Sunday, 20 August 2017

Supposed Spectral Visits and Mysterious Sounds

 The following is a standard ghostly-goings-on-scare-a-family-from-their-home story that, for most of the newspapers that covered it, required only a couple of paragraphs to tell. Over at The Derry Journal, however, one journalist saw it as a chance to shine.
From time to time the Derry constabulary have had rather knotty problems submitted to them for solution, but it is open to doubt if they ever had placed before them a “case” so queer and uncanny as that which is presently having the attention of the acutest members of the Bishop Street Station force. It is often difficult enough, in all conscience, to get at the real root of disturbances happening in the open, during wide daylight, and usually traceable to a sudden ebullition of temper among a group of persons whom controversy causes to adopt dangerous methods. However, when the peace of a household is repeatedly disturbed and a certain measure of alarm is raised only in the gloom of night and only through manifestations of an occult nature, the difficulty of satisfactory investigation is ten-fold increased.
An extensive section of a thickly populated district in Derry city has been thrown into a state of consternation by a series of extraordinary and mysterious nocturnal occurrences. Faint rumours of peculiar noises having been heard within an inhabited house in the vicinity of the thoroughfare known as Hogg’s Folly made themselves felt about a week ago. At first they were discredited as being the outcome of  a practical joke. These reports of a man and his family being most strangely disturbed at night in their residence continued in circulation despite a general tendency among people in the quarter to set them down as childish and as not having foundation in fact. Still the rumours persisted, and when a neighbour spoke jocularly to a member of the family concerned about the alleged mysterious happenings in their house the answer given was in no humorous vein. Though the inhabitants of the house were for obvious reasons inclined to allay undue alarm, yet the prevalent reports were corroborated with circumstantiality. As a consequence, excitement in the neighbourhood increased and it became common knowledge, by this time, where the abode which caused all the commotion was situated.
The house which, by the way, within the past two or three days has been hurriedly vacated by the family who dwelt there stands, as the last of a street row, on a little eminence at the junction of two thoroughfares, namely Hollywell Street and Hogg’s Folly. It is a plain-built but substantial two-storied structure, having a frontage lighted by five windows. In exterior aspect its walls contrast favourably with those of some adjoining houses, since they are freshly and neatly whitewashed. In brief the building might be described on the view as a very suitable cottage for an artizan’s family. It seems that there is a cellar beneath the ground floor of the cottage, and it is from this cellar that uncanny noises have been for some time emanating nightly. Patient and cool attempts to trace the origin of this mysterious visitation were made but the investigators were baffled and yet remain so.
Not only have these inexplicable noises been heard by the inmates of the house, but the ghostly din manifested itself so loudly after midnight on two nights of last week that it reached the ears of neighbours dwelling on the opposite side of the street. Disquieting, as these incidents undoubtedly were, it appears that they alone did not determine the family to leave the place. On one of the nights the spectral figure of a woman was seen passing slowly from one apartment to another within the house.
This latter remarkable circumstance was among the particulars made known to the police when a report of the extraordinary affair was conveyed to them. The phantom female figure was described as been clothed in a flowing robe.
Then the question was put – “Of what colour?”
“Of pearl grey colour,” was the reply.
The house was visited on Saturday by Sergeant Quinlivan, Sergeant Morrow, and by other members of the Bishop Street constabulary who, indeed, owing to the information they got, have been pretty constantly in the neighbourhood for the past four or five days engaged in the language of the young lads living in the locality, “Watching for the ghost.”
Indeed the spectacle in the street of nights recently, was wholly uncommon and not without aspects of weirdness. A number of young men who heard the news of the mysterious noises decided to test the truth of the matter for themselves by waiting at a little distance from the house outside on the road till after the midnight hour. They appeared cheerful enough at the outset, but as twelve o’clock drew nigh loud talk gave way to low whispers. The more timid left before the clock chimed, while those who remained after twelve listened with bated breath. Some stated subsequently they heard no sounds from the house. Others asserted positively that they heard the sounds of “heavy footsteps in the cellar,” though at that time it was known that the cellar was absolutely unoccupied.
Each night the listening crowd assumed larger proportions, and towards the end of the week the thoroughfare was quite filled with people discussing the mystery for which no solution has yet been found.
From inquiries made it appears that the house was occupied by a tenant with his wife and three children till Thursday last. On that day they removed to another dwelling, but a good deal of their furniture was left behind until Saturday when it was conveyed to their new abode. The family declare they were quite comfortable in the house they left were it not for the mysterious nocturnal disturbances.
It is said that the family kept a dog in the cellar and on the nights when the strange sounds were heard the animal tore at the floor frantically with his paws so that quite a large hole would be found thus scooped out in the mornings. This incident suggested to some practical reasoners that rats might have been at the bottom of the mischief, but a very careful search since made in the cellar has failed to detect the slightest traces of these rodents.
It is now alleged as a curious coincidence that a previous tenant left the place less than a year ago. His decision was suddenly come to, and he declined to discuss – even with his wife – his reasons for leaving on the very day after he had arrived home late one night.
At present the “ins and outs” of the extraordinary affair form the chief topic of conversation for numerous citizens, especially those living in the vicinity of the place concerned.
One of Hood’s finest poems gives an exceptionally vivid description of an empty habitation, and the pedestrian passing along yesterday by the house under notice was reminded by the silent look of the place of the lines:--
“No dog was at the threshold, great or small,
No pigeon on the roof – no household creature –
No cat demurely dozing on the wall,
Not one domestic feature
No human figure stirr’d, to go or come,
No face looked forth from shut or open casement,
No chimney smoked – there was no sign of Home
From parapet to basement.”
A strange thing in much that is singular in these eerie occurrences, or imaginings plus the occurrences is the conduct of the house dog – a glut with a litter of whelps. The animal, usually gentle and quiet, suddenly develops intense excitement, and sets as if protecting its offspring, whilst there is no visible cause for its disturbed and anxious condition.
We give the case in its details as investigated, leaving our readers to form their own judgement between imagination and manifestation.
The Derry Journal, 10 August 1908

Monday, 7 August 2017

James McAnespie and the Fintona Fairies

Back in April 2016, I posted a short piece about the death of James McAnespie. McAnespie had gained infamy in April 1950, at the age of 72, when he failed to return home after leaving to collect firewood in the demesne near his home. A search was organised and McAnespie was eventually found, frozen to the spot where a fairy thorn had recently been destroyed. 
When the Belfast Telegraph reported on McAnespie’s death in January 1954, they recounted this incident.  The Telegraph gave the impression that Mr McAnespie just happened to be passing this spot when something very strange happened. But, according to this story from The Northern Whig and Belfast Post of 21 April 1950, it seems this wasn’t McAnespie’s first visit to the site. And he definitely wasn’t just passing by.
"The Wee Folk" are said to be angry out at Fintona (County Tyrone) because a 300-year-old fairy thorn has been bulldozed out of existence in a field just outside the village.  Villagers have not been surprised at this week’s queer happenings, because many of them forecast reprisals four weeks ago, immediately after the destruction of the fairies’ little sacred tree.
About a month ago, Fintona Golf Club were given permission by Mr. Raymond Browne-Lecky to carry out improvements and extensions to the golf course on his lands. He gave them permission, among other things, to cut down a thorn hedge, because it was in the way. But the men on the job made a mistake. They were using a bulldozer for levelling purposes, and they bulldozed the fairy thorn out by its roots.
This fairy thorn, set in the middle of a field in Mr Browne-Lecky’s Ecclesville Demesne, was planted by his ancestors over 300 years ago. Naturally, he was he was angry when the tree was destroyed. He told the Golf Club so – and so did many villagers.
“The people in the village are in a rage over it,” Mr. Browne-Lecky told a “Northern Whig” reporter last night. “For my part, however, the hatchet is buried, because it was apparently a mistake. I was not angry because because of possible revenge from the fairies – I’m afraid I don’t believe in them. But many people do, and that’s why the villagers are upset about it.”
Anyway, the “wee folk” are said to have begun their reprisals. Old-age pensioner James McAnespie – who is 72, lives by himself in a house opposite Fintona Police Barracks, and is a former hotel hand – bought some of the bulldozed tree to use as firewood.
That was two or three weeks ago. Mr. McAnespie took the wood home and started to use it regularly. And things (according to him) started to happen. He began to hear bells tinkling in his house, and he says he saw little things flying about in the air – little things like wasps, which he could not catch.
Last Sunday James McAnespie used the last of his firewood and decided to go for more. On Sunday night the people next door realized that he had not returned – and that was unusual for Jimmy McAnespie, because he is usually in house by about eight o’clock at night. So the people next door went out to search for him. They couldn’t find him, so they ran across to the Barracks and told the police. And a search party of police and civilians set out to find the missing pensioner. R.U.C. Sergeant Boland was in command.
The searchers called out at intervals, but never got a reply. They made their way through the demesne, still calling, still getting no answer.
Then at 11.30 p.m. – just 30 minutes before the witching hour – they saw James standing motionless at the very spot on which had been the fairy thorn. As they came near he walked towards them, then went back to the village with them.
And what does James McAnespie say about all this? He says he gathered sticks for firewood around the place where the thorn had been cut down. He tied the sticks to a rope, began to go home when it became dusk. And when he got to The Spot he was suddenly unable to move and unable to speak. That was why he could not answer the search party.
For two hours, he says, he stood there with all his powers dispelled. He heard bells ringing around his feet. He saw a sort of ditch all around him, and a big house, or perhaps it was a barn, with lights inside it. He saw two fairies – “wee fellows.” And his hands were absolutely closed tight on the rope.
Sergeant Boland bears out the fact that James McAnespie was found standing on the site of the bulldozed fairy thorn. But the sergeant is a disbeliever. He laughed last night and said: “I must say I heard no bells and I saw no house.”
  • The Northern Whig and Belfast Post, 21 April 1950