As Halloween gets underway, Shane Cochrane looks at six ghosts that have made the headlines.
Ireland is an island of ghost stories. But most of these stories will have been told many times before they were ever written down. And we can assume that they grew much with each telling.
But sometimes the ghosts became news, and the eerie events were recorded as they were happening. Sometimes this timely gathering of facts helped solve the mystery. More often than not, as we’ll see in the following stories, it just added to it.
For five weeks in 1853, the Cork police chased a ghost that was throwing stones at a house in the city.
Officially, they were looking for a flesh and blood criminal. But given that the stone thrower appeared to be invisible and the victims lived in the cottage attached to the Quaker
Cemetery, rumours that a ghost was responsible spread very quickly.
After the first night of ghostly vandalism on September 8, hundreds began to gather at the cemetery each night in the hope of catching a glimpse of the ghost. But despite being surrounded by eager witnesses, the ghost managed to continue its nightly assaults unseen.
The Royal Irish Constabulary’s Head Constable Crowley was desperate to solve the mystery. He had uniformed officers on crowd control duty and plain-clothes officers mingling with the crowds. He was questioning everyone who lived in the area and was even using his own money to pay bribes.
But despite these efforts, the invisible stone thrower continued its nightly antics.
It would take until October 14 to catch the ghost. And though, according to one newspaper, the ghost resembled a “dirty looking Cinderella”, it was very much alive. It was a seventeen-year-old girl called Catherine McCarthy — and she worked as a servant in the house that was being stoned.
In July 1910, a poltergeist was tormenting the two men sharing a room at a boarding house in Enniscorthy, Co Wexford. Each night, soon after the candle in the room was extinguished, a strange tapping sound would be heard. Then, invisible hands would pull the quilts from the beds, before shoving the men on to the floor.
On one occasion, as the two men cowered together on one bed, the vacant bed was raised to the ceiling, flipped, and gently lowered to the floor again.
A local journalist volunteered to spend a night in the room.
Shortly after retiring, the infamous tapping began. But it was soon drowned out by the cries of the journalist’s companion:
The journalist quickly lit a match, and then watched in horror as something unseen pulled the quilt from the bed.
But worse was to come. When the room was once again in darkness, the tapping resumed; and once more it was quickly followed by the cries of the journalist’s companion.
This time, the journalist found that his companion, wrapped in his sheet and quilt, had been lifted from the bed and lowered to the floor.
Somehow, they stayed in the room until 3am.
Much like the living, ghosts come in all shapes and sizes. But in 1908, an absolute giant was haunting a section of the Connemara railway line near the Corrib viaduct, Co Galway.
On Saturday, November 14, as two local men were taking a shortcut across the tracks, a 9ft tall ghost came towards them in the darkness.
Spooked, they ran home and told their friends.
Some of these friends arrived at the site at midnight on Sunday and, armed with shotguns, a revolver, and some sticks, lay in ambush.
When the ghost arrived, the man with the revolver immediately raised the gun to shoot. But some force stopped him pulling the trigger. Then he lost all power in his arm. And as the gun fell from his hand, he lost consciousness.
On the Monday night, a group from Queen’s College, now NUI Galway, gathered at the site. One of them boasted that when the ghost appeared he would step forward and talk to it. Of course, when the ghost arrived the student became tongue tied and rooted to the spot. Which is a shame as it was the ghost’s last appearance.
On the evening of Sunday, January 17, 1932, police were called to Trinity Street, Belfast, where a crowd of 3,000 had gathered to confront a ghost at one of the houses there.
On hearing this, a Northern Whig journalist left immediately for Trinity Street, not to cover the story, but to interview the ghost.
When he got there, he elbowed his way through the crowd, charmed the policeman guarding the haunted house, and was soon chatting with the three families who called it home.
The ghost, they explained, took the form of a thin man dressed in a dark robe, and it would move silently about the house, walking through walls in the traditional manner.
And while the ghost was likely to be found in any part of the house, they believed it had taken up residence in the attic.
The journalist convinced some of the residents to take him to the top of the house. And after traversing the “barricade of string” that some of the men had created to prevent the ghost from opening the doors and coming downstairs, they arrived in the darkness of the attic.
Where they waited. And waited. But the ghost never came back.
For 10 days in January 1907, John McLaughlin, a 60-year-old farmer from Magilligan, Co Derry, was tormented by ghostly goings-on.
It began with soot appearing, in thick deposits, over everything in his kitchen. And as quickly as he could sweep it up, it would reappear again.
Then it began to rain stones in the kitchen. They would fall from the thatched roof, fly through the kitchen, and smash the windows on their way out.
When the story spread beyond Magilligan and made the newspapers, it was met with disbelief. But one reporter who had travelled to the area to investigate the story was surprised to discover that the story was essentially true. He was even more surprised when he heard what might have caused McLaughlin’s troubles.
It seems that immediately before the ghostly disturbances began, McLaughlin had cut a branch of holly, tied it to a rope, and used it to clean his chimney. It was a common enough practice at the time, but some of McLaughlin’s neighbours had warned him he would be punished for treating a “gentle bush” under fairy protection in this way.
Traditionally, ghosts haunt one place at a time. But in May 1906, a poltergeist in Clonmel, Co Tipperary, was haunting two houses simultaneously.
That wasn’t the only unique thing about this spook. While it did many of the things you’d expect of a poltergeist, like rapping the walls and moving furniture, this one could talk.
On one occasion, as the police who had been called to investigate the haunting were leaving one of the houses, the ghost thanked them for coming, then chastised the homeowner for not making them tea.
It could write, too. And it regularly wrote and delivered letters to both houses.
One of the homeowners sat at his front door for three hours one day in the hope of catching the ghostly correspondent. Moments after he’d given up his surveillance, a letter appeared.
The ghostly activity ended in June 1906 with a letter of apology: “I am sorry for all the trouble I caused you. I beg your pardon, and I promise I’ll never do it again. Yours truly, The Ghost.”