Thursday, 18 May 2017

John Corr's Donkey

"This is overkill," says Barney the Donkey. "Everyone knows what a donkey looks like!"
At 1:30 am on Wednesday, 28 November 1906, James Hughes saw a ghostly figure on the Red Row, near Coalisland, County Tyrone. Shortly after this, Hughes’s colleague at the coal pit, Joe McMahon, also saw the figure. According to McMahon, it was dressed in white and had a white cover over its head. “You could not see the arms and legs on it,” he said. “But nevertheless it was distinctly the shape of a human being.”
At about the same time on Thursday, 29 November, Joe McMahon and James Hughes were in the “cabin” at the pit with Joe Hararan and Bernard Quinn when the figure appeared again. It was at a chestnut tree. And though the “ghost” had been moving when it first caught their attention, it stopped and remained static for about five minutes, giving the men a good look at it. In fact, Hughes and Hararan went outside to get an even better look. All of the men agreed that it looked like a man or a woman.
The “ghost” moved on again, prompting the men to fall to their knees and pray. As they prayed, the strange figure climbed a ditch into the field with the coal pit – and disappeared.
At 1:10 am on Saturday, 1 December, the “ghost” was seen walking on the pavement of the Red Row. It walked past the home of the Rev. Mackay, and when it reached the corner of the Row, it stopped and took in the night air for about three to four minutes. It then walked past the chestnut tree and disappeared.
According to the Saturday witnesses, the “ghost” wasn’t remotely human-shaped: it had the shape of a four-footed animal, they said; it was about the size of a sheep; and it had a two-feet long tail and 18-inch long ears.
But 10 minutes after the “ghost” disappeared, it reappeared again, about 20 yards from the pit. This time it was in human form and “dazzling white.” It stood in the middle of the road for a while before walking into the field next to the pit.
It would be an understatement to say the “ghost” caused quite a stir. Priests were called on to counsel some of the witnesses, and many of the men at the pit were afraid to even look at the place where the “ghost” often appeared. According to the Derry Journal: “They all say the apparition would terrify the strongest-nerved man in Ireland.”
A story was being pieced together to explain the events. The “ghost” was a “woman in white”, and the chestnut tree was no ordinary chestnut tree. No. The tree was in an area known as The Mass Garden, a place where Mass was celebrated in “olden times,” according to the Belfast Evening Telegraph. And this very tree was the exact site of those Masses.
But, according to The Tyrone Courier, the whole debacle was just a story to stop the locals stealing coal from the pit. If that was the case it was very effective, as it was reported that “youths and maidens, and even those of riper years, were afraid to move out of doors after sunset.”
However, on 13 December 1906, the Belfast News-Letter reported that one particularly brave local had staked out the area and discovered that the “ghost” was nothing more than a donkey - a grey donkey with “an unusually light-coloured coat” - belonging to local man John Corr.
“It is hoped this explanation will allay the fears of the minds of the timid,” said The Tyrone Constitution.
And it did. Because no one mentioned that donkeys are donkey shaped and humans are human shaped, or that donkeys are bigger than sheep. And not one paper attempted to explain the donkey’s teleporting abilities.
  • Belfast Evening Telegraph, 4 December 1906
  • Belfast News-Letter, 13 December 1906
  • Derry Journal, 7 December 1906
  • The Tyrone Constitution, 21 December 1906
  • The Tyrone Courier, 6 December 1906
  • Wicklow People, 22 December 1906