Do You Remember the First Time?
The first stretch – seven miles from Belfast to Lisburn - of Northern Ireland’s M1 motorway was opened at 6 am on Tuesday, 10 July 1962. For the official opening, 14 cars, lorries and motorbikes were lined up – Grand Prix style – at the Donegall Road entrance in Belfast.
Though father and daughter William and Angela Lemon had arrived early to get on the front row, it was Belfast man Bob McFall who clinched pole position. And when the road was declared open, Bob McFall, on his 11-year-old motorbike, became the first person to drive/ride on the M1.
But we’re not here to talk about Bob McFall. We’re here to talk about William Nesbitt, the first man to pick up a ghost on the new motorway.
Just before midnight on 31 December 1963, 42-year-old William Nesbitt, who was travelling to Belfast for a New Year’s Eve event, joined the motorway at Lisburn. He’d only travelled about one mile when he saw someone standing at the side of the road.
“A young woman was walking on the shoulder of the road in the direction of the City,” he said. “She did not ‘thumb’ but half turned as if to suggest: ‘Would you stop, but I’m not going to ask you.’
“She got into the car and seemed quite grateful. She was of slight build, late teens or early twenties, and was wearing a grey-green suit with a dark coat.”
According to Nesbitt, things got weird quite quickly.
“The car suddenly started to feel cold although I had the heater on.”
“I half glanced round, glanced round again and she was gone.”
Nesbitt decided to skip his planned night out in the big smoke.
While some of Nesbitt’s friends and family struggled to believe his story, it seems that his encounter with the ghost – if that’s what it was – wasn’t an isolated incident. According to the Belfast Telegraph, there were stories circulating about a ghost on the M1, “but no definite reports [had been] made to the police.”
According to a police spokesperson: “We have heard the rumours. No one seems to know how they originated.”
Belfast Telegraph, 10 July 1962 and 4 January 1964