Sunday, 7 January 2018

New Year Clear Out!

I thought I’d begin 2018 with a bit of a clear out.
Since beginning this blog, I have accumulated a pile of news items that, though interesting, I haven’t been able to use on the blog. Most of these stories ended up in the pile for one of three reasons: they weren’t really Fortean (even though I have adopted quite a broad definition for the blog); they didn’t happen in Ireland; or they were just too short to publish as standalone posts (Fortean Ireland may be free, but I like to give value for money).
Anyway, I feel that most of these stories are too good to waste. So, here are two from the pile. I hope you enjoy them.


On a November day in 1945, on a beach near Angry, County Donegal, a small child found a corked bottle. It had a message inside:
“This is a note. I hope it will be picked up by someone so that they will let my mother know. It is from her son who is at present aboard HMS Hood. They are coming fast mother. I have no time to write anymore. Good-bye mother.”
The note was signed: “Donal McDonald, Ben Becula, Craitoney, South Uist.”
Sinking of HMS Hood by J.C. Schmitz-Westerholt
The HMS Hood had been destroyed at the Battle of the Denmark Strait in 1941. The loss of the Hood was a major blow to the British war effort, and the cost in lives was immense. Of the 1418 men on board that day, all but three perished.
So when Donal McDonald’s note was passed to local woman Bella Boyle, it must have weighed heavily on her that this note was from one of those terrified sailors – a sailor who had reached out to his mother in his final moments.
She immediately sent a copy to the address given by the sailor.
Given the nature of the message, Mrs Boyle may have expected a reply from a very grateful Mrs McDonald. But she didn’t get one.
And she never would. A journalist, intrigued by the story, travelled to the small island in the Outer Hebrides and discovered that, though there were four McDonalds living on Ben Becula, none of them were connected to a Donal McDonald. In fact, no one knew of a Donal McDonald.
Who - or what - was behind this cruel trick was never discovered.
Belfast News-Letter, 20 November 1945
The Londonderry Sentinel, 20 November 1945


Ghosts don’t usually surrender, but that’s exactly what happened near Kilkenny in 1883.
In January of that year, a ghost began haunting a stretch of road on the outskirts of the town, frightening people and horses alike. But the sudden appearance of a ghost made some of the locals very suspicious.
And so, one night, a “party of young men” set out to solve the mystery.
They had no luck that first night, but on the following night their luck changed – as did the ghost’s. They found the spook at its usual haunt, appropriately robed in ghostly white. And as the men - who were all armed with stout sticks - approached, the ghost tried to scare them off with a couple of “woos.”
Sensing – quite correctly – that these men were immune to “woos”, the ghost made a break for it. But after a bit of a chase – three quarters of a mile, to be exact - the very exhausted ghost surrendered.
And what was the ghost? It was just a man looking for a job; a man who believed that the best way to get a job was to scare the current jobholder into retirement.
The “ghost” was very lucky: he was unmolested and the mob let him go instead of handing him over to the police.
Usually, though, these things don’t end well. For example, in 1875, in Hampton Wick, a fifteen-year-old shop boy called Frank Williams was sentenced to one month in prison with hard labour after he was unmasked as the stone-throwing ghost that had plagued a local shop owner.
And in 1926, an ex-soldier received multiple stab wounds after he covered himself with a white tablecloth and walked up to the sentry on duty at a Royal Marines base in Deal, Kent.
Belfast Telegraph, 30 September 1875
Dublin Daily Express, 19 January 1883
Larne Times, 20 November 1926

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