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Something wicked this way comes...
Compiled by Bridget Haggerty
Ireland abounds with tales of the supernatural. And it would seem that every county has a story. Even our literature is strewn with ghosts. James Joyce recalls the black dog, with eyes like carriage lamps, that patrolled the stairs of the Jesuit College in Kildare which Joyce attended. Oscar Wilde wrote with understanding about the problems of being paranormal in the Canteville Ghost. Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu terrorized his readers with such frightful stories as The House by The Churchyard. Is there any truth to all these stories, or are they merely the products of over-active imaginations? We leave that up to our readers to decide...
York Road Railway Station, Belfast
Staff at the newly refurbished depot of Belfast's York Road railway station have had some unnerving experiences. "I was sitting in one of the carriages in the shed and there was nobody about," said Sally Davidson, a cleaner taking a break during her night-shift. "Suddenly one of the rings on a fire extinguisher on the platform came flying down the aisle of the coach. It landed at my feet, and when I picked it up it felt warm." Then a night guard walking beside a train heard footsteps on the gravel on the other side. He looked under the train, but there were no feet to be seen, even though the footfalls continued. Several drivers reported seeing a figure in the shed, which disappeared into thin air; and another figure was seen sitting in the locked canteen in the middle of the night. While one witness went to get the key, the other stood outside the door. When they entered shortly afterwards, the "customer" had vanished.
More Belfast Ghosts
The ghost of a well-known gentleman was said to haunt his office in a leading street. After his death he was often seen walking about his office, coming to the window and looking out into the street. Another Belfast ghost was a horseman, not headless. Punctually at midnight three blasts from a hunting horn were heard. The horse disappeared from its stable and was found afterwards covered with mud, as if after a wild journey. It was said this ghost was laid by a minister who then became a bishop. He ordered the ghost to wriggle into a bottle, and the bottle was banished to the Red Sea! But the most famous Belfast ghost was James Haddock’s. As with Hamlet’s father, he had a wrong to right. He pleaded his case well and persistently. James Haddock’s trouble was that his wife was trying to filch some property from his son John. On Michaelmas, 1662, James Taverner, a servant to the Earl of Chichester, was riding from Hillsborough to his master’s house in Belfast when his horse shied. The cause of the animal’s fright was the ghost of James Haddock dressed in a white coat. These facts were all authenticated by Thomas Alcock, secretary to Bishop Jeremy Taylor who recorded the whole affair in choice Latin. The lad was righted but James Haddock’s gravestone in Drumbeg churchyard was thrown down to keep him quiet. And so it remains to this day.
It is said that Lady Esmonde awaits the return of her erring husband, sitting in the shadow of the Spy Bush. Day and night she sits there, a phantom white cat at her feet, patiently looking out for her loved one. And as the sun sets over Mount Leinster you may catch a glimpse of her faint shadow, her long golden tresses blowing in the breeze.
Kilcarry Bridge, Co. Carlow
At the ford by Kilcarry Bridge, Tommy Kinsella used to cross that ford every night on his way back from courting one of the Furlong girls. Every night, so he told his cronies in the pub, he saw a white shape standing in the bushes. One night his friends decided to play a trick on him. Mick Hughes dressed up in a white sheet and lay hiding by the ford. As he heard Kinsella approaching he rose up from the undergrowth and let out a dreadful moan. Kinsella glanced across and, with no terror in his voice, commented, "Two of them tonight, by God!" Hughes glanced around and saw, standing right beside him, a huge and shapeless thing. He fled!
Brookborough, Co Fermanagh
Widow Murphy and her family lived in a mountain cottage. Their lives were plagued by a poltergeist that appeared determined to evict them from their house. Many other people witnessed the amazing events that occurred. One such visitor was the MP, Cahir Healy, and another was Fr. Coyle from Maguiresbridge. Rapping was heard night and day. Mysterious shapes appeared and disappeared, music would waft across the room. Fr. Coyle described seeing clothes rising and falling on an empty bed, as if someone was underneath breathing. Pots and pans would suddenly fly across the kitchen. One source says these rappings were sometimes to the rhythm of tunes. A couple of favourites were Boyne Water and The Soldier's Song.
Eventually the family were forced to flee, not just because of the unsettling happenings in their home, but also because they were ostracised by superstitious neighbours. The family set off by ship for America but even then, to their horror, the poltergeist continued its terrible deeds in their cabin and even followed them to their new home. Eventually, after many years, its manifestations subsided and the family members were able to get on with their lives in peace.
A tour guide tells the story of his father meeting an old man on market day, shortly after the family had moved to a house in Laois. "Are you troubled by the ghosts in the house?" inquired the ancient one. "Not noticed any," replied the father. "When I worked for old Mr. Cuffe up there, they used to be terrible. You watch out for them." With that, he cackled and disappeared into the throng of people. It was only later that the father realized that to have worked for Mr. Cuffe, who died in the 1840s, his informant would have to be in the region of 160, or a ghost!
Shanagolden, Co. Limerick
The Earl of Desmond and his wife were trying to escape from St. St Katherine’s Augustinian Nunnery, but the Countess was shot and mortally wounded by an arrow. Believing his wife to be dead, the Earl hastily buried her beneath the altar in the main chapel. However, it is said that the poor Countess, was not dead, and she awoke to find herself buried alive. Her screams of agony still echo throughout the ruins today.
Drogheda, Co. Meath
Sir Edward Golding and his wife Elizabeth Fleming were said to have drowned in mysterious circumstances, in a boating accident on the river Boyne. It is said by locals, that their statues come alive to haunt passers by.
Athcarne Castle Co. Meath
This sombre 16th century ruin lies only 6 miles from the site of the Battle of the Boyne. The cries of dying soldiers can be heard and the manifestations of a soldier hanged from a great oak tree in the grounds has been seen. The spectre and demented face of a young girl, whose hands are dripping with blood, was last seen by a labourer some years ago.
A Mausoleum in the Midlands
There was the time when a television crew were trying to capture the spirit of spookiness in a mausoleum in the Midlands. As they shone their bright lights into the darkness the power was drained from the batteries; vampire like, whatever was in there consumed the energy. Filming was abandoned!
Sopwell Castle Co. Tipperary
Sopwell also known as Killaleigh Castle, ancestral home of the MacEgans was confiscated and given by Cromwell to General Sadleir, later of Sadler’s Wells Theatre fame. It’s said that General Sadleir’s son disagreed with his father over his funeral wake. The General did not want any ceremony, just a quiet exit from this world to the next. His son felt otherwise and in a drunken fit, he and a friend dragged his father’s coffin down the stairs, tripping in the process. The coffin toppled unceremoniously down the stairs. To this day the sound of the coffin can be heard toppling on the stairs and the groans and moans of General Sadleir can be heard echoing through the halls in disapproval.
Heard any good ones lately? Entire books have been devoted to the topic of ghosts in irish castles, cabins and cottages; ships, curraghs and lighthouses; churches, chapels and graveyards; mausoleums, museums and mansions. Whether or not you believe in these tales of the spirit world, there's not many an Irish man or woman who would argue with the belief that during Hallowtide, the veil separating the living from the dead is at its thinnest. Are you ready to accompany that handsome yet pale person you just met on the road and dance with them in the moonlight; on an Irish hillside, charmed by the sweet dulcet tones of a fiddle or pipe? We'll light a candle for you.
The Ghost Story from All Posters
The Ghost of Banquo by Theodore Chasseriau
The Haunted House by John Atkinson Grimshaw
See our other articles on Samhain and Halloween below:
An Irish Hallowe'en - Part 1
An Irish Hallowe'en - Part 2
How the Irish Invented Halloween
A Triple Treat For Hallowe'en
The Churchyard Bride
Creepy Irish Castles and Houses
Creepy Irish Creatures
Something Wicked this way comes - Irish Ghosts by Region
Protect your property and yourself - Make a Parshell Cross for Hallowe'en
Samhain - The Irish New Year
The Day after Samhain - All Souls Day
Thu, Dec 7, 2017
Holly and Ivy hanging up and
something wet in every cup*
Not so long ago, Irish Christmas decorations were much simpler than they are now. The children gathered holly and ivy for adorning, windows, doorways, mantles and pictures, and the father would carve out a turnip in which would be placed a large red candle. This would go in the window to light the way for the Holy Family on Christmas Eve. Only in relatively recent times did an Irish family have a Nativity scene and a decorated tree in the house. As for Mistletoe, it's quite rare in ireland and is generally associated with ancient Celtic and Druidic fertility celebrations; this is most likely where the custom of kissing under the mistletoe comes from.
*Old Irish Christmas toast
Image: Pashley Manor Gardens.
Click for More Culture Corner.
No country is more richly endowed with faerie folk and restless spirits than Ireland, and Irish folklore contains hundreds of tales of ghosts, devils and witches. This collection includes chilling tales by writers ranging from Brams Stoker to W.B. Yeats with stories grouped according to the type of spirit. Intriguing titles include The Spectre Lovers by Le Fanu, The Fairy Goose by Liam O'Flaherty, The Eyes of the Dead by Daniel Corkery and many more.
Click here for Stories of the Supernatural.