Sunday, 12 August 2018

Spook Wanted

In 1914, opponents of the Government of Ireland Act 1914 (better known as the Home Rule Act) shipped 25,000 rifles and 5 million rounds of ammunition into Larne and Bangor, in what became known as the Larne Gun Running episode.
It was a key event in the creation of Northern Ireland.
It was also a key event in the history of Larne. But in 1908, just a few years earlier, Larne seemed to be a place devoid of political worries.
The following item – written by “Nemo” - appeared in the “Round the Town” column of The Larne Times and Weekly Telegraph of 20 June 1908.
Larne (Photographer: R Welch)
By Public Record Office of Northern Ireland
We haven’t got a ghost. And it’s a poor town that hasn’t got a ghost. I have lived a fair number of years in Larne now, and whilst other towns can point to their haunted houses, and boast of their headless horsemen, white ladies, and banshees, I have never yet heard of even the ghost of a dead pussy-cat stalking abroad in Larne or its environs. It’s a poor town that has no ghost. And, alas! we have no grisly phantom that we can boast of. No one in Larne has ever seen a pale young woman of ethereal texture gliding silently up the stairs in the moonlight, or the white-robed spectre of a forgotten chief revisiting the glimpses of the moon. We have no bony skeleton that click-clicks o’er the rotting floor of some lonely and empty house, whilst from its osseous wrists dangle rusty chains that clank and echo through the dark and empty rooms. For, of course, no self-respecting skeleton would think of stalking forth without a good supply of rusty chains. Did you ever read of a skeleton yet which went on its nightly rounds without such a necessary part of its stock-in-trade as rusty chains? Of course not! But we haven’t got a public phantom or a haunted house of any sort to mention in guide-books, or to show our summer visitors. Truly, it is a poor town that has no ghost. Many of us, of course, have got a skeleton in the cupboard – a grisly spectre that steps forth at some untimely hour, sinking its bony fingers into some poor devil’s throat, sending him to despair and ruin. But the cupboard bag-of-bones – although, alas! too often horrible enough – is really only a figurative spook – a skeleton in the abstract. What we want is the genuine article – absolutely no deception – a spook like the spectre of Tapington, or a good old mediaeval ghost, with rusty armour and a blood-stained mace – one with a good stock of clanking chains preferred. Yes, we really must have a municipal ghost. For it’s a poor town that has no ghost. I would suggest that the Town Council advertise for a suitable house-haunter, chains, groans, blood-stains, moonlight, etc, all complete. Let the council get the ghost and provide the empty house, and I’ll undertake to write a blood curdling legend around the whole thing – a legend which will make your blood run cold as you proudly relate it to an envious circle of family friends who have been blowing you up about the phantom pig that haunts the bridge across the river of the town they come from. You can make their hair stand on end as you relate how “ye younge knyghte slew with hys shyneing hauberk ye mother of ye beauteous mayden who was even hys wyfe.” That’s an extract from a contemporary of Chaucer, and I’ve never been able to make out whether “ye younge knyghte” slew his wife or his mother-in-law. But the fact remains that we have neither a ghost nor a haunted house. I wait, therefore, to hear what steps the Council intend to take in the matter. For it’s a poor town that has no ghost.
The Larne Times and Weekly Telegraph, 20 June 1908

Saturday, 28 July 2018

The Great Causeway Giant: Part III

The Giant's Causeway (Alphonse Dousseau [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons)
Here it is – the final part of The Northern Whig’s lengthy report on the finding of the Causeway Giant.
Perhaps you would now like my own opinion of the stone representation of the huge human figure, which during the past week has caused so much excitement here. Well, I am not a geologist, and consequently am in complete ignorance of mineralogical distinctions. For the life of me I could not distinguish basalt from the ordinary trap; and, although I have an idea of what is meant by the columnar class, I could not tell the amorphous from the concretionary, nor either of them from the ferruginous. If I were asked what I, in my ignorance, thought the Giant consisted of, I should unhesitatingly express my belief that he was chiselled out of Whitehead limestone, and well coated for a time with soft red clay; that, after he had been duly pickled for a while in a mixture of that sort, he had been carefully brushed down, so as to leave a sufficient quantity of the clay in the crevices and marks with which his body is covered so profusely. 
With regard to the exhibitors of the Giant, there are three of them – a lady and two gentlemen – Mr. and Mrs. Dyer and Mr. Ford. They are all Americans, and have, it seems, been in this country for the past few months. Mr. Dyer is a shrewd, plausible gentleman, of about fifty years of age; his wife, a nice, lady-like person, takes a great interest in the discovery which her husband had made – and lifts the money; Mr. Ford, a sort of Franco-Yankee, aged about thirty-five, acts in the capacity of the business manager. 
Mr. Dyer told me that he intended taking the Giant over to the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, and in answer to my statement that I thought exhibits should have been there long since, he said that it would be quite time enough before the 15thof July. After keeping it there until the Centennial closes, he stated that he would bring it back to Ireland and show it in Dublin and some others of the large towns, concluding with Belfast, from whence he would proceed to Glasgow. 
No information can be obtained from him or any of the party as to the precise spot where the Giant was discovered. “County Antrim” is the stereotyped reply to all questions on the subject. It arrived at the Causeway Hotel late on Sunday night, or early on Monday morning, and it remained there until yesterday afternoon. During the first two days admission was free; the other two days a shilling was charged. While it lay in front of the hotel, Mr. Mack, photographer, of Coleraine, attended, and took a series of views of the figure and its surroundings, showing the hotel and the Causeway headlands in the background. Who after that would attempt to deny that it was found at the Causeway? 
This forenoon the following placard was posted profusely in and around Portrush:-- “Ireland Ahead! The greatest novelty of the age is the discovery of the fossil remains of the Causeway Giant, which will be on exhibition at Coleman’s Hotel, Portrush, on Friday and Saturday, 2ndand 3rdJune, from ten a.m. till ten p.m. Admission, one shilling. Children half price. Schools by agreement. No exhibition on Sunday.”
Is not the very fact that the far-sighted people of this town paid their shillings to see the Giant another strong proof that the discovery is bona-fide? None of the guides or boatmen at the Causeway today could throw any light upon the gigantic fossil, or where it was found, and they seemed greatly chagrined that, with all their ingenuity in the way of money making, and supplying “boxes of specimens,” they allowed the Yankees to box the most wondrous specimen ever heard of in the district.
And here I may be allowed to relate an incident at once interesting and affecting. Some few months ago there arrived, on the County Antrim side of Belfast Lough, three gentlemen from America. They came on a somewhat painful mission. A short time previously there had expired in the Far West a gentleman whose birth had taken place in this “dear ould country.” He had left it many years ago, but in the land of his adoption Providence had smiled on his honest and indefatigable labours, and his dying request was – indeed, if I mistake not, it was also embodied in his will – that over his remains there should be erected a huge cross of Irish limestone. 
In strict obedience to the request of this patriotic Irishman, the trio of Americans arrived at the locality mentioned some months since, and soon entered on their work upon a huge block of limestone from Whitehead. I understand that afterwards a second block was procured. I need not just now indicate the exact scene of their labours; but almost day and night they plied the mallet and chisel. No one was allowed to enter the temporary edifice which was used as a workshop, and in which they were so busily employed preparing this ancient national monument which was to adorn in a far distant land the grave of the true-hearted Irishman now no more. 
A short time since the work was announced to be completed, and the Americans took their departure, but no one, so far as I can discover, has yet witnessed the finished piece of workmanship. On last Friday a lorry, laden with a large wooden case, was seen going through Ballymena, and, if I mistake not, passed on Saturday night through Ballymoney. The mention of this incident shows the interest taken in this country by the Yankees. At the Causeway we have one batch bringing to light the petrified remains of a great, very great, man of other days, while here, close to Belfast, we have another batch preparing a gigantic tombstone for a departed Irishman in America!
A good deal of curiosity will now be manifested over the North of Ireland as to the exact spot where the “Great Causeway Giant” was found. Mr. Dyer will, no doubt, soon become less reticent, supply full particulars, and produce the workmen who assisted at the interesting excavation. Messrs. McCrea and McFarland, the well-known carriers, will also doubtless relate how far their vehicle carried the huge coffin. Our scientific friends, the Belfast Naturalists’ Field Club amongst the number, are certain to have an excursion down to see both the Giant and Mr. Dyer, and in a few days the public will likely have full details of this wonderful discovery.
 - The Northern Whig, 3 June 1876

Saturday, 21 July 2018

The Great Causeway Giant: Part II

In this second part of "The Causeway Giant," the Whig’s correspondent gets a closer look at the giant and has a word with Mr Dyer.
The body is evidently composed of limestone. A little below the knee both legs are broken across, and this injury it was first stated was inflicted in the disinterment, while afterwards the explanation was that the accident took place during the carriage of the body up to the Causeway Hotel.
Ross-shire Journal, 11 September 1903
At the sides of both legs there is a quantity of plaster of Paris, &c., placed there by a workman shortly before the body started from the Causeway yesterday. 
A resident of Portrush having feasted his eyes on the strange spectacle last night thought he would make a more minute investigation, and having seen that Mr. Dyer was engaged in another part of the yard, he pulled out a knife and commenced to scrape the Giant’s brow. In an instant Mr. Dyer was on the scene and demanded to know what the gentleman was doing. “Are you,” says he, “a scientific man; if so get your proper appliances and make a proper examination, but I cannot allow any person to be scratching and scraping at the figure in such a manner.” The snow-white mark caused by the knife in the Giant’s forehead was soon afterwards rubber over with red clay, and rendered almost imperceptible. 
After gazing for some time at the novel spectacle I asked Mr. Dyer where he had made the interesting discovery, and his reply was that that was a thing he never told to any person; that he was boring for iron, and found the Giant about four feet from the surface. In reply to my question if he had explored much of the country in search of minerals, he said that he had been over the greater portion of Ireland north of Dublin. “How long is it since you found the Giant?” I asked, and he replied that it was in December last; that many anxious hour he passed from that time until the Giant was safely under lock and key; that at length, on the 20thJanuary, 1876 – note the date, ye Lilliputians of the present age – he managed to get him housed, but even then, horrible to relate, his anxiety did not cease nor his troubles end, for on a Sunday afternoon soon afterwards he caught no less than five youths try to effect an entrance through the roof of the edifice in which the Giant slumbered. “Were they going to steal him?” innocently asked the Portrush gentleman who had been using the penknife. “Well I don’t know what they were going to do,” replied the artless Mr. Dyer; “but I pointed at them a little two-eyed machine, and I guess they soon disappeared.” 
Mr Dyer went on to say that altogether the Giant as he lay before them had cost him £87; but how that amount was expended he gave no explanation whatever. It was now close upon ten o’clock, and, after some further explanations of an unimportant character, the company separated in twos and threes, shaking their heads knowingly. Soon the Giant was swathed in horse-rugs to protect him from the midnight air, and the séance concluded. 
  • The Northern Whig, 3 June 1876

Saturday, 14 July 2018

The Great Causeway Giant: Part I

The Giant's Causeway
(Thomas Rowlandson [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)
In June 1876, some American gentlemen “found” a “giant” near the Giant’s Causeway, Antrim’s premiere tourist attraction until Game of Thrones made weird, bendy trees a thing. Anyway, it was all a delightful hoax [1], of course, but it still made a great story, one that The Northern Whig devoted quite a lot of space to.
Given the length of the story, I’m going to run it over the next couple of posts.  
When in hot haste I wired you the few lines yesterday evening, the Giant had just arrived from the Causeway, and was being removed from a four-wheel lurry (belonging to Messrs. McCrea & McFarland, Belfast), on to a sort of rude erection in the spacious yard attached to Coleman’s Hotel. There was a good deal of excitement in connection with the arrival, even though the visitors to Portrush are as yet remarkably few in number. The weather during the past couple of days has been delightful, and the 1stof June has brought with it some little activity, but still the Brighton of Ulster has not assumed anything like its summer aspect. 
In the hotel yard a great many persons had effected an entrance along with the vehicle, while outside a numerous crowd had collected trying to get a glimpse of that mighty Giant who had performed such achievements in days gone by, and whose name is linked with so many of the wondrous sights in the district. About half-past eight o’clock a ‘bus arrived from Portstewart heavily laden with persons anxious to witness the strange spectacle. 
The evident intention of the owner of the exhibition was not to open it until this morning, but as the Portstewart visitors were importunate it was at length decided to gratify them and to uncover the colossal remains. Armed with crowbars and wrenches Mr. Dyer, of whom more will be said by-and-by, ascended the lid of the case, and commenced the work of unscrewing the large number of bolts which bind together the capacious box. 
It may here be stated that the case, which in shape resembles a shell coffin, is composed of thick deal planks. To the bottom of this enclosure the Giant is evidently fastened. Iron bolts pass from the lid down through the sides of the coffin, and are secured with large nuts underneath. The unscrewing of these bolts disintegrates the entire case, and the lid having been lifted off, the planks which compose the sides are removed, and the Giant is at once exposed to view in a complete state of nudity. 
Shortly after the case was opened, the yard having been in the meantime entirely cleared, visitors were admitted on payment of a shilling. Those who were stopping at the hotel were allowed to pass through by a back entrance, the general public being admitted by the gateway, but all having to submit to the inexorable fee. Soon the huge figure was surrounded by a goodly array of sightseers, who were provided with elevated positions on boxes, planks, &c., in order that they might have a proper opportunity of inspecting it. 
With regards to its dimensions, I may state that it is 13 feet in length and 6 feet 7 ½ inches around the chest; the circumference of the head is about 4 feet, and of the neck 3 feet; the arms are 6 feet in length and 29 inches thick, and the feet are 21 ½ inches long. On the right foot there are six toes, the other foot having five. The arms lie, in not at all a graceful attitude, across the breast, the left being uppermost, and the head hangs over on the right shoulder. 
In several respects the Giant is not at all well proportioned, but apparently he has been in the best of health up to immediately before his demise. He had evidently possessed a most robust constitution, and, judging by his corporeal appearance as he now lies, it is quite manifest that he was in no way emaciated by disease when the fatal hour arrived. 
The figure is very complete, the only parts injured to any extent being the base of the skull and the right loin. But, perhaps, these very injuries were the cause of death. Who knows but the venerable old gentleman, as he wandered around the Causeway headlands, gazing down with a pardonable pride on all the works of his hand, missed his step, and fell head over heels from either the Plaiskin or the “Stookins.” 
Over the entire body there is a sort of pock-pitting. Indeed, had it not been for the injuries just mentioned I should say he died of smallpox. These marks are filled up with a sort of red clay, and altogether at first sight the figure seems to have been for a length of time buried in the earth.
1: See "The Petrified Giant" in Fortean Times, February 2016 (FT337:73) 
 - The Northern Whig, 3 June 1876 

Saturday, 30 June 2018

All aboard!

When I first started this blog, I kind of hoped that I’d be adding something to the pot of “damned data.” That I might, every so often, uncover an incident that other Forteans would want to add to their files.
But the following, which appeared in The Derry Journal of 27 February 1939, is just a great ghost story - and I love everything about it. 
I hope you enjoy it, too!
Buncrana Train Station
A brief reference in a Dublin paper to a ghost train stated to run between Buncrana and Dumfries on the Lough Swilly Railway has set some local sceptics scoffing, and one of them has written asking me “to tear the story to tatters.” Unfortunately, I cannot oblige, for the very good reason that the story is true. I’ve known of the ghost train for a long time and, what is more, I know some of the railway officials who have seen it. It created a sensation on its first run. The keeper of a crossing gates below Buncrana saw it one night clattering along towards him. He was amazed. He had not been notified that a special was passing, but he rushed anyhow to open the gates on which it was bearing down. The train reached the gates before him, passed through and passed on, but did not smash the gates. That made him feel creepy. He had no doubt about the train. He was beside it when it went through – steam up, fire blazing, two coaches lighted up – and he actually saw the driver leaning over the side of his engine and the fireman behind him. He spent an uneasy night. In the morning, any doubts that came with daylight were removed when other gate-keepers confirmed his story and the station-master at Dumfries had actually written to Pennyburn about the special that had passed and of which he had got no notice. The accounts of all these people tallied – the length of the train, its composition, its staff.
Londonderry and Lough Swilly Railway
After this the ghost train made several runs over the same section of the line and was seen by a number of people. It always passed at the same time at night, had the same two lighted coaches, and the same fireman and driver. Their faces were quite distinct to all who saw them, and it was the same men on each appearance. There is not the slightest doubt about this ghost train, from all the information I got on the subject. It has long been an accepted fact. The only inexplicable thing is that there is no reason for it. When such apparitions have been seen elsewhere there has been some cause – like a disaster – to account for it. But there is none in this case. The only disasters on the Lough Swilly line were the overturning of a train by a gale on the Owencarrow Viaduct and the collision, nearly half a century ago, at the Collon. Nothing happened on this section save the accidental killing of a man, and that could form no basis for this ghost train, with its lighted coaches, and always the same driver and fireman. It looks as if it must remain a mystery. I understand that there is speculation amongst those living along the line there whether, now that the rails have been lifted – the last of them were removed a few days ago – the ghost train will still be seen doing its weird journey.
The Derry Journal, 27 February 1939

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