True Irish Ghost Stories, by St. John D. Seymour and Harry L. Neligan, , at sacred-texts.com
From a very early period a division of Ireland into two "halves" existed. This was traditionally believed to have been made by Conn the Hundred-fighter and Mogh Nuadat, in A.D. 166. The north was in consequence known as Conn's Half, the south as Mogh's Half, the line of division being a series of gravel hills extending from Dublin to Galway. This division we have followed, except that we have included the whole of the counties of West Meath and Galway in the northern portion. We had hoped originally to have had four chapters on Haunted Houses, one for each of the four provinces, but, for lack of material from Connaught, we have been forced to adopt the plan on which Chapters I—III are arranged.
Mrs. Acheson, of Co. Roscommon, sends the following: "Emo House, Co. Westmeath,
a very old mansion since pulled down, was purchased by my grandfather for his son, my father. The latter had only been living in it for a few days when knocking commenced at the hall door. Naturally he thought it was someone playing tricks, or endeavouring to frighten him away. One night he had the lobby window open directly over the door. The knocking commenced, and he looked out: it was a very bright night, and as there was no porch he could see the door distinctly; the knocking continued, but he did not see the knocker move. Another night he sat up expecting his brother, but as the latter did not come he went to bed. Finally the knocking became so loud and insistent that he felt sure his brother must have arrived. He went downstairs and opened the door, but no one was there. Still convinced that his brother was there and had gone round to the yard to put up his horse, he went out; but scarcely had he gone twenty yards from the door when the knocking recommenced behind his back. On turning round he could see no one."
"After this the knocking got very bad,
so much so that he could not rest. All this time he did not mention the strange occurrence to anyone. One morning he went up through the fields between four and five o'clock. To his surprise he found the herd out feeding the cattle. My father asked him why he was up so early. He replied that he could not sleep. 'Why?' asked my father. 'You know why yourself, sir —the knocking.' He then found that this man had heard it all the time, though he slept at the end of a long house. My father was advised to take no notice of it, for it would go as it came, though at this time it was continuous and very loud; and so it did. The country people said it was the late resident who could not rest."
"We had another curious and most eerie experience in this house. A former rector was staying the night with us, and as the evening wore on we commenced to tell ghost-stories. He related some remarkable experiences, and as we were talking the drawing-room door suddenly opened as wide as possible, and then slowly closed again. It was a calm night, and at any rate it was a heavy double door which never flies open
however strong the wind may be blowing. Everyone in the house was in bed, as it was after 12 o'clock, except the three persons who witnessed this, viz. myself, my daughter, and the rector. The effect on the latter was most marked. He was a big, strong, jovial man and a good athlete, but when he saw the door open he quivered like an aspen leaf."
A strange story of a haunting, in which nothing was seen, but in which the same noises were heard by different people, is sent by one of the percipients, who does not wish to have her name disclosed. She says: "When staying for a time in a country house in the North of Ireland some years ago I was awakened on several nights by hearing the tramp, tramp, of horses’ hoofs. Sometimes it sounded as if they were walking on paving-stones, while at other times I had the impression that they were going round a large space, and as if someone was using a whip on them. I heard neighing, and champing of bits, and so formed the impression that they were carriage horses. I did not mind it much at first, as I thought the stables must be
near that part of the house. After hearing these noises several times I began to get curious, so one morning I made a tour of the place. I found that the side of the house I occupied overlooked a neglected garden, which was mostly used for drying clothes. I also discovered that the stables were right at the back of the house, and so it would be impossible for me to hear any noises in that quarter; at any rate there was only one farm horse left, and this was securely fastened up every night. Also there were no cobble-stones round the yard. I mentioned what I had heard to the people of the house, but as they would give me no satisfactory reply I passed it over. I did not hear these noises every night."
"One night I was startled out of my sleep by hearing a dreadful disturbance in the kitchen. It sounded as if the dish-covers were being taken off the wall and dashed violently on the flagged floor. At length I got up and opened the door of my bedroom, and just as I did so an appalling crash resounded through the house. I waited to see if there was any light to be seen, or footstep to be heard, but nobody
was stirring. There was only one servant in the house, the other persons being my host, his wife, and a baby, who had all retired early. Next morning I described the noises in the kitchen to the servant, and she said she had often heard them. I then told her about the tramping of horses: she replied that she herself had never heard it, but that other persons who had occupied my room had had experiences similar to mine. I asked her was there any explanation; she said No, except that a story was told of a gentleman who had lived there some years ago, and was very much addicted to racing and gambling, and that he was shot one night in that house. For the remainder of my visit I was removed to another part of the house, and I heard no more noises."
A house in the North of Ireland, near that locality which is eternally famous as having furnished the material for the last trial for witchcraft in the country, is said to be haunted, the reason being that it is built on the site of a disused and very ancient graveyard. It is said that when some repairs were being carried out nine human skulls
were unearthed. It would be interesting to ascertain how many houses in Ireland are traditionally said to be built on such unpleasant sites, and if they all bear the reputation of being haunted. The present writer knows of one, in the South, which is so situated (and this is supported, to a certain extent, by documentary evidence from the thirteenth century down) and which in consequence has an uncanny reputation. But concerning the above house it has been found almost impossible to get any information. It is said that strange noises were frequently heard there, which sometimes seemed as if cartloads of stones were being run down one of the gables. On one occasion an inmate of the house lay dying upstairs. A friend went up to see the sick person, and on proceeding to pass through the bedroom door was pressed and jostled as if by some unseen person hurriedly leaving the room. On entering, it was found that the sick person had just passed away.
An account of a most unpleasant haunting is contributed by Mr. W. S. Thompson, who vouches for the substantial accuracy of it, and also furnishes the names of two men,
still living, who attended the "station." We give it as it stands, with the comment that some of the details seem to have been grossly exaggerated by local raconteurs. In the year 1869 a ghost made its presence manifest in the house of a Mr. M— in Co. Cavan. In the daytime it resided in the chimney, but at night it left its quarters and subjected the family to considerable annoyance. During the day they could cook nothing, as showers of soot would be sent down the chimney on top of every pot and pan that was placed on the fire. At night the various members of the family would be dragged out of bed by the hair, and pulled around the house. When anyone ventured to light a lamp it would immediately be put out, while chairs and tables would be sent dancing round the room. At last matters reached such a pitch that the family found it impossible to remain any longer in the house. The night before they left Mrs. M— was severely handled, and her boots left facing the door as a gentle hint for her to be off. Before they departed some of the neighbours went to the house, saw the ghost, and even described to Mr.
[paragraph continues] Thompson what they had seen. According to one man it appeared in the shape of a human being with a pig's head with long tusks. Another described it as a horse with an elephant's head, and a headless man seated on its back. Finally a "station" was held at the house by seven priests, at which all the neighbours attended. The station commenced after sunset, and everything in the house had to be uncovered, lest the evil spirit should find any resting-place. A free passage was left out of the door into the street, where many people were kneeling. About five minutes after the station opened a rumbling noise was heard, and a black barrel rolled out with an unearthly din, though to some coming up the street it appeared in the shape of a black horse with a bull's head, and a headless man seated thereon. From this time the ghost gave no further trouble.
The same gentleman also sends an account of a haunted shop in which members of his family had some very unpleasant experiences. "In October 1882 my father, William Thompson, took over the grocery and spirit business from a Dr. S— to whom it had
been left by will. My sister was put in charge of the business, and she slept on the premises at night, but she was not there by herself very long until she found things amiss. The third night matters were made so unpleasant for her that she had to get up out of bed more dead than alive, and go across the street to Mrs. M—, the servant at the R.I.C. barrack, with whom she remained until the morning. She stated that as she lay in bed, half awake and half asleep, she saw a man enter the room, who immediately seized her by the throat and well-nigh choked her. She had only sufficient strength left to gasp 'Lord, save me!' when instantly the man vanished. She also said that she heard noises as if every bottle and glass in the shop was smashed to atoms, yet in the morning everything would be found intact. My brother was in charge of the shop one day, as my sister had to go to Belturbet to do some Christmas shopping. He expected her to return to the shop that night, but as she did not do so he was preparing to go to bed about 1 A.M., when suddenly a terrible noise was heard. The light was extinguished, and the tables and
chairs commenced to dance about the floor, and some of them struck him on the shins. Upon this he left the house, declaring that he had seen the Devil!" Possibly this ghost had been a rabid teetotaller in the flesh, and continued to have a dislike to the publican's trade after he had become discarnate. At any rate the present occupants, who follow a different avocation, do not appear to be troubled.
Ghosts are no respecters of persons or places, and take up their quarters where they are least expected. One can hardly imagine them entering a R.I.C. barrack, and annoying the stalwart inmates thereof. Yet more than one tale of a haunted police-barrack has been sent to us—nay, in its proper place we shall relate the appearance of a deceased member of the "Force," uniform and all! The following personal experiences are contributed by an ex-R.I.C. constable, who requested that all names should be suppressed. "The barrack of which I am about to speak has now disappeared, owing to the construction of a new railway line. It was a three-storey house, with large airy apartments and splendid
accommodation. This particular night I was on guard. After the constables had retired to their quarters I took my palliasse downstairs to the day-room, and laid it on two forms alongside two six-foot tables which were placed end to end in the centre of the room."
"As I expected a patrol in at midnight, and as another had to be sent out when it arrived, I didn't promise myself a very restful night, so I threw myself on the bed, intending to read a bit, as there was a large lamp on the table. Scarcely had I commenced to read when I felt as if I was being pushed off the bed. At first I thought I must have fallen asleep, so to make sure, I got up, took a few turns around the room, and then deliberately lay down again and took up my book. Scarcely had I done so, when the same thing happened, and, though I resisted with all my strength, I was finally landed on the floor. My bed was close to the table, and the pushing came from that side, so that if anyone was playing a trick on me they could not do so without being under the table: I looked, but there was no visible presence there. I felt shaky, but
changed my couch to another part of the room, and had no further unpleasant experience. Many times after I was 'guard' in the same room, but I always took care not to place my couch in that particular spot."
"One night, long afterwards, we were all asleep in the dormitory, when we were awakened in the small hours of the morning by the guard rushing upstairs, dashing through the room, and jumping into a bed in the farthest corner behind its occupant. There he lay gasping, unable to speak for several minutes, and even then we couldn't get a coherent account of what befel him. It appears he fell asleep, and suddenly awoke to find himself on the floor, and a body rolling over him. Several men volunteered to go downstairs with him, but he absolutely refused to leave the dormitory, and stayed there till morning. Nor would he even remain downstairs at night without having a comrade with him. It ended in his applying for an exchange of stations."
"Another time I returned off duty at midnight, and after my comrade, a married Sergeant, had gone outside to his quarters I went to the kitchen to change my boots.
[paragraph continues] There was a good fire on, and it looked so comfortable that I remained toasting my toes on the hob, and enjoying my pipe. The lock-up was a lean-to one-storey building off the kitchen, and was divided into two cells, one opening into the kitchen, the other into that cell. I was smoking away quietly when I suddenly heard inside the lock-up a dull, heavy thud, just like the noise a drunken man would make by crashing down on all-fours. I wondered who the prisoner could be, as I didn't see anyone that night who seemed a likely candidate for free lodgings. However as I heard no other sound I decided I would tell the guard in order that he might look after him. As I took my candle from the table I happened to glance at the lock-up, and, to my surprise, I saw that the outer door was open. My curiosity being roused, I looked inside, to find the inner door also open. There was nothing in either cell, except the two empty plank-beds, and these were immovable as they were firmly fixed to the walls. I betook myself to my bedroom much quicker than I was in the habit of doing."
"I mentioned that this barrack was demolished owing to the construction of a new railway line. It was the last obstacle removed, and in the meantime workmen came from all points of the compass. One day a powerful navvy was brought into the barrack a total collapse from drink, and absolutely helpless. After his neckwear was loosened he was carried to the lock-up and laid on the plank-bed, the guard being instructed to visit him periodically, lest he should smother. He was scarcely half an hour there—this was in the early evening—when the most unmerciful screaming brought all hands to the lock-up, to find the erstwhile helpless man standing on the plank-bed, and grappling with a, to us, invisible foe. We took him out, and he maintained that a man had tried to choke him, and was still there when we came to his relief. The strange thing was, that he was shivering with fright, and perfectly sober, though in the ordinary course of events he would not be in that condition for at least seven or eight hours. The story spread like wildfire through the town, but the inhabitants were not in the least surprised, and one old man
told us that many strange things happened in that house long before it became a police-barrack."
A lady, who requests that her name be suppressed, relates a strange sight seen by her sister in Galway. The latter's husband was stationed in that town about seventeen years ago. One afternoon he was out, and she was lying on a sofa in the drawing-room, when suddenly from behind a screen (where there was no door) came a little old woman, with a small shawl over her head and shoulders, such as the country women used to wear. She had a most diabolical expression on her face. She seized the lady by the hand, and said: "I will drag you down to Hell, where I am!" The lady sprang up in terror and shook her off, when the horrible creature again disappeared behind the screen. The house was an old one, and many stories were rife amongst the people about it, the one most to the point being that the apparition of an old woman, who was supposed to have poisoned someone, used to be seen therein. Needless to say, the lady in question never again sat by herself in the drawing-room.
Two stories are told about haunted houses at Drogheda, the one by A. G. Bradley in Notes on some Irish Superstitions (Drogheda, 1894), the other by F. G. Lee in Sights and Shadows (p. 42) . As both appear to be placed at the same date, i.e. 1890, it is quite possible that they refer to one and the same haunting, and we have so treated them accordingly. The reader, if he wishes, can test the matter for himself.
This house, which was reputed to be haunted, was let to a tailor and his wife by the owner at an annual rent of £23. They took possession in due course, but after a very few days they became aware of the presence of a most unpleasant supernatural lodger. One night, as the tailor and his wife were preparing to retire, they were terrified at seeing the foot of some invisible person kick the candlestick off the table, and so quench the candle. Although it was a very dark night, and the shutters were closed, the man and his wife could see everything in the room just as well as if it were the middle of the day. All at once a woman entered the room, dressed in white, carrying something in her hand,
which she threw at the tailor's wife, striking her with some violence, and then vanished. While this was taking place on the first floor, a most frightful noise was going on overhead in the room where the children and their nurse were sleeping. The father immediately rushed upstairs, and found to his horror the floor all torn up, the furniture broken, and, worst of all, the children lying senseless and naked on the bed, and having the appearance of having been severely beaten. As he was leaving the room with the children in his arms he suddenly remembered that he had not seen the nurse, so he turned back with the intention of bringing her downstairs, but could find her nowhere. The girl, half-dead with fright, and very much bruised, had fled to her mother's house, where she died in a few days in agony.
Because of these occurrences they were legally advised to refuse to pay any rent. The landlady, however, declining to release them from their bargain, at once claimed a quarter's rent; and when this remained for some time unpaid, sued them for it before Judge Kisby. A Drogheda solicitor appeared
for the tenants, who, having given evidence of the facts concerning the ghost in question, asked leave to support their sworn testimony by that of several other people. This, however, was disallowed by the judge. It was admitted by the landlady that nothing on one side or the other had been said regarding the haunting when the house was let. A judgment was consequently entered for the landlady, although it had been shown indirectly that unquestionably the house had had the reputation of being haunted, and that previous tenants had been much inconvenienced.
This chapter may be concluded with two stories dealing with haunted rectories. The first, and mildest, of these is contributed by the present Dean of St. Patrick's; it is not his own personal experience, but was related to him by a rector in Co. Monaghan, where he used to preach on special occasions. The rector and his daughters told the Dean that they had often seen in that house the apparition of an old woman dressed in a drab cape, while they frequently heard noises. On one evening the rector was in the kitchen together with the cook and the coachman.
[paragraph continues] All three heard noises in the pantry as if vessels were being moved. Presently they saw the old woman in the drab cape come out of the pantry and move up the stairs. The rector attempted to follow her, but the two servants held him tightly by the arms, and besought him not to do so. But hearing the children, who were in bed, screaming, he broke from the grip of the servants and rushed upstairs. The children said that they had been frightened by seeing a strange old woman coming into the room, but she was now gone. The house had a single roof, and there was no way to or from the nursery except by the stairs. The rector stated that he took to praying that the old woman might have rest, and that it was now many years since she had been seen. A very old parishioner told him that when she was young she remembered having seen an old woman answering to the rector's description, who had lived in the house, which at that time was not a rectory.
The second of these, which is decidedly more complex and mystifying, refers to a rectory in Co. Donegal. It is sent as the personal experience of one of the percipients,
who does not wish to have his name disclosed. He says: "My wife, children, and myself will have lived here four years next January (1914). From the first night that we came into the house most extraordinary noises have been heard. Sometimes they were inside the house, and seemed as if the furniture was being disturbed, and the fireirons knocked about, or at other times as if a dog was running up and down stairs. Sometimes they were external, and resembled tin buckets being dashed about the yard, or as if a herd of cattle was galloping up the drive before the windows. These things would go on for six months, and then everything would be quiet for three months or so, when the noises would commence again. My dogs—a fox-terrier, a boar-hound, and a spaniel—would make a terrible din, and would bark at something in the hall we could not see, backing away from it all the time.
"The only thing that was ever seen was as follows: One night my daughter went down to the kitchen about ten o'clock for some hot water. She saw a tall man, with one arm, carrying a lamp, who walked out
of the pantry into the kitchen, and then through the kitchen wall. Another daughter saw the same man walk down one evening from the loft, and go into the harness-room. She told me, and I went out immediately, but could see nobody. Shortly after that my wife, who is very brave, heard a knock at the hall door in the dusk. Naturally thinking it was some friend, she opened the door, and there saw standing outside the self-same man. He simply looked at her, and walked through the wall into the house. She got such a shock that she could not speak for several hours, and was ill for some days. That is eighteen months ago, and he has not been seen since, and it is six months since we heard any noises." Our correspondent's letter was written on 25th November 1913. "An old man nearly ninety died last year. He lived all his life within four hundred yards of this house, and used to tell me that seventy years ago the parsons came with bell, book, and candle to drive the ghosts out of the house." Evidently they were unsuccessful. In English ghost-stories it is the parson who performs the exorcism successfully,
while in Ireland such work is generally performed by the priest. Indeed a tale was sent to us in which a ghost quite ignored the parson's efforts, but succumbed to the priest.