Mystery of ‘footprints’ linked to murder

For almost a century, the strange phenomenon of “the footprints” has fascinated people in the Duhallow area of north-west Cork and beyond.

Mystery of  ‘footprints’ linked to murder

How the imprint of what looks like two adult feet could remain on the earth for so long, despite reported attempts to remove it over the years, has intrigued generations.

Though “the footprints” did not appear until around 1920 in the townland of Glenamuckla, near Newmarket, they are linked in folk memory to a murder during the Land War in the area 32 years previously.

A book by local historian Donie Murphy tells the story of the murder and of the imprint coming to light many years later.

“The footprints became like a mission in life to me,” says Mr Murphy. “I started researching the story in 1973. It must be the will of God that I persisted, it was so hard to get information at the time.”

The story begins with the shooting by a masked man of farm labourer James Rourke while he mowed hay on Jul 28, 1888.

At an inquest a few days later, reported in the then-Cork Examiner, farmer David McAuliffe told of seeing a man with a double-barrelled gun entering the field and, after an exchange of words, firing a number of shots at Rourke. The book describes “the footprints” as supernatural and says they appeared around 1920 on the ditch where the killer had stood.

Mr Murphy says the shooting had nothing to do with the Land War, but arose from a very bitter family dispute about a small sum of money.

He names a man from outside the area as the person who fired the fatal shots and says that man emigrated to New York, where he worked under an assumed name, later entering the US army and New York fire service. According to Mr Murphy in The Footprints, the man died a hero in New York, having saved lives as a fireman.

Priests blessed the scene in the hope of the “footprints” disappearing, but Fr Timothy O’Donoghue, who visited soon after the prints appeared, is said to have predicted they would last 100 years.

Over the years, says Mr Murphy “every means possible’’ was used to rid the ditch of the markings, by both humans and animals, but the grass grew again and they reappeared.

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