moving towards the house for some days previously. Just before his death three foxes were seen playing about and making a noise close to the house. Next morning they were found crouching in the grass in front and around the house. The foxes walked through the poultry and never touched them. After the funeral they disappeared.
In 1876 when the thirteenth Lord died foxes came in pairs into the demesne from all the country. They sat under his bedroom window and howled and barked all night. The thirteenth Lord appeared to be recovering but the foxes appeared, barking under the window and he died that night unexpectedly. A pack of foxes is said to have trooped across the fields in a line parallel to the cortege bearing his body to the churchyard.
When the fourteenth Lord Gormanston died in 1907 foxes were seen about the house and coming towards the house for some days before. As his son minded the body overnight he heard a slight noise outside the chapel. When he opened the side door, sitting on the gravel path was a full-grown fox and several more moving quietly about within a few yards. The gardener and coachman saw about a dozen foxes barking and crying near the chapel.
When the fourteenth Lord died in 1925 foxes surrounded the chapel where his body was lying and despite all efforts by Lord Gormanston’s brother to remove them they would not budge until daylight.
In June 1940 one of the residents of Gormanston said “something has happened to Lord Gormanston, the foxes were barking all night long”. The news that the sixteenth Lord had been killed in action in Dunkirk came through shortly after.
One of the family members went to WW2 and was listed as missing in action. After seven years he was declared legally dead and his widow remarried. The groundskeeper had his doubts because the foxes did not appear during that time. Sure enough around 1952 he resurfaced, having apparently suffered loss of memory.
The castle and the estate were then sold to the Franciscans, who opened a boarding school, Gormanston College, in 1954. In 1967 around midnight one wild winter’s night the entire school was awoken by the most hideous of howling and barking. This was added to by the hysterics of close on 600 young boys screaming and roaring with fright. Lights were switched on inside and outside the college but no explanation could be found for the ghastly racket. The following morning there in a corner of the Irish Independent was a report of how one of the Preston family had died the previous day in Tasmania.