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