Sunday, 10 June 2018

Shooting Ghosts

Another historically accurate reconstruction
In January or February 1890, a woman’s body [1] was pulled from the River Bann at Edenderry, near Portadown. Incidents like this were all too common at the time, but there was something about this gruesome find that unnerved the good people of Edenderry.
Our Portadown correspondent writes – A ludicrous incident took place in Edenderry the other night. It appears that since the dead body of a woman was discovered in the River Bann a few weeks ago the boathouse has been haunted, and the inhabitants of Francis Street and Foundry Street terrified to such an extent by the nightly visits of the “boathouse ghosts” that they were actually afraid to come out of doors after dark. Indeed it is said that they contemplated removing from that quarter of the town altogether, and leaving it in possession of what they believed to be the spirit of the departed woman. 
But the tricks of the “boathouse ghost,” like the Drogheda ghost [2], and nearly all other ghosts, seem to have been harmless, consisting chiefly in tinkling the windows, kicking the doors of the house in Francis Street, and otherwise annoying the occupiers. It seems to have taken such delight in playing these pranks on the Foundry Street people that it went on parade every night a few minutes after eleven o’clock. About the hour mentioned it is stated to have been seen crossing the river from Francis Street, and entering the boathouse. 
But it was somewhat later on Saturday night, the 15thof the present month, that the incident I am about to relate occurred. The ghost was seen on that occasion standing on the water, right opposite the boathouse, by a man, who, after “eyeing” it from head to foot, and satisfying himself  that it was really a ghost, proceeded to the house of a neighbour, and, having knocked him up, informed him that “she” – meaning the ghost – was “about the boathouse.” 
The neighbour hastily dressed himself. The first man just as hastily primed and loaded a Martini-Henry, vowing that he would “give her as much as would keep her from visiting that locality for a fortnight.” In a few seconds the two returned to the spot where a minute or two previously the ghost had been seen. It was still standing in the same place, and seemed to defy all Edenderry. 
“Keep quiet now,” said the first man, raising the rifle to his shoulder. “Be sure and take good aim,” whispered his neighbour, stooping as he spoke to see that the ghost would not move. The rifleman evidently took his advice, for he “covered” his object with a closeness and precision that would have done credit to any of the “crack” shots that took part in the Inkerman battle [3]. No sooner had he fired than the neighbour exclaimed, “Begorra, it’s down!” The two then proceeded to pick up the remains of the ghost. “Don’t see any trace of it here,” remarked one. “It must be about here someplace,” said the other, “for I took too good aim to miss it.” “Oh, you hit it right enough,” rejoined the first, “I saw it falling.”
On a closer examination of the spot it was discovered that the “ghost” was nothing more or less that the reflection of the light from the bridge lamp on the side of the boathouse. During the past week several persons have tried to calm the fears of the Foundry Street people by endeavouring to persuade then that there is “no such thing as ghosts,” but all to no purpose. They maintain that it was not the bridge lamp which knocked at their windows and disturbed them from their slumbers every night during the past four weeks. Common sense argument, undoubtedly. The ghost must still be at large. Saturday night’s occurrence has made the residents in the vicinity of the boathouse determined to have their revenge, and the rifleman has promised “that if he gets his hands on the ghost he will never quit it while there is a spark of life in it.”
  1. I’ve been unable to find anything about the finding of the body. So I have no information about who she was, the circumstances surrounding her death, when she was found, or why the finding of her body should have caused such a reaction in Edenderry.
  2. In Drogheda, a Mr and Mrs Kinney rented a house, agreeing to pay the landlady five pounds and fifteen shillings per quarter. On their second night in the house, the Kinney’s discovered it was haunted by a ghost that liked to “throw heavy things” at Mrs Kinney. They left. The landlady, a Miss Weir, then took them to court for unpaid rent. 
  3. Fought on 5 November 1854, this was a battle of the Crimean War.

  • The Belfast News-Letter, 24 February 1890

Sunday, 3 June 2018

Hear Meg Roar

Ireland, like many parts of the world, experiences the odd mystery explosion. You know, those massive, one-off, rattling your doors and windows, driving your sleepy and confused neighbours out into the street in the middle of the night and leaving no trace kind of explosions?
"It's the best I could do at short notice," said the ghost.
Anyway, each explosion usually brings with it all manner of “explanations” - sonic booms; a backfiring heater in a warehouse at Dublin Airport; a World War II mine in Dublin Bay; terrorist activity; sound rockets; and a man blasting a large stone for his rockery, to name just a few – that are never proven.
But sometimes, just sometimes, the mystery is solved:
The minds of a great many people were somewhat strained on Monday night in the effort to discover the cause of an exceedingly loud detonation which was heard about eight o’clock that evening. The sound was distinctly heard over the town [Belfast], and more especially in Ballymacarrett, where in many houses it caused panes of glass to shake in their frames and delf to rattle on the shelf. Some thought that one of the gasometers had had burst, while others were positive that a boiler had blown up in the neighbourhood. The report, which was intensely heavy, excited the anxious curiosity, if not the wonder, of everyone who heard it. It seemed so indescribable and uncommon that every possible idea of its origin was eagerly canvassed. The peculiarity of the noise, as well as its unusual deep and powerful reverberation was what excited such general attention. It seemed in no way like an ordinary gun powder explosion, while it was fiercer even than dynamite, and yet bore no resemblance to thunder. We are by no means making a mountain out of a molehill when we state that the affair created no little commotion in a vast number of households, and for once inquisitiveness and speculation found no response in a multitude of suggested explanations. The facts, however, when known, are neither mysterious nor remarkable, and indicate how readily a very simple matter may assume an utterly incomprehensible form. A person in the neighbourhood of Ballymacarrett had in his possession a large cannon, which he had appropriately, as the result shows, christened “Roaring Meg.” Fired by a sudden inspiration of the moment, he was moved to break the dull monotony of the winter evening by making “Meg” roar. This he did most effectively, and in most stentorian tones. Charging the might instrument of war to the very muzzle, and ramming it home with a steady perseverance worthy of a better purpose, he succeeded in in his design to the extent of shaking half the houses in his suburban district to their very foundations, and agitating to no small degree the minds of its whole population. The matter, as may be surmised, has given some occupation since to the police.
  • The Belfast Weekly News, 19 February 1876

Saturday, 26 May 2018

... with bog nuts moving in from the east.

According to the Annals of the Four Masters, Ireland was once a place where you could expect to see showers of honey, silver - and even blood. We don’t get as much silver and blood as we used to – possibly due to climate change, but we still get the odd shower of honey – amongst other things.
In Shinrone, County Offaly, in 1849, a very localised shower left honey dripping off the leaves of the trees in the grounds of the chapel. Some of the local children collected the honey – and some were brave enough to taste it. They said it tasted exactly like natural honey.
In May 1867, it rained berries over parts of Dublin. The berries had a charred appearance and emitted quite an aromatic smell when they were broken open. Seemingly, botanists and chemists were stumped. But a Leinster Road resident proclaimed to have the answer.
“A friend gave me some of those berries, which are, in fact, the immature fruit of the orange, and used to be imported into this country some twenty or thirty years ago for the purposes of flavouring malt liquors; but being considered deleterious, were subsequently prohibited by Act of Parliament. I had the curiosity, on my way to Marsh’s Library this morning, to call at an eminent druggist’s establishment in that neighbourhood [the streets around St Patrick’s Cathedral], to inquire if the young men on the premises knew anything about the matter, and it appears that they had a large stock of these berries, which they threw out into the lane near the Library, and all the mischievous urchins of the neighbourhood immediately gathered them up, and used them for missiles indiscriminately.”
Another “expert” insisted that they were only hazelnuts – albeit hazelnuts that “had been preserved in a bog for centuries.” He did not mention if urchins were responsible for harvesting these bog nuts.
On 29 May 1928, it rained tiny, red fish at a farm near Comber in County Down. Immediately before the fish arrived, the area had experienced a violent storm, and many of the trees surrounding the farm were scorched, as if they had been hit by lightning. This prompted a professor from Queens University Belfast to opine that the two were connected. He theorised that a whirlwind created by the storm had sucked up the fish out of the sea and deposited them on the farm.
And on 22 August 1903, it rained “maggots” at the farm of Thomas Morrison, in Killygullib, County Derry. The “maggots” were about an inch-long and had the basic shape of a maggot, but were a greyish-brown colour and had two horns, two eyes, feet and tails that could disappear into their bodies. Morrison kept a few samples, but they died soon after he collected them.
The Killygullib story is a reminder that, when in Ireland, you should have an umbrella with you at all times.
  • The Constitution, 22 August 1903
  • The Cork Constitution, 16 May 1867
  • The Dublin Evening Mail, 14 May 1867
  • The Dublin Evening Post, 24 July 1849
  • The Northern Whig and Belfast Post, 30 May 1928

Saturday, 12 May 2018

Hat's Amazing!

In 1853, hat-moving was quickly replacing table-turning as the new craze in those places where they had time for crazes. They were doing it in London. They were doing it in Paris. And – evidently – they were doing it in Sunday’s Well, County Cork.
Mr Editor – On last evening I was present at a hat-moving, which was conducted as follows: - A small table was placed in the centre of the room; an ordinary silk hat was placed thereon, with the leaf downwards. Two gentlemen and two ladies placed their hands lightly on the crown, their fingers touching each other to establish the electric chain. In about two minutes the hat began to move gently in a circle, which it increased gradually, and in about five minutes it increased its velocity in a most extraordinary manner, whirling around to the utmost extent that the circumference of the table would admit. A lady and a gentleman having withdrawn their hands the speed diminished.
That the experiment was fairly tried, I can confidently assert – the persons engaged were all anxious to test the matter fairly, and the result removed all doubt, and astonished all who were in the room. Any of your readers who try the experiment will be satisfied with the result. Three can perform it as well as four. Their hands should be placed lightly on the crown of the hat and touching each other. All laughing or talking should be avoided, as the concentration of the mind on the object will greatly contribute to the success of the trail.
Sunday’s-well, May 27, 1853
But what was behind this phenomenon? Nowadays, to answer a question like this, you’d either get together a bunch of lads with EMF meters, EVP recorders and night vision goggles, or a bunch of lads who have none of this stuff but went to good universities and/or used to be private detectives before becoming magicians.
But there’s no need for any of this: you just need some bottles, a book, a really heavy toolbox – and some farmers.
Sir – I am induced to send you the result of some experiments on animal magnetism, tried by me, hoping they will obtain a place in your paper, and thus excite the attention of some of your readers who have more opportunity of prosecuting this very wonderful discovery. I particularly desire you will remember that I write not with any ostentatious inclination to figure in print, but purely with the above intention. I also wish it to be understood that I was as much an unbeliever as anyone till I convinced myself.
Whether this strange motion is really the result of animal magnetism, or, as Mr. Brett surmises [1], an induced low order of vitality, it undoubtedly is a real power, before which, in my opinion, the surprising electric telegraph, or the marvellous photograph, are eclipsed. I cannot help thinking that the time may come when, instead of horses, &c., draughting in the ordinary manner, by taking advantage of some modification of this new discovery, motive power will be induced by the magnetism of their bodies. This is the age of wonders, the word impossible is all but obsolete, philosophers say we are on the eve of discoveries more curious than any that have yet appeared. Surely this is one –
EXPERIMENT 1. – I placed a hat on the table and laid my fingers on it, I directed an attendant to act similarly, we now linked the little fingers, and, although we waited nearly fifteen minutes, we were unable to move it – had we continued longer at it we would have succeeded.
EXP. 2. – I now allowed the crown of the hat to rest on three tumblers, and, by placing a book across two bottles, formed an insulated stand, a similar one I found for my attendant; we now stood on those and joined the small fingers, as in the first experiment, in about three minutes the hat began to move slowly round, in a direction contrary to that in which the hands of a clock go, we kicked the bottles away and walked round with it several times; the moment we took we took our hand away the motion ceased.
Exp. 3. – Fearing that partly the motion might be caused by pushing, I placed four bottles in the hat, and on it laid two very heavy books, the hat resting on the tumbler, we now formed the magnetic chain and it began to move; our fingers were laid as lightly as possible on the leaf of the hat, and even had we pressed them ever so heavily on it we could not have advanced the hat without taking hold of it.
Exp. 4. – I now took the hat off the tumbler, and all things being similar to the first experiment, the hat rotated in less than a minute, two additional persons now joined and the effect was to induce the hat to move faster.
EXP. 5. – Wishing to know if it was the operators or the hat which was changed, I experimented on a book, this quickly went round. I now ordered a tool chest full of tools to be brought and laid on a tripod of bottles (I selected this chest as it was the heaviest I could procure), I operated upon it with a single attendant, and in a short time it went round with a considerable velocity, and continued to do so as long as we pleased to walk round with it. I ordered a person to sit on the chest, he did not in the least impede the motion. I placed a wire – laying the fingers on this seemed to produce no particular effect. Subsequently I moved a large piece of iron, a glass basin, a tea tray and all its appendages, a loaf of bread, &c.
EXP. 6. – I now formed a chain of seven persons, and attempted to move a large table, we and the table were uninsulated; in about a quarter of an hour the table gave several sensible vibrations in a direction north and south, and soon after moved nearly a quarter round. We continued at the table half-an-hour, and the only additional phenomena observed was a few more oscillations in the same direction as the preceding. I have no doubt had the table been smaller, the number of operators larger, or even were they insulated, or had they continued longer, they would have moved the table as easily as the hat, &c.
Arguing from these experiments, I conceived the notion of suspending the operators, and causing the fluid-magnetic to turn them. I have not yet completed the apparatus, but when I have I will be happy to make know the results.
Many persons entertain the notion that before performing these wonders they require to be mesmerised, magnetised, electrified, or at least be of a peculiarly sensitive disposition, such an idea is perfectly incorrect, the persons employed by me were farm servants. 
There are some minutes connected with the above experiments, which I would detail, did I not think I have trespassed too much on the columns of this paper.  I will only say that I have succeeded in inducing motion by touching the hat, &c., with tin-foil held between the joined hands. 
I know there are persons who imagine the motion is caused by the action of the will on the hand, or, in other words, by pushing. Such an idea is completely and perfectly false; the motion is caused by some unseen and extraordinary agency. If I could afford any other information to an inquirer into this art I would feel happy.
Yours, &c., E. B. F., Tamplebreden, May 
  1. Despite at least 5 minutes of frantic Googling, I was unable to identity Mr Brett.
  • The Cork Examiner, 27 May 1853
  • The Irish Farmers’ Gazette, 11 June 1853

Sunday, 29 April 2018

Lights Out at the Boxer's House

Not the boxer's house - just a lovely old thatched cottage.
Ian Edwards [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Back in January 2017, I posted the story “Baffling Lights at the Boxer’s House.” In short, in March 1936, in the townland of Aughamullan, County Tyrone, mysterious lights were appearing nightly in the former home of the recently deceased Michael Quinn. The Northern Whig newspaper sent a representative to the area, and “Baffling Lights at the Boxer’s House” was a facsimile of his report.
Recently, I came across another story about the events in Aughamullan.

Coalisland Ghost Story
To scare boys who were taking part in a late night shooting competition for a clock in the townland of Aughamullan, Coalisland, last week, three or four young men set their plan, which had more than the desired effect. People talked about what they had seen at an empty house, and of the mysterious lights which had twinkled at night, so much so that the story, which lost nothing in the telling, enticed a representative of the English Press to visit the scene for a bit of “copy,” and on Monday morning the English and Irish newspapers gave prominence to the following story, which was told in all sincerity to their representatives.
Aughamullan, which is on the shores of Lough Neagh, and the most populous townland in Dungannon Union, has become a centre of attraction by reason of the fact that in a house, now vacant, mysterious lights appear nightly.
When a Press representative visited the farmstead neighbours spoke with awe of the strange happenings.
James Herron, the nearest resident, said the former owner, Michael Quinn, who resided alone, visited his house about a fortnight ago and got a bag of turf which he carried home. Mr Herron’s son, Patrick, accompanied the old man, who was suffering from a severe cold, to the end of the laneway leading to the house. Next morning, when passing, he heard moans from inside the door of the farmhouse. He found Quinn lying, still clutching the bag of turf, and the old man died a few hours later. After the funeral lights appeared nightly at the two front windows, and seemed to move from the kitchen to the room and back again. He had seen the lights in the middle of the night.
At this point the story was taken up by Bernard McStravock, the local blacksmith, who is also a neighbour. Bernard said upwards of 400 people now assembled nightly to watch the lights. On Friday night several young men volunteered to search the house. As they approached the lights went out and a thorough search inside was made without discovering the cause. When they went back to the road the lights again appeared, and were brighter than ever.
A passing motorist put forward the theory that the lights were the reflex from the lighted windows of neighbouring houses, and all windows were blinded with meal bags, but it made no difference.
McStravock added that he was not personally uneasy about the lights, but the womenfolk were becoming alarmed. Quinn, he said, was a sturdily built man, had always loved a “scrap,” and had been in the ring in several parts of England and Scotland in his earlier days.
McStravock and others accompanied the Press representative to the house, which is mud-walled with thatched roof. The furniture is still there, and the kitchen dresser contains the usual quantity of delph and ornaments.
On Saturday night over 500 people again congregated at the little farm, which contains four-and-a-half acres. At 10pm, a bright light suddenly appeared in the kitchen window and resembled a spotlight. It was seen to move to the other front window, suggesting someone going about the rooms. Neighbours again thoroughly searched the building without result.
“Courier and News” Interview
A representative of the “Courier and News” (Dungannon) interviewed a well-known young man in that district, who stated that the whole thing was done for a joke.
“And, mind you,” he said, “it put the wind up some of the boys.”
The whole thing happened like this. Somebody bought a clock from a man going round. It was decided to have a shooting match for the clock. The competition began in a house near where Michael Quinn lived, and often there is a certain amount of talk about a house in which a lone man dies. Knowing that the boys were coming home late at night from the shooting match, several boys set out to scare them. They got into Quinn’s house, put a lighted candle inside a jam-pot to prevent it doing any harm, and placed it near the window, and when the “shooters” were leaving they saw the light and very soon established the belief that it could only be a ghost. Next day it was the talk of the country, and on the following night the mysterious light was placed in the empty house at a different window, and the townland at large began to talk about “the lights.” It soon became known that a relative of Quinn’s was making inquiries into the whole affair, and offered a good “hiding” to the first man caught acting the “johnnie,” and so the ghost story ends.
  • The Mid-Ulster Mail, 4 April 1936

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

And on that farm he had a ghost

It’s not easy being a farmer – or so I’m told. Between the early starts and late finishes, the mounting costs of feed and energy, the volatility of livestock prices, and having to “keep ‘er country” even though you don’t really want to, it really is a hard knock life.
With a "woo woo" here and a "woo woo" there ...
And then there are the ghosts.
Yes, that’s right: when it comes to hauntings, no one has suffered more than our farmers.
The first story comes from Cormeen, in County Monaghan, where, in 1908, a farmer – identified only as Hawthorne - and his family were being haunted by a ghostly “lady dressed in white.” She appeared on a nightly basis and would peer in through the windows before running through the house opening and closing doors. According to the Belfast News-Letter, she behaved “as if the place belonged to her, and she was paying a visit of inspection.” She never stayed long, though, “passing out of sight as suddenly as she came.” And she never “interfered” with any of the Hawthorne’s.
But the family were terrified and would only stay in the house at night if there were lights in every room. And the lights seemed to keep the “lady” away. But the family wanted a more permanent solution - so they moved to South Africa.
A few years later, in 1919, “great excitement” was caused by “ghostly manifestations” at a farmer’s house in the Clady district of County Donegal. The farmer – whose name isn’t given in the report – had recently bought the house from another farmer, a man who had always kept one room in the house locked. When the new owner unlocked this room, according to the Dublin Evening Telegraph, “this act is said to have disturbed a ghost, and caused it to show itself to people in the neighbourhood.”
As well as showing itself to people, the ghost was also fond of pulling the covers off beds. However, the only description of the ghost comes from the following – dubious in so many ways – story:
“A story is also told of a man who was going home with a load of coal. When his horse and load were passing the place where they mysterious figure was seen, the animal became frightened, and refused to go any further. The driver became alarmed at the state of affairs, but on collecting his wits, and looking through the space between the horse’s ears, he saw in front of him the figure of a large black man. The horse afterwards becoming frightened, bolted off, and smashed the shafts of the cart.”
Finally, in 1906, in Mullaghmena, County Tyrone, a farming family became the victims of some classic poltergeist phenomena. Or, as The Derry Journal put it, a farmer’s house “in that locality was under the spell of some evil or uncanny spirit.”
In December of that year, at about midnight each night, the family would be woken by a “queer noise.” And immediately following the “queer noise,” stones would rain down on the exterior of the house. Some of the stones would make their way into the house “in some mysterious way, the windows and doors being closed.”
After a few nights of this, the police began patrolling the area. And even though they were present on at least one occasion when it was raining stones, the police were at a loss to explain it.
“All the people in the district are terrified,” reported The Derry Journal, “and will not pass the house after night, but prefer to take a much longer route to their homes. Although the police have been very vigorous in their investigations they have not been able to obtain the slightest clue which might unravel the mystery.”
  • Belfast News-Letter, 5 November 1908
  • The Derry Journal, 17 December 1906
  • Dublin Evening Telegraph, 28 February 1919 

Monday, 26 March 2018

On the Bridey Trail

Between November 1952 and October 1953, Virginia Tighe (aka Ruth Simmons), a Chicago woman who had never left the US, intrigued the world with her tales of her past life as Bridey Murphy, a nineteenth century Irish woman who had never left Ireland.
Photo by Morey Bernstein
With the aid of amateur hypnotist Morey Bernstein, Tighe recalled specific names, places and events from her “life” in Ireland - things that could be checked. And following the release of Bernstein’s book on the affair, Denver Post reporter W J Barker came to Ireland to look for clues.
The following appeared in the Belfast News-Letter of 13 February 1956.


100-year-old files may provide clue in “reincarnation” mystery
Files of the “Belfast News-Letter” of more than a century ago may provide a link in the life story of a mysterious woman, Bridie Murphy, who has suddenly achieved world fame 90 years after her death in Belfast.
Her story has been fascinating Americans for the past 16 months, and at the moment is rivalling even Davy Crockett in popularity.
People all over the United States today are asking “Did Bridie Murphy ever really exist?” It is to try to find a concrete answer to that question that the American newspaper man who first introduced her to the public, Mr. W. J. Barker, of the “Denver Post,” has now come to Belfast. He spent most of yesterday visiting city cemeteries and examining old burial records in an effort to trace Bridie Murphy’s grave.
Hypnotist’s Subject
Her intriguing story began about two years ago when an amateur hypnotist, Mr. Moray Bernstein, began using a young housewife, Mrs. Ruth Simmons, from Pueblo (near Denver, Colorado) as a subject. Mrs. Simmons, while in a trance, began to describe a previous existence in which, she said, she was Bridie Murphy, born in Cork in 1798. In a changed voice, with a marked Irish accent, she then went on to tell how she had married Sean Brian Joseph McCarthy in 1818 and had gone to live in Belfast.
Her husband, she said, lectured in law at Queen’s College, and wrote articles in the “Belfast News-Letter.”
Tape recordings were made of a series of Mrs. Simmons’s hypnotic trances and transcripts of the conversations are included in a book “In Search of Bridie Murphy,” written by Mr. Bernstein and recently published in America. It is to be published in England next year.
Early trance
The first reference to the “Belfast News-Letter” came in an early trance when Mr. Bernstein asked his subject if there would be any records to prove that she had lived in Ireland at the time she said.
“There would be articles in the ‘Belfast Newsletter’ - about Brian,” was the reply.
Referring to her husband again at a later  interview, she said: “He wrote for the ‘News-Letter’ … Brian had several articles in the ‘Belfast News-Letter’ … about law cases.”
“Did he ever sign his name to them?” she was asked.
“Oh, I’m sure he would.”
“Did you read any of them?”
“Oh, they were above me.”
“Did you read the ‘Belfast News-Letter?”
“Oh, a bit.”
Reacted to one
Mr. Bernstein, the hypnotist, later went to the Congressional Library in Washington and was there shown a copy of the “Belfast News-Letter” dated 1847. From it he made out a list of names of people and business firms in Belfast. At a later trance he asked the subject if she recognised any of these, but she reacted to only one - a reference to John Law’s Timber Yard, 13, James Street.
She then volunteered the information that there was in Belfast “a big tobacco company and a big rope company.”
Other information given during the trances included the fact that Bridie Murphy died in 1864 and that her tombstone bears the words “Bridget Kathleen M. McCarthy, 1798 - 1864.” Two of her friends, Mary Catherine and Kevin Moore, are also mentioned; a visit to the Glens of Antrim, including an amazingly accurate description of the journey along the Antrim Coast road, is referred to, and two shops in Belfast where she bought foodstuffs - one owned by a Mr. Farr and the other by a John Carrigan - are mentioned.
Records in the Belfast Public Library show that there was in fact a grocer named Carrigan in business at 90, Northumberland Street at that time, and that there was also a grocer named Farr in business at 59 - 61, Mustard Street, between Donegall Street and North Street.
It is because of the tremendous public interest which has been aroused in America by the publication of Mr. Bernstein’s book and by the tape recordings - which are being sold on a large scale in the U.S. - that Mr. Barker has come to Ireland to check these and other pieces of information. He has already been to Cork, where he has found that there was a Barrister named McCarthy in practice (as Bridie Murphy’s father-in-law was said to be) about the 1820s, and to Dublin. There he has been consulting the Irish Folklore Commission on the meaning of some dialect words used during the interviews, and which mean nothing to Americans.

Belfast News-Letter, 13 February 1956

Monday, 19 March 2018

The Wicklow Weird Winged Thing

We don’t get a lot of winged weirdies in Ireland. So I was almost giddy when I came across the following story, which appeared in The Wicklow People of 14 July 1900 [originally published in Truth magazine – date unknown].
Truth Says – A lady, who says that she has been a regular of Truth for many years, reports to me a most mysterious occurrence at Dublin of which she was recently an eye witness, and which she felt it her duty to reveal:
On a Sunday evening, at about twenty minutes to six o’clock, witness was sitting in a window overlooking a broad and much frequented thoroughfare. The evening was beautifully calm, with a light silvery haze in the air, and a few fleecy clouds in the sky, when she observed far up in the sky a black spot. Its shape was irregular, and it remained motionless. The writer fixed her eyes on it, and never removed them for fully five and twenty minutes, when to her surprise [She must have been surprised – Ed Truth] there swooped down from out of the black spot an immense Thing, with wings spread, which seemed about 25 feet from tip to tip. Flapping these wings slowly, it moved in a northerly direction over the city, and was lost to sight. In the meantime the black spot wholly disappeared.
Weeks passed, and although the writer often watched for the strange visitant she saw nothing more. On the evening of last Trinity Sunday, however, when sitting in the same window, at precisely the same hour as before there was the same black spot in the same place in the sky, motionless. The writer again fixed her eyes on it for about the same space of time as before, when down came the enormous Thing as before, out of the Spot. It sailed away slowly, this time in the direction of Bray, County Wicklow.
NB – The wings were of a creamy colour, no feathers were visible, nor did there appear any thing like a body with them.
I think I may say, without boasting, this is one of the most remarkable experiences of this kind ever reported to the editor of a newspaper, unless in the Sea Serpent season. When I first read it I felt for the moment like the poet in Mr Gilbert’s ballad, who
Couldn’t help thinking
The man had been drinking
But on looking back, and seeing that the lady had been a regular reader of Truth for many years, I at once dismissed this theory. That being so and my correspondent having enclosed her name “as a guarantee of good faith,” the question at once arises whether the “strange visitant” is of a natural or supernatural character. It may be a portent connected with the war in South Africa or the Boxer outbreak. It may have something to do with the re-union of the Irish Party, or the Crisis in the Church. Which it may be I leave to wiser heads than mine to explain, though I cannot help remarking that the appearance of the phenomenon on Trinity Sunday is significant. At the same time, should anyone in the neighbourhood of Bray, Co. Wicklow, notice a pair of featherless wings flapping about overhead without a body, my advice is “Do not hesitate to shoot.”
My giddiness was short lived, however. It seems that, shortly after the original article appeared, a “Dublin contemporary” wrote to the magazine with his – annoyingly plausible – theory.
My readers will doubtless have fresh in their memories the strange experience of the Dublin lady, who on a recent Sunday afternoon beheld in the sky a mysterious Thing, consisting of a pair of wings without a body, which evolved itself out of a Black Spot in the firmament, and, swooping over the city, flapped off on its featherless pinions in the direction of Bray, Co Wicklow. A Dublin contemporary furnishes a very rationalistic explanation of the phenomena. It seems that on several Sunday afternoons someone has been flying a big kite over Dublin. As the kite attained a great altitude, it presented the appearance of a black spot, motionless in the sky, and when it was hauled down it might have assumed, to an imaginative eye, the appearance of a winged Thing, flapping away in the distance. For the sake of the lady who had the vision, I trust that this may be the correct interpretation. Things might easily have been worse.
As always, if anyone can add to this story, or has other Irish winged weirdie stories to share, please get in touch.
The Wicklow People, 14 July 1900
The Wrexham Advertiser, 21 July 1900

Sunday, 11 March 2018

A Monster in Monaghan

Drumate Lake, near the town of New Bliss in County Monaghan, is quite a small lake. It covers only 11 hectares and is 4 metres deep at its deepest. Yet, in August 1944, it was big enough to hide a monster.
Genuinely, this is the only photo I could rescue off the SD card!
The early descriptions of the monster were quite basic: it was said to be 15 feet long, and it made a rumbling noise when it dived under the surface of the water.
It was first seen by some men who were fishing from the shore. It appeared as “a black patch a few inches above the water.”
Soon after this first sighting, some local farmers - armed with shotguns - rowed out to look for the beast. They were in luck: soon after their search began, the monster broke the surface, 20 yards from the boat. One of the farmers, P J Clerkin, fired both barrels of his shotgun. The creature rose partly out of the water before diving and making its weird rumbling noise.
Two hours later, the creature appeared at another part of the lake. It was immediately shot at by another farmer, Joseph Dickson.
According to reports, a total of six shots were fired at the monster during the initial sightings. It’s not recorded if any of the shots found their mark.
A number of newspapers covered the story, but they all appeared to have used the same Press Association report. Only the Belfast News-Letter attempted to independently verify the story: “When the ‘News-Letter’ made enquiries at the Bewbliss police barracks last night, however, all knowledge of the ‘monster’ was denied.”
The next reported sighting - there may have been other sightings, but they weren’t reported - occurred at the end of August. Arthur Davidson and three other men were in a boat on the lake looking for the monster when it surfaced - only two yards away from their position. It goes without saying that Davidson tried to blow its head off.
He explained: “I was out in a boat with three other men searching for the monster. Seeing it over the edge of the boat, I fired. It gave a splash and raised a big wave on the water. Then it disappeared.”
But in the time between the creature surfacing and Davidson scaring the bejesus out of it, Davidson managed to get a good look. He said that, though it wasn’t fully visible, it was about seven feet long; it had two arms that ended in either claws or webbed feet; it had a tail that was 18 inches long and six inches wide; and it moved in the water “aided by its arms.”
According to all of the newspapers that covered this encounter, all bathing in the lake and fishing from boats had stopped. But was it fear of the monster or fear of being shot by a farmer that stopped the water based fun? It’s a question that no one asked.
So, August 1944 was a month that would have kept a Fortean clipper busy. But it did make one of our neighbours a tiny bit jealous. The following appeared in the “Bats in the Belfry” column of the Daily Record on Wednesday, 30 August 1944:
“Are the tycoons of Scottish tourism asleep? Only the other day Brazil announced the appearance of a sea-serpent off her coast [1], and now Eire has proclaimed the presence of a small wyvern or gryphon in a County Monaghan Lake.
“Considering that the success of a modern tourist industry depends almost entirely on monster-appeal, it is a trifle chawing to find Brazil and Eire getting in on the ground floor with inferior phenomena while Albyn keeps mum about the curvaceous colossus of Loch Ness.”
Whatever it was in Drumate Lake, if there ever was anything to begin with, it stopped appearing after the Davidson encounter.
But, if you know otherwise, please let me know.
  1. Something was making appearances off the coast of the Brazilian state of Maranhāo in August 1944. A “U.S. naval observer” had described it as "a gigantic sea-serpent.” Whatever it was, the Maranhāo fishermen were refusing to to put to sea.

  • Belfast News-Letter, 19 August 1944
  • Daily Record, 30 August 1944
  • Fishing in Ireland (
  • The Gloucestershire Echo, 10 August 1944
  • The Newcastle Journal, 29 August 1944
  • The Nottingham Journal, 19 August 1944

Friday, 2 March 2018

The Black Pig of Kiltrustan

The following story appeared in The Roscommon Messenger on 4 May 1918. It was covered by a number of other papers, but the Messenger really went to town on it.
It’s a mad tale that The Irish Times believed existed only in the imagination of the journalist who “reported” it [1]. However, it was reported as news – and it’s one of my favourite stories.
Mysterious Occurrence at Kiltrustan
Said to be “The Black Pig” Referred to in St Columcille’s Prophecy
Our Strokestown correspondent writes: - On Wednesday evening last the town of Strokestown was all astir over a strange story that was told by some people from Kiltrustan, a little over two miles away, who had come to town. According to the story told by these respectable people a little girl named Beirne, aged about 12 ½ years, saw what she described as a black pig come up out of a crack or small hole in the ground near the schoolhouse, and commence to walk about the stump of an old tree that had been cut down recently in a little grove convenient to the public road.
and its peculiar movements attracted the little girl’s attention for some minutes, after which she ran down to the school and told the teacher (Mr Beirne), who came to the spot but failed to see the animal, the child persisting all the time that it was there and actually walking across the master’s boots. Other children of the same age and younger were called, and each of them cried out simultaneously, “Oh, look at the black pig,” “She is eating grass,” she is spitting,” she is walking on your boots,” etc. The news spread rapidly through the district, and a large number of men and women gathered to the spot, but all of them declared that they could see nothing but the grass and old trees. On Thursday the place was
from the town and districts around, including some priests. The little girls who claimed to have seen the strange animal on the previous day were requisitioned, and again declared that they could see the pig quite plainly walking around the old tree stump, but on this occasion accompanied by six little bonhams, three of them trotting on each side of her. Again the adults present stated that they could see nothing unusual, but the children insisted that the pig and bonhams were there all the time, and that some of those present had actually touched the pig with their hands when they stretched them forth. The same children, and others from a good distance away, stated that they again saw the pig and young ones on Friday last, but not since. The place was
It has been decided to close the school until the excitement dies down. There are many stories going the rounds as to the cause of the strange appearance of the pig, and the children undoubtedly must have seen it, because no amount of cross-examination could shake them in their description of what they saw, and there is not the slightest chance of their having invented it, because some were brought from a distance and not allowed to communicate in any way with those who claimed to have seen it first. A number of old people who studies
say that the “black pig” is referred to in them as an evil omen for Ireland, and that she is to travel through a certain part of the country west of the River Shannon before being killed or banished. Others say that the appearance of the pig is the forerunner of a rising in the North to fight against Home Rule. The affair has caused a great sensation in this district, and is the chief topic of conversation amongst all classes.
A remarkably strange and interesting story is revealed as the result of further investigation into the circumstances connected with the mysterious appearance at Kiltrustan, Co Roscommon, of the famous black pig of the prophecies. Kiltrustan is situated almost midway between Strokestown and Elphin. It is a district boasting of numerous historical associations: its importance as an agricultural centre is at the present time considerable, and its situation has long been identified with the course of the boundary fortifications of ancient Ulster, otherwise known as the Valley of the Black Pig. Mr William F De Vismes Kane, of Drumreaske Castle, Co Monaghan, was the author of an interesting work on
He was an historian and antiquarian of much repute, and many of his works deal exhaustively with Co Roscommon. He gives a detailed description of the race or valley of the Black Pig – a great embankment and ditch which he traces with remarkable accuracy westward from Co Monaghan. Attached to the peculiar name are numerous legends, the main drift of which is that a demon, exorcised by St Patrick, assumed the shape of a black pig, and raging westward through Ireland, tore up a deep furrow with its snout. Following the deep track that the animal; left behind, St Patrick at length succeeded in running it down on the banks of the Shannon. The track left behind by the black pig afterwards formed the site of
mainly erected as a defensive boundary between certain provinces, but still retaining the title of the Black Pig’s Valley. It is a strange coincidence that on the same day that Mr Kane died suddenly at his residence the Black Pig was first stated to be observed at Kiltrustan. The circumstances of its appearance are rather peculiar. Creta demesne adjoins the main road leading to Kiltrustan National School; a right of way off the main road connects with the residence of a respectable resident of the district, a Mr Hughes. Beside this right of way, and a few yards from the road boundary, there is a small plantation which, according to local tradition, is haunted, mysterious lights having been occasionally seen, and weird sounds heard, at night time. Contrary to the wish of some of the old people in the neighbourhood, two young men cut one of the trees in the plantation. Both of them are now understood to be ill, and their
referred to so significantly in St Columcille’s Prophecy.
1 Sorry, I didn’t record a date for this in my notes.
The Roscommon Messenger, 4 May 1918

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Fitzgerald's Fabulous Folbane Encounter

In the latter half of the nineteenth century, the part of Donegal that Michael Fitzgerald called home (go to the Glenveagh National Park website to get an idea of the locale) was prone to extreme weather events. Lightning strikes that tore up the hills and torrents of rain that washed away mountainsides were not uncommon, according to Fitzgerald’s records.
But the events of 6 August 1868 surpassed anything he had experienced before. In fact, they were beyond what most people would have experienced before. The members of the Royal Meteorological Society were intrigued, and an account of Fitzgerald’s fabulous encounter was read at their meeting of 20 March 1878.
“Notes on the occurrence of Globular Lightning and Waterspouts in Co. Donegal, Ireland.” By M. FITZGERALD (Communicated by ROBERT H. SCOTT, F.R.S.)
The following is my experience of Waterspouts and Lightning:- On the 6th of August, 1868, this neighbourhood being free from the dense black clouds that hung over the mountains of Glenswilly and Glendoan, I went up the latter glen to note anything worthy of observation. On arriving at Meenawilligan, the sky was so black over Bintwilly (Bin Tuile, the height of the floods), where lightning and thunder were following each other in rapid succession, that I turned homewards in case the rain should overtake me. When I reached Folbane, on looking behind, I noticed a globe of fire in the air floating leisurely along in the direction of Church Hill. After passing the crown of the ridge, where I first noticed it, it descended gradually into the valley, keeping all the way about the same distance from the surface of the land, until it reached the stream between Folbane and Derora, about 300 yards from where I stood. It then struck the land and re-appeared in about a minute, drifted along the surface for about 200 yards, and again disappeared in the boggy soil, reappearing about 20 perches further down the stream; again it moved along the surface, and again sunk, this time into the brow of the stream, which it flew across and finally lodged in the opposite brow, leaving a hole in the peat bank, where it buried itself.
If it had left no marks behind, I confess that, as I had never seen anything of the kind before, I should hesitate to describe its movements, which surprised me much at the time, but the marks which it left behind of its course and power surprised me more.
I at once examined its course, and found a hole about 20 feet square, where it first touched the land, with pure peat turned out on the lea as if it had been cut out with a huge knife. This was only a minute’s work, and, as well as I could judge, it did not occupy fully that time. It next made a drain about 20 perches in length and 4 feet deep, afterwards ploughing up the surface about 1 foot deep, and again tearing away the bank of the stream about 5 perches in length and 5 feet deep, and then hurling the immense mass into the bed of the stream, it flew into the opposite peaty brink. From its appearance till it buried itself could not have been more than 20 minutes, during which it travelled leisurely, as if floating, with an undulating motion through the air and land over one mile. It appeared at first to be a bright red globular ball of fire, about 2 feet in diameter, but its bulk became rapidly less, particularly after each dip in the soil, so that it appeared not more than 3 inches in diameter when it finally disappeared. The sky overhead was clear at that time, but about one hour afterwards it became as dark as midnight. Thunder and lightning accompanied the darkness, and such torrents of rain fell as I have never seen fall before or since, except on the 5th of August this year (1877), when another waterspout fell on the village of Church Hill. On the 20th June, 1877, two waterspouts fell near Bintwilly, which is 1,112 feet above sea level. From time immemorial this hill has been famous for waterspouts, as its name indicates – The Mountain of Floods. Flying clouds passed by it till about 11 a.m. After this they settled upon its summit, and gradually darkened until the mountain became obscured in pitch darkness, lit up occasionally by lightning, succeeded by thunder.
About 12.30 a vivid flash of lightning struck and tore up the hill-side for a considerable distance between the Bintwilly and Meenirroy road. This was immediately followed by a loud peal of thunder, and succeeded by such a torrent of rain that the flood came rushing abreast down along the whole mountain side about 6 feet high, carrying everything before it. The rain lasted only 15 minutes, and then the sky and the mountain became as clear as ever. The brightness was, however, of short duration, for the clouds soon collected again over and around Bintwilly; but this time the darkest clouds (some of which were as black as ink) rested over Glendoan until about 1 o’clock p.m., when a flash of lightning tore up the solid rocky bed of Crologhy River. Thunder and torrents of rain followed immediately. The rain of the first waterspout was confined to the south side of Bintwilly, while that of the second extended from the summit of Glenveagh Mountains to Bintwilly. The area of the first rainfall was about half a mile square; the second followed the south side of the mountain range through a space about three miles long and a quarter of a mile wide. The second waterspout lasted about 20 minutes; and both in the course of 35 minutes destroyed over £2,000 worth of county property on the roads.
Fitzgerald, M. (1878) Notes on the Occurrence of Globular Lightning and Waterspouts in County Donegal, Ireland, Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society, 4 (27), 160 - 161