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.

“DEAD” WOMAN SAYS HUSBAND WROTE FOR “NEWS-LETTER”

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.

Source:
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.
Sources:
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.
Notes:
  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.

Sources:
  • Belfast News-Letter, 19 August 1944
  • Daily Record, 30 August 1944
  • Fishing in Ireland (fishinginireland.info)
  • 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.
“THE BLACK PIG”
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.
THE STRANGE APPEARANCE OF THE ANIMAL
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
VISITED BY HUNDREDS OF PEOPLE
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
VISITED ON SUNDAY LAST BY SEVERAL HUNDRED PERSONS.
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
THE PROPHECIES OF ST COLUMCILLE
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.
STRANGE VISITATION IN CO ROSCOMMON
REMARKABLE STORY
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
“THE BLACK PIGS DYKE.”
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
A POWERFUL EARTHWORK,
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
ILLNESS HAS BEEN ATTRIBUTED INDIRECTLY TO THE APPEARANCE OF THE PIG
referred to so significantly in St Columcille’s Prophecy.
Notes:
1 Sorry, I didn’t record a date for this in my notes.
Source:
The Roscommon Messenger, 4 May 1918