Sunday, 19 November 2017

A Profane Spook

In 1906, a “spook” was entertaining the people of Clonmel, County Tipperary. Even though it caused quite a stir and nobody seemed to know who was responsible for the “extraordinary and mystery manifestations,” no one was pushing the supernatural angle too hard.
The first report comes from the Irish Independent of Tuesday, 29 May 1906.
Particulars of a series of extraordinary and mystery manifestations which have set the inhabitants of Clonmel all agog for some time are sent to us by our correspondent in that Tipperary town, who states that the singular occurrences which he relates are at present the subject of investigation by the local police, who have so far failed to find a solution to the uncanny affair.
The mystery, says our correspondent, concerns the residents in two business houses adjoining in one of the chief thoroughfares in Clonmel, and it manifests itself in rapping at the walls and the use of “terrible language” – of which separate complaints have been made to the police by both parties – together with pilfering, upsetting of goods and household fittings, locking and unlocking of doors, and other inexplicable happenings.
Prior to these manifestations anonymous letters of an extraordinary nature were received daily by the residents alluded to, the missives being dropped through the letter-box into the hall. A watch was kept on one occasion for over three hours by one of the house holders, and nothing occurred; but no sooner had the watcher left the hall than a note was slipped through the letter-box stating: “There is no use in your watching; you won’t catch me.”
On another occasion parties of police were stationed, unknown to one another, in the two houses at the same time, and some extraordinary things came under their notice. They both heard the rapping and unspeakably foul language uttered in a disguised female voice.
Immediately after they left a mysterious letter was dropped in through the letter-box giving a detailed account of the conversation that had passed between the owner of the house and the police, while the same female voice bade the R.I.C. men welcome when they came and good-bye when they left, and inquired in a mocking tone why he did not ask them to have tea, having kept them so long.
Complaints are continually being made of goods in shops being pitched about, furniture overturned, beds tossed, and water thrown on them. Meat is also taken out of the safe and only the bones left. It is altogether an extraordinary and most unpleasant affair, and it is hoped that the mystery will be soon and satisfactorily cleared up.
Two days later, the Irish Independent brought its readers up-to-date with the latest goings-on.
The Clonmel “spook” mystery, the story of which was told in Tuesday’s “Independent,” still continues to excite extraordinary interest in that town. On Tuesday night hundreds of people blocked the street where the “haunted” houses are situated, and a large force of police, in charge of District Inspector Tweedy and Head Constable Brady, were on duty up to a late hour moving them on. As already stated, the trouble takes the form of a loud rapping on the diving wall between two houses, and the use of exceedingly bad language, in a disguised female voice.
In addition to the pilfering of the meat beforementioned, it is said that soap was found in the kettle, and salt in the teapot; beds that had been made up were immediately afterwards found tossed and water poured over them; the owner’s day shirt was thrust into a ewer of water while he was in bed; statues of saints and pious pictures were removed from brackets and walls and defiled – all this on the authority of the people themselves. The anonymous letters, which, as previously stated, have been received, have been handed over to the police, who are worked off their feet in connection with the matter, and have failed, so far, to find a clue to the origin of the strange occurrences.
In early June 1906, the police claimed that they had solved the mystery. However, they said nothing about who was behind the shenanigans - or how or why they did it. 
And about two weeks after the police “solved” the mystery, the “ghost” delivered its final letter to one of the house owners.
“I am sorry for all the trouble I caused you, I beg your pardon, and I promise I’ll never do it again.
“Yours truly, The Ghost.”
The Independent, on printing the letter, commented: “We fear there are some clever practical jokers in Clonmel.”
  • Irish Independent, 29 & 31 May and 5 & 15 June 1906

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Ireland's Consulting Witch Detectives

Historically, being a witch in Ireland has always required a certain amount of versatility. You had to be good with animals as well as people, and as adept at curses as you were at cures. 
And you had to be able to solve crimes.
In 1916, PJ McCorry sought the help of a witch when his local police proved incapable of providing either clues or suspects in the short time they devoted to investigating a burglary at his home.
The thief had taken £50 while the farmer laboured in the fields in Aghadalgan, near Crumlin, County Antrim. It was a significant sum, and McCorry wanted it back.
So, he travelled to Belfast to meet a witch (unfortunately, her name is not given in the article). At their meeting, she not only produced an image of the thief on a mirror, she also told McCorry that his money would soon be returned to him.
On the morning after McCorry’s meeting with the witch, the local postman returned from his round to find that someone had left a parcel on a window ledge at the post office. The parcel was addressed to PJ McCorry. Inside was £45 10s.
Despite getting most of his money back, McCorry wasn’t entirely satisfied. But at another meeting, the witch reassured him that the balance would soon be repaid.
Regardless of whether or not McCorry got the rest of his money (I haven’t been able to find a follow-up), it was still a good result. This isn’t always the case, though.
In May 1867, when two dresses and a jacket were stolen from Margaret Martin of Lisburn, County Antrim, Martin employed the services of Moses Wilson instead of contacting the police. It didn’t end well.
The following exchange took place in Belfast Police Court on 19 August 1867.
Mr Orme - Why did you go to him and not to the police?
Plaintiff - Because it was said he could do such things (laughter).
Mr Orme - That he could work miracles?
Plaintiff - Yes; I asked him what he would charge. I said if he would cause the parties to carry my clothes back that took them I would give him 10s.
Mr Orme - That was a rise (laughter).
Plaintiff - I gave him a shilling, as part payment, on the 31st July. That day week I gave him 6s. 6d. He then asked me if I had any daughters, and if they could write. Having answered that I have two, he got them to write their names, for which he gave them threepence each. Three weeks after he went to Hillsborough. I inquired about the detainment of the clothes, when he told me that he would have to touch the pins on which the clothes hung (Laughter).
Mr Orme - Had he a staff or a wand in his hand? (Laughter.)
Mr Orme (to prisoner) - What object had you in getting the daughters’ names, or in touching the pins where the clothes hung - to make the persons return them?
Prisoner - That is a thing which I could not do, nor any man on earth (laughter).
Mr Orme (to plaintiff’s daughter) - I wonder that you, an intelligent girl, should allow your mother to be imposed on by a scamp.
So, Margaret Martin got conned. She lost some clothes and some money, and she was humiliated in court. But it could have been worse. A lot worse.
In August 1807, a cow kept by Alexander and Elizabeth Montgomery was producing milk that couldn’t be churned into butter. Local gossip helped convince Elizabeth that the cow had been bewitched.
A number of “spells” were recommended and tried. At one point, twelve local women encircled the cow and blessed it. Nothing worked.
The family were told to contact Mary Butters, a witch living in Carnmoney, County Antrim, who had a bit of a reputation. Butters arrived and tried a number of “cures.” Again, nothing worked. Unperturbed, she announced that, as soon as it became dark, she would perform a spell “that would not fail.”
Seemingly, this spell "that would not fail" would compel the witch responsible for the bewitchment to come to the Montgomery house - in her true form. It would require Alexander Montgomery and another man to wait with the cow in the cowshed - armed with a knife and a Bible - while Butters performed the spell in the house with Elizabeth; the Montgomery’s son, David; and Elizabeth’s friend Margaret Lee.
But, having spent the night, uneventfully, in the cowshed without being called by Butters, Alexander returned to the house, where he found his wife and son dead, and Margaret Lee dying. Only Butters survived.
At the inquest, the Coroner said: “It is the opinion of the Jury, that the deceased Elizabeth Montgomery came by her death from suffocation, occasioned by a woman named Mary Butters, in her making use of some noxious ingredients, in the manner of a charm, to recover a cow.”
Margaret and David, according to the Coroner, had died in the same way.
  • Ballymena Weekly Telegraph, 5 February 1916
  • Caledonian Mercury, 29 August 1808
  • Dublin Daily Express, 21 August 1867
  • Larne Times, 3 May 1951