At twilight in Kinvara town
The Síog rise to play,
They perch upon the castle wall
And whistle out the bay.
It stirs the air like a blackbird’s sigh
Over the pier and on
Skirts the boats to Smuggler’s Cove
Beside the Canon’s Lawn
Where drowsy swans raise dreamy heads
To the lilt of that impish call
And stir for shore on gilded wings
Past the pier head wall.
The soft sweet hum of fairy breath
Calls cormorant, teal and coot,
And Lapwing, curlew, barnacle goose
Land on Dunguaire’s roof.
The Síogs gather their golden reins
And rising from their roost
They leap aboard their feathered friends
Into the sky they shoot.
And off across Dungory East
Round by Loughcurra South
Over the top of Cloonasee
Far from the harbour mouth.
To Carrownamadra next they fly
Down by the fields of Roo
Past Mountscribe, Townagh, Doorus Park
They part the dusk in two.
On they rush thro’ Rineen and Cloosh
Cregboy and Aughinish Bay
And turn again at Ceathrú an Droim
Behind the old causeway.
Where just beyond there lies a tower,
At Ceathrú an Bruim Fhéar,
A mighty place to catch a view
On a night fair-filled with stars.
’Tis here at last they drop to rest
The Síog and their band,
Twixt stars and moon and shining tides
Of Guaire’s ancient land.
So, if you hear wild sounds tonight
Take no account at all,
’Tis only the Burren birds at play
With the Síog of Guaire’s hall.
© Emer O’Donnell
Main Street Kinvara is known locally as Stràid na Phuca or, the Street of the Ghosts. Legend has it that on certain nights after sunset, the Duallahan or headless horseman rides his Cóiste Bodhar, through the town.
The coach is made from wood and bone torn from graves. It is drawn by six huge horses, black as night. It is driven by a headless coachman who spurs his steeds with a whip fashioned from a dead man’s spine. Behind him lies an empty coffin waiting to be filled.
It is said that the Cóiste Bodhar is heard and felt long before it is seen. The thunder of its wheels shakes the road and the screams of the horses tears the night air like the shriek of a banshee. The speed of their approach is such that sparks fly from the hooves of the beasts and the wheels set fire to the ground. All gates must be left open to let it pass, and pass it should, because the alternative doesn’t bear thought, for when the Cóiste Bodhar stops it means that the Dullahan has come to collect. He seeks human souls – and he never leaves empty handed.
Some nights it’s safer to stay away from Straide Phuca entirely. That is if you believe in that sort of thing. I’m of the opinion that its better to err on the side of caution. A couple of ‘blow-ins’ thought otherwise. We’re still looking for them. One of the lads tried to warn them. He even told the story. They laughed. Fair play though, he persisted in trying to change their minds.
“It might be safer to go with Eamon and Tom there lads. They’re heading in your direction”, he said.
Eamon, the bar man, nodded agreement. He had promised Tom, the resident bar fly, a lift home. The poor old lad was annoying and entertaining at the same time, but there was no harm in him at all, just a propensity to fall into bushes at night. Given his age, Eamon knew that could end in injury. But that wasn’t the only reason for Eamon’s generosity. The night had a bad feel to it. Earlier he tried to put Toby out to bed but the dog wouldn’t move beyond the threshold of the door. He growled when Eamon encouraged it with a small shove of his foot. That was fair warning of something amiss – the animal was as placid as the day was long. In normal circumstances.
Eamon let him back beside the fire and turned the deadlocks. They could leave by the back door. And if he was wrong, there was no harm in doing the Christian thing and seeing the old man and indeed, the visitors, home. Safe.
“I’d be more than happy to,” Eamon smiled at the tourists.
“Ah will you give over,” said the stranger. He was in his prime, a big man too, well over six foot, broad of shoulder and strong of limb. It would take a lot to scare a lad like that. His girlfriend was more inclined to listen.
“What do you think?” she asked, hesitating by the doorway as the cold from the street beyond made her fold in on herself. Her boyfriend wasn’t having any of it.
“Don’t listen to them,” he said.
“Have you everything?”
“Yes,” says she.
Then they left.
“Mighty night!” He was in good spirits. The evening had been pleasant, the company even more so. He hitched his trousers and nodded at the two lads having a smoke by the door. They nodded back, barely letting them pass before dodging back inside.
“That barman and his ghost stories – you’d nearly believe him,” he draped his arm around his lady and pulled her close.
“Stay lads! Stay!” he mimicked.
“The Coiste Bodhar is out tonight – ‘tis the night for it.”
He laughed. So did she, a little nervously if truth be known. He didn’t notice.
“You’d swear he built the feckin’ thing. Made of coffins, six black horses dragging it – your man driving with no head on him. And the whip,” he continued.
“What about that for improvisation! That Dullally lad is very resourceful – making himself a whip out of some lad’s back bone. Jeez! That story had it all. Fire and brimstone, a headless ghost, mad horses, dead things, a coach that sets fire to everything.” He laughed.
“More likely setting fire to the neighbourhood with a cigarette butt.” He nudged his lady playfully.
“Those auld coffins are pure dry. They’d burn something deadly.”
“Jeez you clown,” she hit him a playful clout.
“How would he smoke – he has no head”.
Her man had an answer for that.
“Isn’t his head stuck under his arm? He’d could stick his cigarette butt stuck in the mouth. No fear of lung cancer there. Mind you he’d have awful back problems! And a bad neck. He’d have no head for the job at all!”
She wasn’t a fan of puns.
“Oh that’s tragic. Enough. How did the old guy say to stop him?”
“If you leave a gate open he’ll keep going. If you close it – he’s got you and it’s goodnight Irene. Off to hell with yourself and your soul.”
She shivered and he saw. He made light of it.
“If we stood by the gate we passed on the way here he might stop for us – what do you think?” says he.
“You’re an egit,” she shoved him away, but not too far.
“That’s what I think”.
The first rumble knocked a bit of a start out of them. They weren’t expecting it. They both glanced behind them.
“Get in a bit, there’s a car coming.” They moved to the grass verge.
He was right. The car rounded the bend behind them and flew past with a toot.
They walked on, moving to the centre of the road again.
She was first to hear it.
“Car. Can’t you hear it. Step in to the side.”
He glanced behind.
“There’s no car. You’d see the lights – nothing.”
“There it is again. If its not a car it’s – thunder,” she looked up and around, nervously.
“There isn’t a cloud in the sky. You’re hearing things.”
“No. No! There! Did you hear that? There is is again. What was that? Was it a tractor?”
They stopped, swiveled and stared down the road behind them.
“Couldn’t be a tractor at this hour of the night. Where would they be goin’?”
The sound splintered the air. It was closer, more audible, conjuring uncomfortable and disconcerting images in their minds. They paused in the middle of the road.
“That sounded like a train, didn’t it? Sound travels, especially on clear nights. Could be a train, ” he suggested. His stomach did a slow flip.
“Athlone station is 50 miles away,” she snapped.
“Maybe the track runs near?”
“No it doesn’t. We checked it on the map. That’s why we rented the car.”
Another rumble. No mistaking it this time – the distinct sound of a carriage and horses traveling at speed and over it all came the harsh snap of a whip.
“Holy crap – that’s a carriage. Can you hear it? That’s a feckin’ carriage!” she grabbed his arm.
“D..Don’t be,” he paused, head cocked.
“There is something coming,” he whispered more to himself and to her. She took a step backwards, pointing behind them in horror.
“Its..its… Look at the road! It’s on fire!” They heard each others breath, too fast. ”
The coach rounded the bend. A shaft of moonlight illuminated the driver.
“The gate – get to the gate. The Gate! RUN!”
They had a head start, they still had time. They were young, fast, fit.
The couple hit the gate with the full weight of their bodies, simultaneously.
“It’s padlocked. It’s padlocked. No! NO!!! OPEN! OPEN!”
Mary Ryan rang the Guards the next day. She went to wake the tourists in the morning. Their bed wasn’t slept in. She knew they had gone to the pub. From the bits and pieces they had left around the room she knew at a glance they never got home.
The forensic boys were called in from town. Everything was dusted, bagged, labelled and taken away. Then they traced their last journey. That raised more questions than they had answers for.
Two lines of melted tarmac ran down the centre of the road for a distance of about half a mile. They were perfectly parallel to each other and ended as abruptly as they began – at a padlocked gate. That’s where they found her necklace.
Eamon and Tom aren’t the better of it.
Nor will they ever be.
© Emer O’Donnell
Taken by the Faeries
W. B. Yeats
VILLAGE GHOSTS – excerpts from The Celtic Twilight (1902)
There is, however, a man in a Galway village who can see nothing but wickedness. Some think him very holy, and others think him a little crazed, but some of his talk reminds one of those old Irish visions of the Three Worlds, which are supposed to have given Dante the plan of the Divine Comedy. But I could not imagine this man seeing Paradise. He is especially angry with the people of faery, and describes the faun-like feet that are so common among them, who are indeed children of
Pan, to prove them children of Satan. He will not grant that “they carry away women, though there are many that say so,” but he is certain that they are “as thick as the sands of the sea about us, and they tempt poor mortals.”
He says, “There is a priest I know of was looking along the ground like as if he was hunting for something, and a voice said to him, ‘If you want to see them you’ll see enough of them,’ and his eyes were opened and he saw the ground thick with them. Singing they do be sometimes, and dancing, but all the time they have cloven feet.” Yet he was so scornful of unchristian things for all their dancing and singing that he thinks that “you have only to bid them begone and they will go.
It was one night,” he says, “after walking back from Kinvara and down by the wood beyond I felt one coming beside me, and I could feel the horse he was riding on and the way he lifted his legs, but they do not make a sound like the hoofs of a horse. So I stopped and turned around and said, very loud, ‘Be off!’ and he went and never troubled me after.
VISIONS AND BELIEFS
I heard the Banshee crying not long ago, and
within three days a boy of the Murphy’s was killed
by his own horse and he bringing his cart to
Kinvara. And I heard it again a few nights ago,
but I heard of no death since then. What is the
Banshee? It is of the nature of the Hyneses.
Six families it cries for, the Hyneses and the
Fahys and I forget what are the others. (V2p.50)
APPEARANCES – FAIRIES
Another Clare Man:
I heard a churning one time in the hill up by the road beyond. I was coming back from
Kinvara, and I heard it plain, no mistake about it. I was sorry after I didn’t call down and ask for a
drink. Johnny Moon did so, and got it. If you wish for a drink and they put it out for you, it’s no harm to take it, but if you refuse it, some harm might happen to you. Johnny Henderson often told that he heard churning in that spot, but I wouldn’t believe the sun rising from him, he had so many lies. But after that, I said,’ Well, Johnny Henderson has told the truth for once anyhow.” V2p.120/121.
I never saw anything myself, but one day I was going over the fields near Killeen, and it the quietest day of summer you ever saw. And all of a sudden I heard a great noise like thunder, and a blast of wind passed by me that laid the thistles low, and then all was quiet again. It might be that they were changing, for they change from place to place.I would not give in to faeries myself but for one thing. There was a little boy of my own, and there was a wedding going to be here, and there was no bread in the house, and none to be had in Kilcolgan, and I bade him to go to Kinvara for bread. I pulled out the ass-car for him and he set out. And from that time he was never the same, and now he is in the asylum at Ballinasloe.
Did he tell what happened?
He never told me anything, but he told a neighbour that he met awful looking people on the road to Kinvara just about midnight, and that whatever they did to him, he could never recover it.
My sister and her husband were driving on the Kinvara road one day, and they saw a carriage coming behind them, and it with bright lamps about it. And they drew the car to one side to let it pass. And when it passed they saw it had no horses, and the men that were sitting up where the drivers should be were headless. There’s many has seen the coach, in different shapes, and some have seen the riders going over the country. (p181)
Kinvara is more than a gateway to the Burren. It gets more than its fair share of visitors, of all types and origins. W.B.Yeats and Lady Gregory recorded beliefs, legends and folktales of the area.
I have a great little story about a woman — a jobber’s wife that lived a mile beyond Ardrahan. She had business one time in Ballyvaughan, and when she was on the road beyond Kinvara a man came to her out of a forth and he asked her to go in and to please a child that was crying. So she went in and she pleased the child, and she saw in a corner an old man that never stopped from crying. And when she went out again she asked the man that brought her in, why was the old man roaring and crying. The man pointed to a milch cow in the meadow and he said, “Before the day is over he will be in the place of that cow, and it will be brought into the forth to give milk to the child.” And she can tell herself that was true, for in the evening when she was coming back from Ballyvaughan, she saw in that field a cow dead, and being cut in pieces, and all the poor people bringing away bits of it, that was the old man that had been put in its place. There is poison in that meat, but no poison ever comes off the fire, but you must mind to throw away the top of the pot.
That fort where I heard the talking long ago, and left my can, it’s only the other day I was telling Pat Stephens of it that has the land. And he told me he put a trough in it to catch the water about a month ago. And the next day one of his best bullocks died. V2p.221.
A Man on the Height near Dun Conor:
It’s said there’s everything in the sea the same as on the land, and we know there’s horses in it.This boy here saw a horse one time out in the sea, a grey one, swimming about. And there were three men from the north island caught a horse in their nets one night when they were fishing for mackerel, but they let it go; it would have broke the boat to bits if they had brought it in, and anyhow they thought it was best to leave it.
One year at Kinvara, the people were missing their oats that was eaten in the fields, and they watched one night and it was five or six of the sea-horses they saw eating the oats, but they could not take them, they made off to the sea (p.64)
It was from her brother Biddy Early got the cure. He was sick a long time, and there was a whitethorn tree out in the field, and he’d go and lie under it for shade from the sun. And after he died, every day for a year she’d go to the whitethorn tree, and it is there she’d cry her fill. And then he brought her under and gave her the cure. It was after that she was in service beyond Kinvara. She did her first cure on a boy, after the doctors giving him up.
An Old Man from Kinvara:
My wife is paralysed these thirty-six years, and the neighbours said she’d get well if the child died, for she got it after her confinement, all in a minute. But the child died in a year and eleven months, and she got no better. And then they said she’d get taken after twenty-one years, but that passed, and she’s just the same way. And she’s as good a Christian as any all the time. I went to Biddy Early one time about her. She was a very old woman, all shaky, and the crankiest woman I ever saw. And the husband was a fine young man, and he lying in the bed. It was a man from Kinvara half -paralysed I brought with me, and she would do nothing for him at first, and then the husband bid her do what she could. So she took the bottle and shook it and looked in it, and she said what was in him was none of her business. And I had work to get him a lodging that night in Feakle, for the priests had all the people warned against letting any one in that had been to her. She wouldn’t take the whiskey I brought, but the husband and myself, we opened it and drank it between us. She gave me a bottle for my wife, but when I got to the workhouse, where I had to put her in the hospital, they wouldn’t let me through the gate for they heard where I had been.
So I had to hide the bottle for a night by a wall, on the grass, and I sent my brother’s wife to find it, and to bring it to her in the morning into the workhouse. But it did her no good, and Biddy Early told her after it was because I didn’t bring it straight to her, but had left it on the ground for the night (p.64)
TAKEN BY THE FAIRIES
And now I’ll tell your ladyship a story that’s all truth and no lie. There was an uncle of my own living near Kinvara, and one night his wife was coming home from Kinvara town, and she passed three men that were lying by the roadside. And the first of them said to her in Irish, “Go home, my poor woman.” And the second said, “Go home if you can. ” And when she got home and told the story, she said the voice of the second was like the voice of her brother that was dead.
And from that day she began to waste away, and was wasting for seven year, until she died. And at the last some person said to her husband, “It’s time for you to ask her what way she’s been spending these seven years.” So he went into the room where she was on the bed, and said, “I believe it’s time to ask you now what way have you been spending these seven years. ” And she said, “I’ll tell you presently when you come in again, but leave me now for a while. “And he went back into the kitchen and took his pipe for to have a smoke before he’d go back and ask her again. And the servant girl that was in the house was the first to go into the room, and found her cold and dead before her. They had her took away before she had the time to tell what she had been doing all those seven years (p.178).
There was an old woman I remember, Mrs Sheridan, and she had to go with them for two or three hours every night for a while, and she’d make great complaints of the hardship she’d meet with, and how she’d have to spend the night going through little boreens or in the churchyard at Kinvara, or they’d bring her down to the seashore. They often meet with hardships like that, those they bring with them, so it’s no wonder they’re glad to get back. This world’s the best (p.187).
There’s a man now living between this place and Kinvara, Fannen his name is, and he goes away with them, and he’s got delicate and silly like. One night he was in that bad place that’s near the chapel of Kinvara, and he found a great crowd of them “about him and a man on a white horse was with them, and tried to keep him, and he cried and struggled and they let him go at last. But now the neighbours all say he does be going with them, and he told me himself he does. I wouldn’t be afraid of him when I’d meet him on the road, but many of the neighbours would be afraid. And two of his sons have got silly.
They found a bar of gold one time out playing in the field, and the money they got for it they put it in the bank. But I believe it’s getting less now, and what good did it do them when they went like that? One of the boys was to be a priest, but they had to give that up when he got silly. It was no right money. And they’d best not have touched it(p.188).See?
There was a woman in Ballinamore died after the baby being born. And the husband took another wife and she very young, that everyone wondered she’d like to go into the house. And every night the first wife came to the loft, and looked down at her baby, and they couldn’t see her; but they’d know she was there by the child looking up and smiling at her. So at last some one said that if they’d go up in the loft after the cock crowing three times they’d see her. And so they did, and there she was, with her own dress on, a plaid shawl she had brought from America, and a cotton skirt with some edging at the bottom. So they went to the priest, and he said Mass in the house, and they didn’t see so much of her after that. But after a year, the new wife had a baby. And one day she bid the first child to rock the cradle. But when she sat down to it, a sort of a sickness came over her, and she could do nothing, and the same thing always happened, for her mother didn’t like to see her caring the second wife’s baby.
And one day the wife herself fell in the fire and got a great many burns, and they said that it was she did it. So they went to the blessed well Tubbermacduagh near Kinvara, and they were told to go there every Friday for twelve weeks, and they said seven prayers and gathered seven stones every time. And since then she doesn’t come to the house, but the little girl goes out and meets her mother at a faery bush. And sometimes she speaks to her there, and sometimes in her dreams. But no one else but her own little girl has seen her of late (p.191).
The Abhartach was a Chieftan who lived north of the country. He was droch fhola. Bad blood. Merciless, unforgiving, cruel. His lust to torment was well known. The locals lived in fear of him and to the best of their ability, they’d stay clear. But as his grotesque excesses escalated, he sought them out. More and more. No amount of pleading or tears could assuage the misery he inflicted. In point of fact, it increased the pleasure he derived from his cruelty. Another Chieftan, by the name of Cathan, was hired to kill him. He did.
Abhartach was buried standing up, as was the tradition for those of his rank. But he didn’t stay put. Within twenty four hours the man was walking the earth again, demanding basins of blood from his subjects to fully restore himself.
Cathan was recalled, and returned. He killed Abhartach a second time and buried his corpse yet again. But again he rose and again he tortured the locals with his demands. They sought the help of a Druid. According to the holy man their master was undead. He had been so for a long time. As such he could not be killed by ordinary means.
On the advice of the druid Cathan crafted a sword from the wood of a yew tree and used it to stab Abhartach through the heart. That ended him rightly. Then they took the body and they buried him upside down, placing a heavy stone on its feet to stop any further return. It was only later they realised Abhartach had fed before he died. Not only that, he had spread the disease of his affliction.
The rest of Cathan’s lifetime was spent seeking and destroying the spawn of Abhartach. There were many. The line of Cathan remains in conflict with the forces of Abhartach, to this very day.
From time to time one comes across a grave that bears the mark of the undead. They are placed alone and apart, within the circle of a rath, or fairy fort. This location is not by chance. The builders of these raths, the Shee, have the power to curtail any vestige of evil clinging to those bones. But times change. Belief also. Many of the raths are being used by new cultures for the burial of their dead. Different religions prevail while the power of the Shee falters. The graves of the undead are increasingly hidden or absorbed among those of the innocent while the means to hold them is ever more compromised. One thing is clear, good or bad, the dead should be left to rest, the undead even more so…
“Come back another bit,” shouted Cormac. He was balanced on the stone lip of a grave just beyond the edge of the crypt scratching at a mole on the side of his neck. T’was a habit, a nervous tic. We all have them and indeed Cormac had more than most. He also had bad skin. Again you’d put it down to the nerves. He was forever running, planning, plotting, scheming. The first to get anywhere, the last to leave. If you wanted for anything, or wanted to get rid of anything, Cormac was your man…at a price.
He waved Finbar to one side as Niall continued to reverse, very slowly. The van had seen better days. The body was more primer than paint. It hadn’t seen a new tax or insurance disc in the best part of five years. The plastic pocket on the windscreen was there for ornamental purposes only.
They chose the night well, the three of them. Damp and cloudy, with only a hint of a moon forcing its light through from time to time. They were prepared. Niall had the crowbar wedged by the front seat, the boltcutters were in back, the tank was full. If all went according to plan they’d be halfway to Kerry before a hint of dawn. All going well.
Niall wasn’t too keen on straying from the short gravel road that bisected the graveyard.
“I’ll be going over graves,” he said.
“They won’t feel it,” said Cormac.
“N.n..no. Stay there. The van’ll get s.s.s.stuck when we put the coffin in. Lead i..sn’t light.” He was tall, broad and sluggish and he had a speech impediment, God bless the mark. If you were foolish you might think it was a reflection of a stuttering intelligence. You’d be wrong. Five minutes with the lad would soon change your mind for you. He was exceptionally smart. Smart enough to use his affliction for his benefit. A person can get away with a lot if nothing is expected of them. Indeed, even Cormac deferred to his wisdom when it mattered. Like now.
“You could be right,” said Cormac.
“OK!” he shouted across to Niall.
“We’re good to go. Bring the cutters!”
“Will you stop with the shouting,” snapped Niall. He was rattled. He didn’t hold with stealing from the dead. But what can you do? There’s money to be made. Staggering across the graves with the tools, he crossed the small wall – remnants of a church, long gone, and joined his friends.
“Who the hell can hear us? Cormac strode forward and grabbed the cutters. Finbar scanned the crypt. It was old, very old. Indeed if you thought it older than the graveyard you’d be right. The crypt was half buried into the high fosse of a ringfort that preceded the Christian burial ground. Sixth Century BC. That was built on something that came before. Long forgotten. The entrance to the tomb was padlocked shut. The hasp ran through the bolt of a heavy, barred gate that had seen better times. The grass all around it was brown, burned. The ivy withered. Someone must be taking care of the weeds.
“T..that’s some crypt,” muttered Finbar.
Niall hopped over the church wall a second time. He made a show of checking the graves around the crypt. The exercise was pointless, but it helped him keep his distance from the task ahead, Grave robbing. He was young. Late teens, but the lad wasn’t strong. He was also slightly crooked. That was the scoliosis; but he was well used to working with it. Nothing cramped Niall’s style. He could talk ‘til the cows came home and he had enough neck for two heads. He also had Finbar, friend and bodyguard. They worked well together. Niall did the talking. Finbar the listening. Just as well. Niall could talk at great lengths on subjects he knew absolutely nothing about. He also had plenty to say when there was nothing to say. Indeed there was a cut of an entertainer about him. Like now, as he launched into conversation with his arse perched against a gravestone and his arms folded.
“Hoi, Cormac! We met an auld lad today when we were scoping the place. I thought he’d twigged us – he was staring at us for ages. Then over he comes as bold as you like and started asking us our business. I was going to tell him to eff off but Finbar here said we were relatives. Just paying our respects. Didn’t you Finbar?”
“Told him I.i.i was a distant cousin,” smiled his friend. T..t..the aul lad nearly fell into a grave. Then he t..t…took off across the graveyard like his arse was on f..fire.”
“Don’t blame him with yer ugly faces,” Cormac was hardly listening. He was calculating the effort involved in getting the coffin out of the crypt and across the other graves.
“Oh aren’t you the witty man! T’wasn’t that at all. He started ranting about Dracula and blessing himself, isn’t that right Finbar?”
“T’wasn’t Dracula he was saying you egit – he was t..t…talking Irish. He said Droch Fhola.”
“What’s that?” said Cormac.
“B.b..bad b.b..lood,” said Finbar.
“An Irish D..dracula.”
“Ah Bullshit. There’s no such thing”.
“T..there is and all. My granny used to say there was a castle f..f…full of them not far from here, isn’t that right N..n…niall?”
“Jeez, yea. She’d scare the shite out of you with her stories.”
“You’re easily scared Niall Reilly,” said Cormac.
“Feck off for yourself. The way she talked you’d believe her. She even named people the vampire took. Right Fin?” Finbar nodded. That was Niall’s blessing to continue.
“She said Mary Casserly’s great grandfather was killed by one. They had an awful time in the parish until a vampire hunter called Stoker got rid of them”
Cormac decided he’d bite.
“You haven’t a clue have you Cormac? Stoker is the name of the guy that wrote Dracula. Bram Stoker. He was Irish.”
“Ah you’re kidding me now”. Cormac was wondering if they needed more rope? He draped an extra coil over the top of the church wall, just in case. Niall rabbitted on.
“Where did you go to school, or did you bother your arse at all you uneducated egit?” He shifted himself, lifted the ropes Cormac had just let go of, and started to rehang the coils. It was more show than function – just an excuse to finish his spiel.
“ Finbar’s gran said Stoker was nearly caught by a droth fhola – a vamp, when he was a baby. His father killed a few of the feckers and saved him but the young lad was sick for years after. They moved away after that. She said when Stoker junior grew up he came back to finish the job. Amn’t I right Finbar? Amn’t I?”
“Sh…sh…yea!” said Finbar.
Cormac crossed to the crypt and rattled the gate, trying the hinges. They were too solid to move without effort. The bolt cutters would be needed. He decided to call time on the gossip.
“Shut up the pair of ye. C’mon – give us the cutters. Mind you, that padlock’s so old I reckon we could break it with a shovel.”
“Fancy door isn’t it. Would we have room for it in the van d’you think?” Niall handed him the tool.
“It’s rotten – no use. We’ll make more out of the lead. If we leave the gate on no-one will notice the coffin gone.”
Cormac put the teeth of the bolt cutters on the hasp of the lock. He hardly pressed the handle before it snapped and clattered onto the stone step.
“There we go, what did I tell you. No trouble at all. Niall where’s the crowbar?”
“By the wall there.”
“Will you grab it.”
“But the gate is open!”
“We’ll need it for the coffin. Do you know the weight of lead do you? We’ll have to take it out in bits.”
The gate was hard to shift, its base tangled in debris of dead leaves and branches. A good shove from Finbar got it moving inwards in a clatter of stones and gravel. The noise was harsh, louder than they were expecting. They hadn’t figured the echo of the chamber within.
Finbar led the way with his torch.
“Jeez there’s n..no air at all in here.”
“Mighty. The lead will be perfect. Keep going. Good man,” Cormac followed close. He was a busy man. A business man. He already had a market for the night’s work. This could build into something – aren’t there thousands of graveyards all over Ireland. There’s bound to be a lot more lead. If he worked right a gig like this could keep him going for years. After that – marble might be worth something.
“It’s b..b..bigger than you’d think, isn’t it?”
The roof was corbelled, arching to a peak in its centre. Curving lintels framed the alcoves to their left and right. There were a few dents in the walls, like something was meant to be in them. Maybe torches. The floor was dusty, not much dirt otherwise, once you got past the steps.
“Shite!!!” Niall skidded down behind them. The scoliosis sometimes gave him a stagger, especially when the ground was uneven.
“You feckin’ clown – you could have flattened the pair of us, snapped Cormac.
“Why didn’t ye tell me there were steps? Feck sake I could have broken my neck”
“Jeez, a blind man could see them. Aren’t you a bigger egit not to look where you’re going.”
Finbar guided his torch from alcove to alcove.
“Where’s the c..c..coffin lads?”
“On the…Oh?…where is it? Should be on a slab somewhere. Jeez if someone’s beaten us to it…”
Cormac did not like being one upped. People have been hit for less, and hit hard. If that gobshite Murray was lying to him he’d be a sorry man. He said the coffin was here. Cormac flicked the torch around, but, as always, Niall was first to clap eyes on the prize. He had a knack for that sort of thing. That was the reason Cormac tolerated him. Well, that and Finbar.
Niall’s torch illuminated the solid protuberance near the rear of the crypt.
“Is that it – over there to your right? Finbar, shine the torch to your right..your other right!”
“How’d it get t..t..there? Is it upside d..d..down is it C..c..cormac?
“Feck me – it looks like it? Wouldn’t you think they’ve have put it where it was supposed to be and all the space there is. Not another shaggin’ coffin in the place. Sloppy work.”
“No – t’was moved. I reckon someone moved it after. It’s covering a slab”. Niall shuffled forward.
“Finbar. Will you stop twitching. You’re all over the place with the light. Hold it here. Here! Look! I’m right!” Niall pointed to the slab partly obscured by the lean of the coffin.
“T’was in here first. On this. There’s marks on it. Someone shoved it off.”
“That t..t..took some effort,” said Finbar.
“Why d..d..id they leave it upside d..d..down and not t..take it?
“They must have been caught. Probably skipped.” Cormac wouldn’t have been caught. Not in a month of Sundays. Amateurs.
“But the lock Cormac. The lock was fine on the door.”
“Replaced. Jeez! do I have to figure everything out for you? What does it matter anyway. It’s still here. And so are we. Let’s get moving before I lose the will to live listening to you.”
“That lock looked as old as the crypt. Didn’t it Finbar?” Niall whispered back to his friend.“
P..p..probably happened just after the b..b..burial. There were graverobbers all over the p..p..p..place back in those days.”
It was a fine coffin. Huge. You could have fitted Finbar in it no problem and still have room to shove Niall and a fair bit of Cormac in alongside. A thick coat of dust lay along its top and across the grooves of the lid. You couldn’t tell if it the lid was engraved. The dust clung to its upright slope like faded velvet and glistened slightly under the light of the torches. A fine piece, well worth a few bob. Cormac thought it more than a little strange it had been moved to the back of the crypt. Whoever did it was only giving themselves extra work. And that whoever had also tried to prise it open, and succeeded. Maybe they just took what was in it, probably gold. Anyone that could afford a resting place like that had to have money. Cormac ran his hand along the side leaving a snail trail of dust with his fingers. He reckoned a man’s hand could comfortably fit in the opening. Cormac started to edge his fingers through the gap. The air was cold within. Another little push and he could fit his whole hand inside.
No. Not a good idea. No point taking chances. There might a sharp edge. A person could get cut, and infected. He stepped back, passing the crowbar to Finbar.
“Pop the lid off there, good man.”
“What’ll we do with the b..b…bones?”
“What the hell does that matter? Throw them up on the slab there.”
“Maybe there’s jewellery”.
Fair play to Finbar. No flies on him, he saw potential. Cormac reckoned if the guy could only cut Niall loose they’d make serious money between them. He had the right attitude.
“I’d say there was but ’tis well gone. Keep an eye out anyway – in case something was missed”.
The lid popped clear. It wasn’t hinged either. That was unfortunate, particularly as none of the lads were expecting the thing to move so easily. It hit the back wall with a clang and slid south like a guillotine towards the floor. For a big man, Finbar wasn’t afraid of movement. He went backwards so fast Niall copped a broad beefy shoulder on the side of his head. The bones rattled discordantly along the metal and disappeared in a cloud of dust. Coughing was the natural consequence. It was a group activity. The dust was acrid and invasive.
It took a while but as soon as he could speak, Cormac was back on task, rallying the troops.
“What fell out there? Shine the torch Niall,” he spluttered.
Niall bent forward, squinted through the dust and reached for something.
“It’s a stick.”
“It’s a s..s…stake – look, it’s b..b..een sharpened.”
“Any jewellery fall out?”
“Nothing – wait.” Niall’s arm disappeared into the dust again.
“Looks like a watch.”
“Throw up the bones out of the way in case we fall over them – here Finbar, give us a hand with the lid.”
“Ah shite,” moaned Niall.
“I always get the dirty jobs.”
Finbar and Cormac coughed their way across the floor with the lid as Niall coughed his way through a reassembly of the skeleton. T’was easy enough, all the bits were glued together with age. The skull came last. He paused.
“Do’ya know lads – I reckon someone cut the head off this guy. Look, you can see a big gash on his noggin – here at the bottom. Look!” They didn’t bother.
“You moved those bones f..f…fast”, grunted Finbar. He didn’t give a shit, but experience taught him Niall liked feedback. It stopped him sulking.
“They were all stuck together, all I did was put the head back on. He was a proper ugly bastard – did you see the teeth on him?” The lads ignored him.
“Finbar, we should leave the lid by the door and break the casket – do it all in one run then.”
Cormac was getting animated. From the weight of it the lid alone will score them a good bit of dosh. He’ll tell the lads he got half the amount, as usual.
“Niall, Finbar, look for a gap in the coffin, a hole or something we can stick the crowbar in. It’ll come apart easier if we find a grip for the point.”
Niall headed for the farthest end, slipped and disappeared into the dust, body and soul.
“Ow! Feck! My shaggin ankle”.
“What are you at? Will you get up you clown.”
“I stood on the stake. Ow.”
“Serves you right. Why didn’t you put it up on the slab with the rest of the bones you idiot.”
“I can’t see a thing with the dust. My coat is caught. Gimmie a sec. I’m feckin covered in dust now. My jeans are ruined. Feck it to hell and back.”
“Get up will you. We’ll be here all night – and will you pick up the bones and put them back, otherwise someone else’ll trip.”
“What?” Niall’s dusty head rose above the dustcloud.
“You cleared the slab when you fell – you’ve knocked the whole bloody lot off.”
“I wasn’t near it. Did you not hear me hit the edge of the coffin. My shin is bleeding.”
“Well you must have caught the bones on the way down. They’re gone.”
“I didn’t.” Niall was getting peevish. It was always him stuff happened to. No fear Cormac would get the dirty job and nearly break his arse trying to do it. No fear Cormac would ever dirty his hands more than he had to. Niall turned to where he thought the bones had fallen.
“OW! Shite! OW! Something bit me. Something bit me. Ow! Right on my sore shin.” Niall fell again, but rose very much faster than the time before. Something had bitten him. He felt it. Sharp teeth cutting through his trousers, sinking into the flesh on either side of his shin bone. The bite felt big too. He wasn’t staying on the ground with that. Now he was hurt, upset and hurt again…and scared. No one likes to be bitten in the dark. Did Cormac care? The gobshite shone the torch straight into Niall’s eyes.
“That’s it – NEVER again and I mean that Niall – never again will I ask you to do anything.”
“You alright N..n…niall?” asked Finbar. But Cormac had put his tuppence in first and that’s all that mattered to Niall.
“You can go shite for yourself Cormac. You too Finbar. I’ve just been bitten by a rat or something. Jeez I could be poisoned.
“Well feck off up to the car and wrap something around it you big baby.” The little runt. Cormac would have said a lot more if Finbar wasn’t standing next to him. The big man at his side was quiet.
“I will. And I won’t offer to help again either.”
“That’ll suit me fine. Finbar, com’on. The pair of us will have it done in no time.
Niall limped past them. He left the torch where it lay on the ground. They could get it themselves. He took care to hit against Cormac as he went and felt Cormac flinch. That was satisfying.
“Oh yea, swing a punch”, he thought.
“See what Finbar does to you.”
It was cold now. The graveyard was grey. Silent. Niall decided to sit in the car and turn on the engine for heat as he rummaged through the glove box for a cloth or a rag. He turned on the light and carefully lifted his trousers to check the bite. If he had the torch he could have seen more. Under the tired yellow light of the cab the bite seemed awful big. A lot of teeth involved too. Their bloody points traced an arc aross his shin. Way too big for a rat. Couldn’t be anything else though, could it?
Niall felt his stomach tighten. Stitches might be needed, and injections. He hated injections. Bloody Cormac.
Then he heard the scream.
He hit his elbow an awful clout off the door with the fright.
“What was that? Jeez!” Was it a night bird? Do they make that kind of a sound? Almost human?”
Niall rolled down the window. He called. Hesitantly.
“Lads? Lads, did ye year something? Lads?”
Probably couldn’t hear him from inside, ‘specially if they were breaking that feckin’ coffin. He wished he’d never come.
Niall got out, closing the door quietly behind him. Why quietly? Why did he do that, he wondered? For just a second he thought about leaving. Standing silent, his hand still on the door handle he weighed up the consequences. He had the keys. He could be home in an hour. They could find their own way. But the coffin – they’d kill him for that, leaving the coffin behind. The only reason they came. Niall hobbled across to the crypt.
“Lads? Cormac? Niall? Comon. Stop messing. Lads? I know ye’re there so ye can’t scare me. Lads?”
Out of the darkness… It came.
The car sputtered through the flooded driveway and turned right past the hotel entrance, its faded sign barely visible through the teeming rain. An tOstan. There wasn’t a light leading up to the place either. How anyone ever found it was a miracle. But they had. Finally.
Soft orange light glowed from the foyer and spilled down the sodden steps. Droplets thrown clear by the wipers flickered gold as they disappeared into the night. The rest of the hotel was dark. But it didn’t matter. One light was all Mary needed. She was vindicated.
“Of course they’re open!’ she exclaimed.
“I knew it. It’s peak season! Of course it’s open. Those feckers! ”
Even though he wasn’t looking, John knew the set of her face. Eyes bright, chin tilted and determined, lips pursed, fingers locked in her lap as though she was saying a sloppy rosary. Mary didn’t like to be challenged, especially when it came to her organisational skills.
“They only wanted to make a few bob out of us back there! I knew it. And did you see the look on their faces when I said we were staying here.” Mary sounded full of righteous indignation.
“Ah sur’. The night is shite,” he smiled.
“They probably wanted to save us the journey. Times are hard. You can’t blame them for trying.” He hoped that would placate her. If Mary went on a rant his ears would be bleeding by the end of it.
“Well they didn’t have to be so rude, blessing themselves and everything, like it was the worst place ever.”
“Com’on now – didn’t you score a free drink?”
“So did you – and you should have said no.”
“It wouldn’t have been polite, and I only had the one. You had two.”
“I’m not driving.”
“I’m under the limit, and aren’t we here now, safe and sound.”
He cut the engine, reached across and squeezed her knee. She tapped it away as she rummaged in her bag for the voucher, but he saw the crinkle of her dimple as she smiled at the rain. She was always entering competitions of one sort or another. Jesus, the house was full of rubbish she’d won. Useless bits and bobs cluttering up the place.
He wasn’t particularly excited when she said she’d won a stay at the hotel. Hadn’t they won one a year before in Donegal? This one wasn’t great timing either. He had work for a change and was happy to do it. But she persisted. Now he was glad she did. When was the last time the pair of them had an adventure. T’was like courting again. Work could wait. He decided on a bit of banter.
“I should get a medal here for precision driving. Or a knighthood.”
“Ah feck off for yourself.”
“Excuse me but I’ve taken on thunder, lighting, rain, floods, fire and brimstone tonight.”
“What are you talking about with your fire and brimstone?”
“Will you give over, and the roar you made when the sparks flew!”
John cast a glance over his left shoulder to the man in the back.
“How’re you doing back there?”
“Fine, I’m fine. Just a little cold. And very wet!” He smiled, rubbing his shoulders.
He spoke with an accent. European, maybe east. John was bad at accents.
“Sorry about that. We’re lucky to have a car at all after that. No heat, no radio. I’m surprised the engine is running. You saw it, didn’t you? Stefan – it’s Stefan isn’t it?”
“Yes, Stefan. Yes. I saw the big flash back there? What was that?”
“The storm brought down a line or something. Jeez, we’re lucky we didn’t get clipped. Only for I swerved we’d have been fried alive in the car.”
“No we wouldn’t,” said Mary.
She always had an answer, and a logical one, what’s worse. That was one of her most annoying traits. There were two ways John could go from that comment. He could challenge her, which always ended in disaster. Tonight was a night away and as he was hoping for a bit, it was the least favoured option. He decided to agree, maintain the status quo and reap the rewards. John was no fool.
“You could be right – but that was a hell of a flash. I reckon it hit a pole with a transformer on top of it, what’d you think?”
“I’d say so. You drove well.” She smiled warmly at him. He got a squeeze of the knee.
John’s night was assured.
“We’ll wait a minute, the rain might ease. Don’t want the new hair to get wet when ’tis so nice.”
“Oh he finally noticed!” she exclaimed to Stefan.
The foreigner smiled.
“Jeez I thought we were mad, out in a night like this,” said John.
“What in God’s name possessed you to try and hitch out here?'”
“I got a free voucher for the hotel when I bought my ticket. The last one too. It was a promotion I think.”
“No wonder. We’re in the arsehole of nowhere.
“It is indeed out of the way,” Stefan wiped the condensation from the window as.
“Looks nice. How old is it?”
“D’you know, I couldn’t tell you. How old is it Mary?”
“Turn on the light there ’til I read.” John obliged. Mary positioned herself at a sideways angle and held the voucher up to catch the weak glow as best she could.
“Well,” she said.
“According to this it has a long history. It was built on the site of an old Norman dwelling, dated to the 12th Century. That was built on the ruins of a monastery dated to the 5th century and that was built on the site of a chieftain’s stronghold, which…feck…it’s hard to see…” Mary peered.
“‘Tis old,” John winked back to Stefan.
“Wait. I’m not finished…that was built on a fairy fort once occupied by the Tuatha de Dannan and that…”
“Oh sweet mother, we’ll be here all night.”
“Shut up John, you asked. And Stefan is a visitor. He might like to know this stuff. Wouldn’t you Stefan.”
“It’s all very interesting, yes,” smiled Stefan. These were nice people. This is what he imagined before he came.
“Good man. I knew you’d be interested.” John felt the glance she shot at him.
“I sit corrected,” he says.
“But can we do it inside for God’s sake. The rain has eased and we can at least get settled.” He glanced at Stefan.
“You could join us for a drink in the bar and herself will keep reading. Indeed they’re bound to have more info inside as well.”
“Whatever you want,” says Stefan.
It was the usual, sloppy, sodden dash between car and building. John handed Mary her ‘utilities bag’ as he called and went back for the others. Stefan offered to help. Nice lad. The woman had enough bags brought to sink the Titanic – another of her quirks.
Mary paused on the step to have a quick look around. She liked to make an entrance with her man, particularly when its a special night out. T’was a nice spot. Moonlight filtered through the storm clouds. It was moving east – and they were welcome to it over there too. Between the noise and the swerving and John swearing and Stefan shouting something in whatever language that was, and herself screaming she was in need of a shower, a nice cup of tea and whatever food they had. Even a cheese sandwich would do.
The gardens were huge. Manicured lawns glittered green/grey all the way to the trees that lined the road. Shrub lined paths bisected the lawns to the front, dividing them into quarters. Each quarter contained flower beds, perfectly centred. A privet hedge followed the line of the wall to the left and rose to form what seemed like a maze. Mary couldn’t be sure. The moonlight swept briefly past, deflected by the passing storm clouds.
The driveway shimmered – a ribbon of wet grey silk in the moonlight, arching to the front door of the hotel. She squinted into the distance. Something else caught her eye. A gleam, dull yet pulsing, at the entrance gate. What was it? It seemed to come from the shrubs. Something must be half buried in the bushes. Did they pass it earlier? Surely she would have seen it, even in the rain. It was close to the road. Very close. John would have had to drive around it. How did she miss it?
“What? I’ll be there in a minute. Don’t wait out in the cold.”
“I’m all right. What’s that down there.”
John climbed the steps beside her, dropping the bags with a clatter. Stefan paused mid way.
“What’s what? Will you come in now. It’s feckin’ dark. I’ll look in the morning.”
“No. Humour me. What’s down there – at the bottom of the drive? Stefan, can you see?”
The men looked.
“I see something alright,” said Stefan.
“It’s biggish – could be a car,” said John.
“Probably two young ones having a snog.”
“Out in this weather – you’re kidding!”
John shot her a smile and whispered close.
“I remember a couple of young ones getting up to awful mischief once.”
“Behave yourself, for God’s sake. And in front of company.”
Stefan smiled down the driveway. It was a distracted smile. That thing, at the end of the drive – was definitely a car. But something was …off about it. It looked…wrong. Was it the angle it was parked? He skipped to the top step and looked again. The car was sideways, no doubt about it. It must have come in right behind them. They wouldn’t have heard it with the storm. But if it was right behind them all along, maybe something happened. They barely missed the transformer when it was struck. It exploded on the ground behind them in a hail of sparks. If that car was directly behind them maybe they weren’t so lucky. The bonnet looked funny. He couldn’t be sure but it seemed dented.
John and Mary turned to him.
“I don’t think that car is parked. I think it may have hit the wall. Should we look?”
“D’you think? Really?” Mary paused, squinted again. She held her hand above her eyes as though shielding the sun. Another quirk of hers.
“What do you think John?”
Her husband was quiet. He’d have preferred not to. Feck, he was only obliging her by looking at all. All he wanted to do was drop the bags and headed for a pint while Mary settled herself. Now he felt obligated to do something, as usual. Mary’s question was always code for ‘do something’.
“We could tell them inside. Maybe it’s been there a while.” He knew full well it hadn’t but it was worth a shot.
“No,” said Stefan.
“I’m sure I see steam coming from the bonnet. Can you see?”
It was hard to tell at that distance. The trio paused again. Silent. Across the field a night bird called. Behind them, the hotel lay silent.
“Sur it could the engine cooling – no more than our own.” John muttered.
“If we go out of the light here we might see something.” John led the way. They walked a bit down the drive, to the spot where the driveway swung into the entrance. The car gleamed a sick yellow ahead of them, like the knob of an elbow joint left too long in the sun.
“I see it now,” said Mary.
“Do you see John? That’s steam. I’m sure of it.”
That changed everything. John was on high alert. He was a Civil Defence man, when he wasn’t catfarting around the country in a storm, and well trained for this sort of stuff. Indeed he had seen plenty of it and it was never pretty.
“C’mon lads, be careful of the puddles Mary and stay behind me. Stefan, should we tell them inside do you think?”
“We better take a look first, it might have happened earlier.” Stefan wasn’t sure though.
They heard the ticking of the engine when they got up close. The front was stoved in, the bonnet crushed. A twisted mound of steaming metal lay on the road, the rest of the telegraph pole bisecting the car between the front and back seat.
“Oh God! They’re still in it. Quick!”
Mary trotted forward and grabbed the door handle.
John’s mangled face stared up at her.
THE MAITLAND MERCURY AND HUNTER RIVER GENERAL ADVERTISER 26TH MARCH, 1891 P7
THE O’BRIEN GHOST
A reminiscence by Dr. W. H. Russell
In the course of some hitherto unpublished reminiscences which he is printing in the Anti-Jacobin, Dr. W.H. Russell tells of a “singular experience” in the course of his mission to Ireland to write on the Famine of 1846. This event occurred whilst he was in the South-West of Ireland.
Before I left Ennistymon (he says) I was invited by Mr “Corney” O’Brien, M.P. to visit him. I readily accepted the invitation, especially as I would have an opportunity of seeing, close to his residence, the famous “Cliffs of Moher.” I need not describe a scene not yet known to tourists who wander thousands of miles away to gaze on objects of far less interest and beauty.
As we were at dinner that night I expressed my admiration of the scenery of Hag’s Head, but my host did not seem to share my feelings. When the company (the parish priest and his coadjutor, and a couple of county neighbours) had departed, Mr. O’Brien, having told the piper – the only one I ever heard in an Irish house (though I have been less fortunate in Scotland) – to retire, attended to some hot water, sugar and lemons and observed,
“And you like the Hag’s Head? Well! I would not go there now if you were to give me a hundred pounds, and it’s not but I want the money.”
“Why, there can be no danger! There’s an iron railing at the edge.”
“Yes, but I put that rail up after what happened to me. I would not go to the place now if the Bank of Ireland railings were there.”
Presently he told me this story. The narrator was a white-headed ruddy-faced man with a massive row, keen grey eyes, and resolute mouth and chin.
“When I came into this property,” he said,
“I was away abroad, and it was some time before the agent wrote to tell me the house was ready for me. I did not know the country at all, and, like yourself, I had never seen the cliffs of Moher. The day I arrived I took a look at this house, and then walked to the cliffs with the priest with who I was going to dine at Ennistymon. I was astonished and delighted at the spectacle, the ocean rolling in from the west, ‘the next parish church in American,’ as his reverence said.
I had always heard there was some tradition about the Hag’s Head and my family – how some old lady who was walking near the cliff with her grandson and heir was whisked into the sea by a sudden puff of wind. And there are such puffs: And they’re very dangerous. Anyway, the grandsone succeeded, and they say the ghost of the old woman began to haunt the cliffs.
As I was looking down on the waves I felt as if I was going over too. I gave a shoud, and Father Michael caught me or I would have been in the sea!
“Well, as I was driving home, I thought that as it was a beautiful moonlight night and a good breeze was blowing from the west, I would take a look at the breakers; they were roaring like artillery. So I got out of the gig and told the boy to go home and bid a servant wait up for me. I struck across the award straight for the Hag’s Head. I had got within seventy or eight yards of it when I saw on the very edge of the cliff a white figure. It was moving; alive and no mistake. At first I though it was a sheep; but getting nearer, I perceived that it was a woman in a white dress, with a white cap on her head. Then I remembered that there was some talk at dinner of a lunatic girl who had escaped out of the asylum at Ennistymon. I made sure that it was she, and I thought that I had just arrived in time to save her life, poor creature. My plan was to creep quietly behing her, seize her in my arms, drag her as far as I could from the edge, then secure her and haul her somehow to the road.
I had got close and was just about to lay hold of her when ‘the thing’ turned on me such a face as no human being ever had – a death’s head, with eyes glaring out of their sockets, through tangled masses of snow-white hair!
In an instant, with a screech that ran through my brain ‘the thing’ fell or threw itself over the face of the cliff.
“It was some seconds before I recovered the shock and horror. Then, tremblingly, I crept on my hands and knees to the verge of the clipp. I looked down on the raging sea. As I was peering down over the Hag’s Head I saw in the moonlight some white object coming up the face of the cliff straight towards me! I am not superstitious or a coward. I tried to persuade myself it was a seal or a great seagull, but presently arms and hands were visible – it was crawling hand over hand up the cliff. I jumped to my feet and ran for my life towards my house. As I ran the yell the thing gave when it disappeared over the cliff was repeated. Looking back there was the dreadful sight. It came over the green meadow in pursuit of me, came nearer, not two hundred yards behind. I bounded like a deer up the avenue and the door was opened by my man. Again the fearful sound close at hand.
“Shut! Shut the door! Did you hear that?”
The man said nothing. I went up to my room, looked at my face in the glass. It was pale, but it was not that of a madman.
“The windows of my bedroom looked on a large walled garden; the blinds were drawn and the light of the moon fell through them. I was nearly undressed when a shadow was thrown on the counterpane of the bed from one of the windows. There was someone on the sill! The scream was repeated. A brace of double-barrel pistols lay on the table by my pillow. I fired the barrels, bang! Bang! Bang! – at the window as fast as I could pull the trigger. I ran downstairs to the hall.
We called up every soul in the house, searched every inch of the garden – there was soft soil under my window – not a trace of footstep nor of ladder! I had my forse saddled at once and rode to Ennistymon and knocked up the priest. The first question I asked his astonished reverence was;
“Tell me, was I drunk when I left you?”
“No, you were as sober as you are now, Mr O’Brien!”
And then I told him what I have told you.
“I never,” said his reverence,
“Heard of anyone but the O’Briens hearing or seeing her, and they have her all to themselves. I can’t make it out.” Nor can I either Mr Russell. I had a rail put up at the cliff where you get the best view of the cliffs. I have been there now and then of a fine day with people – but after sunset – never! Never! Good night.”
No wonder I had a bad night of it after the story. I slept but little till morning, and then, as I was dozing off, I was startled by an awful cry. It proved to be the preliminary of a flourish by the piper for the skirl before breakfast.
Tuam Herald 11th November, 1893 p.4
The Galway Ghost
The details of the following “Ghost Story” are published by the “Galway Express”;
It appears that a woman, whose name we are not at liberty to mention, having lost her husband through death in America, sold off whatever valuables she had and returned to her native place in this county some short time since. Here she lived alone in a neat little cottage, living by her industry, and extending her liberality and charity to those in the neighbourhood who were not so fortunate in a world way as she was herself. Through her generousity it became an established belief in the district that she was possessed of a good deal of wealth, but still no one grudged her that happiness, for to the best of her abilities she had held forth the hand of good fellowship to all and sundry who stood in need of assistance. In this way she led a still and easy life, and the only time she was ever known to bow her head in sorrow was when mention was made of her departed husband, and then her grief was of the keenest and most bitter description.
A few nights ago, however, while sitting alone in her silent cottage, thinking of happy days gone by, she was aroused from her reverie by hearing a gentle knock at her door, and ere she had time to answer her summons the latch was raised and slowly entered a tall figure draped in white, through which the eyes alone were perceptible, and the appearance of which staggered the lone woman’s nerves to such an extent that she fell helplessly on the floor. How long she remained in this state she could not say, but when she recovered from the swoon into which she had fallen she was horrified to see the spectral figure still standing on the floor beside her. In utter dismay she struggled to utter the words:
“Who and what are you, and what do you want?”
To this the object in white replied in a sepulchral tone, calling the terrified woman by her christian name;
“Do not be afraid.”
A pause then ensued, during which the poor woman breathed with difficulty, and in most agonising accents repeated the question;
“Oh, tell me, who are you?”
The spectre then raised his right hand, and after the manner of the ghost in Hamlet, answered;
“I am the spirit of thy departed husband, now doomed to walk this earth nightly after sunset until you or some kind friend discharges a debt incurred by me nigh give years ago, and the existence of which hanging over my mortal soul deprives me of that peace enjoyed by the weary who find rest from their labours in the land of bliss.”
Imagination cannot picture the state of mind with which this revelation had thrown the lonely and helpless woman, and fearful that, through any fault of hers, the soul of that husband whom she nightly mourned by her lonely hearth should be deprived of that rest which the spectre mentioned, she said she would pay the money if he told her the name of the person to whom it was due. To this, however, the spirit replied;
“This much I have told you, I can tell no more, the hour of my departure is almost at hand. That clock (pointing to a time piece that hung on the wall) denotes that I have but five minutes longer to remain ere I descend to my cell of darkness, where no ears but my own can hear my wails of suffering and no eyes but mine can penetrate the foul mist by which, through your hesitation to pay that small debt, I will be surrounded. Farewell, you woman, whom I once was proud to call my loving wife, I shall see you no more. Your silence tonight, is the passing of my perpetual sentence.”
Having said those words the ghost signified by his movements that he was about to retire, but the woman, believing all that was said, regretted that she had not the money then in the house, but promised that should her dear departed husband’s ghost get an hour’s leave of absence from his cell of darkness on the following evening she would have the money ready to relieve him. His ghostship then slowly retired, but where he went to after leaving the house the lone widow could form no idea.
Rest for her was out of the question that night, and at the first streak of dawn the following morning she started for the house of her nearest neighbour and relieved herself of the burthen of her sorrows by revealing the occurrence of the previous night.
The owner of the house, being a shrewd fellow, communicated the matter to the sergeant of the nearest police station, and things were allowed to remain quiet till the sun had ceased to gild the hillsides on that same evening when the sergeant and a comrade might be seen wending their way in a circuitous route towards the residence of the lone woman, where they lay concealed for a considerable time without seeing any appearance of the ghost of the departed husband.
When their patience was nearly exhausted, however, they were rewarded by a white object slowly and apparently with the utmost caution moving along the boreen that led to the house, till at length it arrived at the door which it entered. No sooner, however, had the door closed upon the nocturnal spectre than it was burst in by two policemen who warmly embraced the ghost and deprived him of his snow-white garments, which turned out to be a large calico sheet artistically twisted round the shoulders of the pretended ghost, on whose hands they immediately placed a pair of steel bracelets, and marched off to the police barracks, where it was found that the ghost of the cell of darkness was no other than a young scapegrace who had returned from America a short time before and spent all the money he could lay hands upon, and who, by representing himself as the ghost of the husband of the poor woman referred to, endeavoured to swindle her out of her money.
He was brought before a magistrate, and, as we are informed, has been returned for trial to the assizes.