True Irish Ghost Stories, by St. John D. Seymour and Harry L. Neligan, , at sacred-texts.com
Whatever explanations may be given of the various stories told in our previous chapters, the facts as stated therein are in almost every case vouched for on reliable authority. We now turn to stories of a different kind, most of which have no evidence of any value in support of the facts, but which have been handed down from generation to generation, and deserve our respect, if only for their antiquity. We make no apology for giving them here, for, in addition to the interesting reading they provide, they also serve a useful purpose as a contrast to authenticated ghost stories. The student of folklore will find parallels to some of them in the tales of other nations.
Lord Walter Fitzgerald sends us the following: "Garrett oge" (or Gerald the younger) Fitzgerald, 11th Earl of Kildare,
died in London on the 16th November 1585; his body was brought back to Ireland and interred in St. Brigid's Cathedral, in Kildare. He was known as 'the Wizard Earl' on account of his practising the black art, whereby he was enabled to transform himself into other shapes, either bird or beast according to his choice; so notorious was his supernatural power that he became the terror of the countryside.
"His wife, the Countess, had long wished to see some proof of his skill, and had frequently begged him to transform himself before her, but he had steadily refused to do so, as he said if he did and she became afraid, he would be taken from her, and she would never see him again. Still she persisted, and at last he said he would do as she wished on condition that she should first of all undergo three trials to test her courage; to this she willingly agreed. In the first trial the river Greese, which flows past the castle walls, at a sign from the Earl overflowed its banks and flooded the banqueting hall in which the Earl and Countess were sitting. She showed no sign of fear, and at the Earl's command the
river receded to its normal course. At the second trial a huge eel-like monster appeared, which entered by one of the windows, crawled about among the furniture of the banqueting hall, and finally coiled itself round the body of the Countess. Still she showed no fear, and at a nod from the Earl the animal uncoiled itself and disappeared. In the third test an intimate friend of the Countess, long since dead, entered the room, and passing slowly by her went out at the other end. She showed not the slightest sign of fear, and the Earl felt satisfied that he could place his fate in her keeping, but he again warned her of his danger if she lost her presence of mind while he was in another shape. He then turned himself into a black bird, flew about the room, and perching on the Countess's shoulder commenced to sing. Suddenly a black cat appeared from under a chest, and made a spring at the bird; in an agony of fear for its safety the Countess threw up her arms to protect it and swooned away. When she came to she was alone, the bird and the cat had disappeared, and she never saw the Earl again."
It is said that he and his knights lie in an enchanted sleep, with their horses beside them, in a cave under the Rath on the hill of Mullaghmast, which stands, as the crow flies, five miles to the north of Kilkea Castle. Once in seven years they are allowed to issue forth; they gallop round the Curragh, thence across country to Kilkea Castle, where they re-enter the haunted wing, and then return to the Rath of Mullaghmast. The Earl is easily recognised as he is mounted on a white charger shod with silver shoes; when these shoes are worn out the enchantment will be broken, and he will issue forth, drive the foes of Ireland from the land, and reign for a seven times seven number of years over the vast estates of his ancestors.
Shortly before ’98 he was seen on the Curragh by a blacksmith who was crossing it in an ass-cart from Athgarvan to Kildare. A fairy blast overtook him, and he had just time to say, "God speed ye Gentlemen" to the invisible "Good People," when he heard horses galloping up behind him; pulling to one side of the road he looked back and was terrified at seeing a troop of
knights, fully armed, led by one on a white horse. The leader halted his men, and riding up to the blacksmith asked him to examine his shoes. Almost helpless from fear he stumbled out of the ass-cart and looked at each shoe, which was of silver, and then informed the knight that all the nails were sound. The knight thanked him, rejoined his troop, and galloped off. The blacksmith in a half-dazed state hastened on to Kildare, where he entered a public-house, ordered a noggin of whisky, and drank it neat. When he had thoroughly come to himself he told the men that were present what had happened to him on the Curragh; one old man who had listened to him said: "By the mortial! man, ye are after seeing 'Gerod Earla.'" This fully explained the mystery. Gerod Earla, or Earl Gerald, is the name by which the Wizard Earl is known by the peasantry.
One other legend is told in connection with the Wizard Earl of a considerably later date. It is said that a farmer was returning from a fair in Athy late one evening in the direction of Ballintore, and when passing within view of the Rath of Mullaghmast
he was astonished to see a bright light apparently issuing from it. Dismounting from his car he went to investigate. On approaching the Rath he noticed that the light was proceeding from a cave in which were sleeping several men in armour, with their horses beside them. He cautiously crept up to the entrance, and seeing that neither man nor beast stirred he grew bolder and entered the chamber; he then examined the saddlery on the horses, and the armour of the men, and plucking up courage began slowly to draw a sword from its sheath; as he did so the owner's head began to rise, and he heard a voice in Irish say, "Is the time yet come?" In terror the farmer, as he shoved the sword back, replied, "It is not, your Honour," and then fled from the place.
It is said that if the farmer had only completely unsheathed the sword the enchantment would have been broken, and the Earl would have come to his own again.
In 1642 Wallstown Castle, the seat of the Wall family, in County Cork, was burnt down by the Cromwellian troops, and Colonel
[paragraph continues] Wall, the head of the family, was captured and imprisoned in Cork jail, where he died. One of the defenders during the siege was a man named Henry Bennett, who was killed while fighting. His ghost was often seen about the place for years after his death. His dress was of a light colour, and he wore a white hat, while in his hand he carried a pole, which he used to place across the road near the Castle to stop travellers; on a polite request to remove the pole he would withdraw it, and laugh heartily. A caretaker in the place named Philip Coughlan used frequently to be visited by this apparition. He came generally about supper time, and while Coughlan and his wife were seated at table he would shove the pole through the window; Coughlan would beg him to go away and not interfere with a poor hard-worked man; the pole would then be withdrawn, with a hearty laugh from the ghost.
In the Parish Church of Ardtrea, near Cookstown, is a marble monument and inscription in memory of Thomas Meredith, D.D., who had been a Fellow of Trinity College, Dublin, and for six years rector of
the parish. He died, according to the words of the inscription, on 2nd May 1819, as a result of "a sudden and awful visitation." A local legend explains this "visitation," by stating that a ghost haunted the rectory, the visits of which had caused his family and servants to leave the house. The rector had tried to shoot it but failed; then he was told to use a silver bullet; he did so, and next morning was found dead at his hall-door while a hideous object like a devil made horrid noises out of any window the servant man approached. This man was advised by some Roman Catholic neighbours to get the priest, who would "lay" the thing. The priest arrived, and with the help of a jar of whisky the ghost became quite civil, till the last glass in the jar, which the priest was about to empty out for himself, whereupon the ghost or devil made himself as thin and long as a Lough Neagh eel, and slipped himself into the jar to get the last drops. But the priest put the cork into its place and hammered it in, and, making the sign of the Cross on it, he had the evil thing secured. It was buried in the cellar of the rectory, where on some
nights it can still be heard calling to be let out.
A story of a phantom rat, which comes from Limerick, is only one of many which show the popular Irish belief in hauntings by various animals. Many years ago, the legend runs, a young man was making frantic and unacceptable love to a girl. At last, one day when he was following her in the street, she turned on him and, pointing to a rat which some boys had just killed, said, "I'd as soon marry that rat as you." He took her cruel words so much to heart that he pined away and died. After his death the girl was haunted at night by a rat, and in spite of the constant watch of her mother and sisters she was more than once bitten. The priest was called in and could do nothing, so she determined to emigrate. A coasting vessel was about to start for Queenstown, and her friends, collecting what money they could, managed to get her on board. The ship had just cast off from the quay, when shouts and screams were heard up the street. The crowd scattered, and a huge rat with fiery eyes galloped down to the quay. It sat upon
the edge screaming hate, sprang off, and did not reappear. After that, we are told, the girl was never again haunted.
A legend of the Tirawley family relates how a former Lord Tirawley, who was a very wild and reckless man, was taken from this world. One evening, it is said, just as the nobleman was preparing for a night's carouse, a carriage drove up to his door, a stranger asked to see him and, after a long private conversation, drove away as mysteriously as he had come. Whatever words had passed they had a wonderful effect on the gay lord, for his ways were immediately changed, and he lived the life of a reformed man. As time went on the effect of whatever awful warning the mysterious visitor had given him wore off, and he began to live a life even more wild and reckless than before. On the anniversary of the visit he was anxious and gloomy, but he tried to make light of it. The day passed, and at night there was high revelry in the banqueting hall. Outside it was wet and stormy, when just before midnight the sound of wheels was heard in the courtyard. All the riot stopped; the servants opened the
door in fear and trembling: outside stood a huge dark coach with four black horses. The "fearful guest" entered and beckoned to Lord Tirawley, who followed him to a room off the hall. The friends, sobered by fear, saw through the door the stranger drawing a ship on the wall; the piece of wall then detached itself and the ship grew solid, the stranger climbed into it, and Lord Tirawley followed without a struggle. The vessel then sailed away into the night, and neither it nor its occupants were ever seen again.
The above tale is a good example of how a legend will rise superior to the ordinary humdrum facts of life, for it strikes us at once that the gloomy spectre went to unnecessary trouble in constructing a ship, even though the task proved so simple to his gifted hands. But the coach was at the door, and surely it would have been less troublesome to have used it.
A strange legend is told of a house in the Boyne valley. It is said that the occupant of the guest chamber was always wakened on the first night of his visit, then he would see a pale light and the shadow of a skeleton
[paragraph continues] "climbing the wall like a huge spider." It used to crawl out on to the ceiling, and when it reached the middle would materialise into apparent bones, holding on by its hands and feet; it would break in pieces, and first the skull and then the other bones would fall on the floor. One person had the courage to get up and try to seize a bone, but his hand passed through to the carpet though the heap was visible for a few seconds.
The following story can hardly be called legendary, though it may certainly be termed ancestral. The writer's name is not given, but he is described as a rector and Rural Dean in the late Established Church of Ireland, and a Justice of the Peace for two counties. It has this added interest that it was told to Queen Victoria by the Marchioness of Ely.
"Loftus Hall, in County Wexford, was built on the site of a stronghold erected by Raymond, one of Strongbow's followers. His descendants forfeited it in 1641, and the property subsequently fell into the hands of the Loftus family, one of whom built the house and other buildings. About the
middle of the eighteenth century, there lived at Loftus Hall Charles Tottenham, a member of the Irish Parliament, known to fame as 'Tottenham and his Boots,' owing to his historic ride to the Irish capital in order to give the casting vote in a motion which saved £80,000 to the Irish Treasury.
"The second son, Charles Tottenham, had two daughters, Elizabeth and Anne, to the latter of whom our story relates. He came to live at Loftus Hall, the old baronial residence of the family, with his second wife and the two above-mentioned daughters of his first wife. Loftus Hall was an old rambling mansion, with no pretence to beauty: passages that led nowhere, large dreary rooms, small closets, various unnecessary nooks and corners, panelled or wainscotted walls, and a tapestry chamber. Here resided at the time my story commences Charles Tottenham, his second wife and his daughter Anne: Elizabeth, his second daughter, having been married. The father was a cold austere man; the stepmother such as that unamiable relation is generally represented to be. What and how great the state of lonely solitude and depression
of mind of poor Anne must have been in such a place, without neighbours or any home sympathy, may easily be imagined.
"One wet and stormy night, as they sat in the large drawing-room, they were startled by a loud knocking at the outer gate, a most surprising and unusual occurrence. Presently the servant announced that a young gentleman on horseback was there requesting lodging and shelter. He had lost his way, his horse was knocked up, and he had been guided by the only light which he had seen. The stranger was admitted and refreshed, and proved himself to be an agreeable companion and a finished gentleman—far too agreeable for the lone scion of the House of Tottenham, for a sad and mournful tale follows, and one whose strange results continued almost to the present day.
"Much mystery has involved the story at the present point, and in truth the matter was left in such silence and obscurity, that, but for the acts of her who was the chief sufferer in it through several generations, nothing would now be known. The fact, I believe, was—which was not unnatural under the circumstances—that this lonely
girl formed a strong attachment to this gallant youth chance had brought to her door, which was warmly returned. The father, as was his stern nature, was obdurate, and the wife no solace to her as she was a step-mother. It is only an instance of the refrain of the old ballad, 'He loved, and he rode away'; he had youth and friends, and stirring scenes, and soon forgot his passing attachment. Poor Anne's reason gave way.
"The fact is but too true, she became a confirmed maniac, and had to be confined for the rest of her life in the tapestried chamber before mentioned, and in which she died. A strange legend was at once invented to account for this calamity: it tells how the horseman proved such an agreeable acquisition that he was invited to remain some days, and made himself quite at home, and as they were now four in number whist was proposed in the evenings. The stranger, however, with Anne as his partner, invariably won every point; the old couple never had the smallest success. One night, when poor Anne was in great delight at winning so constantly, she dropped a ring on the floor,
and, suddenly diving under the table to recover it, was terrified to see that her agreeable partner had an unmistakably cloven foot. Her screams made him aware of her discovery, and he at once vanished in a thunder-clap leaving a brimstone smell behind him. The poor girl never recovered from the shock, lapsed from one fit into another, and was carried to the tapestry room from which she never came forth alive.
"This story of his Satanic majesty got abroad, and many tales are told of how he continued to visit and disturb the house. The noises, the apparitions, and disturbances were innumerable, and greatly distressed old Charles Tottenham, his wife, and servants. It is said that they finally determined to call in the services of their parish priest, a Father Broders, who, armed with all the exorcisms of the Church, succeeded in confining the operations of the evil spirit to one room—the tapestry room.
"Here, then, we have traced from the date of the unhappy girl's misfortune that the house was disturbed by something supernatural, and that the family sought the aid
of the parish priest to abate it, and further that the tapestry room was the scene of this visitation.
"But the matter was kept dark, all reference to poor Anne was avoided, and the belief was allowed to go abroad that it was Satan himself who disturbed the peace of the family. Her parents were ready to turn aside the keen edge of observation from her fate, preferring rather that it should be believed that they were haunted by the Devil, so that the story of her wrongs should sink into oblivion, and be classed as an old wives’ tale of horns and hoofs. The harsh father and stepmother have long gone to the place appointed for all living. The Loftus branch of the family are in possession of the Hall. Yet poor Anne has kept her tapestried chamber by nearly the same means which compelled her parents to call in the aid of the parish priest so long ago.
"But to my tale: About the end of the last century my father was invited by Mrs. Tottenham to meet a large party at the Hall. He rode, as was then the custom in Ireland, with his pistols in his holsters. On arriving he found the house full, and
[paragraph continues] Mrs. Tottenham apologised to him for being obliged to assign to him the tapestry chamber for the night, which, however, he gladly accepted, never having heard any of the stories connected with it.
"However, he had scarcely covered himself in the bed when suddenly something heavy leaped upon it, growling like a dog. The curtains were torn back, and the clothes stripped from the bed. Supposing that some of his companions were playing tricks, he called out that he would shoot them, and seizing a pistol he fired up the chimney, lest he should wound one of them. He then struck a light and searched the room diligently, but found no sign or mark of anyone, and the door locked as he had left it on retiring to rest. Next day he informed his hosts how he had been annoyed, but they could only say that they would not have put him in that room if they had had any other to offer him.
"Years passed on, when the Marquis of Ely went to the Hall to spend some time there. His valet was put to sleep in the tapestry chamber. In the middle of the
night the whole family was aroused by his dreadful roars and screams, and he was found lying in another room in mortal terror. After some time he told them that, soon after he had lain himself down in bed, he was startled by the rattling of the curtains as they were torn back, and looking up he saw a tall lady by the bedside dressed in stiff brocaded silk; whereupon he rushed out of the room screaming with terror.
"Years afterwards I was brought by my father with the rest of the family to the Hall for the summer bathing. Attracted by the quaint look of the tapestry room, I at once chose it for my bedroom, being utterly ignorant of the stories connected with it. For some little time nothing out of the way happened. One night, however, I sat up much later than usual to finish an article in a magazine I was reading. The full moon was shining clearly in through two large windows, making all as clear as day. I was just about to get into bed, and, happening to glance towards the door, to my great surprise I saw it open quickly and noiselessly, and as quickly and noiselessly shut again, while the tall figure of a
lady in a stiff dress passed slowly through the room to one of the curious closets already mentioned, which was in the opposite corner. I rubbed my eyes. Every possible explanation but the true one occurred to my mind, for the idea of a ghost did not for a moment enter my head. I quickly reasoned myself into a sound sleep and forgot the matter.
"The next night I again sat up late in my bedroom, preparing a gun and ammunition to go and shoot sea-birds early next morning, when the door again opened and shut in the same noiseless manner, and the same tall lady proceeded to cross the room quietly and deliberately as before towards the closet. I instantly rushed at her, and threw my right arm around her, exclaiming 'Ha! I have you now!' To my utter astonishment my arm passed through her and came with a thud against the bedpost, at which spot she then was. The figure quickened its pace, and as it passed the skirt of its dress lapped against the curtain and I marked distinctly the pattern of her gown—a stiff brocaded silk.
"The ghostly solution of the problem
did not yet enter my mind. However, I told the story at breakfast next morning. My father, who had himself suffered from the lady's visit so long before, never said a word, and it passed as some folly of mine. So slight was the impression it made on me at the time that, though I slept many a night after in the room, I never thought of watching or looking out for anything.
"Years later I was again a guest at the Hall. The Marquis of Ely and his family, with a large retinue of servants, filled the house to overflowing. As I passed the housekeeper's room I heard the valet say: 'What! I to sleep in the tapestry chamber? Never! I will leave my lord's service before I sleep there!' At once my former experience in that room flashed upon my mind. I had never thought of it during the interval, and was still utterly ignorant of Anne Tottenham: so when the housekeeper was gone I spoke to the valet and said, 'Tell me why you will not sleep in the tapestry room, as I have a particular reason for asking.' He said, 'Is it possible that you do not know that Miss Tottenham passes through that room every
night, and, dressed in a stiff flowered silk dress, enters the closet in the corner?' I replied that I had never heard a word of her till now, but that I had, a few years before, twice seen a figure exactly like what he had described, and passed my arm through her body. 'Yes,' said he, 'that was Miss Tottenham, and, as is well known, she was confined—mad—in that room, and died there, and, they say, was buried in that closet.'
"Time wore on and another generation arose, another owner possessed the property—the grandson of my friend. In the year 185–, he being then a child came with his mother, the Marchioness of Ely, and his tutor, the Rev. Charles Dale, to the Hall for the bathing season. Mr. Dale was no imaginative person—a solid, steady, highly educated English clergyman, who had never even heard the name of Miss Tottenham. The tapestry room was his bed-chamber. One day in the late autumn of that year I received a letter from the uncle of the Marquis, saying, 'Do tell me what it was you saw long ago in the tapestry chamber, for something strange must have
happened to the Rev. Charles Dale, as he came to breakfast quite mystified. Something very strange must have occurred, but he will not tell us, seems quite nervous, and, in short, is determined to give up his tutorship and return to England. Every year something mysterious has happened to any person who slept in that room, but they always kept it close. Mr. D—, a Wexford gentleman, slept there a short while ago. He had a splendid dressing-case, fitted with gold and silver articles, which he left carefully locked on his table at night; in the morning he found the whole of its contents scattered about the room.'
"Upon hearing this I determined to write to the Rev. Charles Dale, then Incumbent of a parish near Dover, telling him what had occurred to myself in the room, and that the evidence of supernatural appearances there were so strong and continued for several generations, that I was anxious to put them together, and I would consider it a great favour if he would tell me if anything had happened to him in the room, and of what nature. He then for the first time mentioned the matter, and from his
letter now before me I make the following extracts:
"'For three weeks I experienced no inconvenience from the lady, but one night, just before we were about to leave, I had sat up very late. It was just one o'clock when I retired to my bedroom, a very beautiful moonlight night. I locked my door, and saw that the shutters were properly fastened, as I did every night. I had not lain myself down more than about five minutes before something jumped on the bed making a growling noise; the bed-clothes were pulled off though I strongly resisted the pull. I immediately sprang out of bed, lighted my candle, looked into the closet and under the bed, but saw nothing.'
"Mr. Dale goes on to say that he endeavoured to account for it in some such way as I had formerly done, having never up to that time heard one word of the lady and her doings in that room. He adds, 'I did not see the lady or hear any noise but the growling.'
"Here then is the written testimony of a beneficed English clergyman, occupying the responsible position of tutor to the young
[paragraph continues] Marquis of Ely, a most sober-minded and unimpressionable man. He repeats in 1867 almost the very words of my father when detailing his experience in that room in 1790—a man of whose existence he had never been cognisant, and therefore utterly ignorant of Miss Tottenham's doings in that room nearly eighty years before.
"In the autumn of 1868 I was again in the locality, at Dunmore, on the opposite side of the Waterford Estuary. I went across to see the old place and what alterations Miss Tottenham had forced the proprietors to make in the tapestry chamber. I found that the closet into which the poor lady had always vanished was taken away, the room enlarged, and two additional windows put in: the old tapestry had gone and a billiard-table occupied the site of poor Anne's bed. I took the old housekeeper aside, and asked her to tell me how Miss Tottenham bore these changes in her apartment. She looked quite frightened and most anxious to avoid the question, but at length hurriedly replied, 'Oh, Master George! don't talk about her: last night
she made a horrid noise knocking the billiard-balls about!'
"I have thus traced with strict accuracy this most real and true tale, from the days of 'Tottenham and his Boots' to those of his great-great-grandson. Loftus Hall has since been wholly rebuilt, but I have not heard whether poor Anne Tottenham has condescended to visit it, or is wholly banished at last."