Sacred Texts  Legends and Sagas  Celtic  Index  Previous  Next 
Buy this Book at

True Irish Ghost Stories, by St. John D. Seymour and Harry L. Neligan, [1914], at

p. 121



That houses are haunted and apparitions frequently seen therein are pretty well established facts. The preceding chapters have dealt with this aspect of the subject, and, in view of the weight of evidence to prove the truth of the stories told in them, it would be hard for anyone to doubt that there is such a thing as a haunted house, whatever explanation may be given of "haunting." We now turn to another division of the subject—the outdoor ghost who haunts the roadways, country lanes, and other places. Sceptics on ghostly phenomena are generally pretty full of explanations when they are told of a ghost having been seen in a particular spot, and the teller may be put down as hyper-imaginative, or as having been deluded by moonlight playing through the trees; while cases are not wanting where a reputation for temperance

p. 122

has been lost by a man telling his experiences of a ghost he happens to have met along some country lane; and the fact that there are cases where an imaginative and nervous person has mistaken for a ghost a white goat or a sheet hanging on a bush only strengthens the sceptic's disbelief and makes him blind to the very large weight of evidence that can be arrayed against him. Some day, no doubt, psychologists and scientists will be able to give us a complete and satisfactory explanation of these abnormal apparitions, but at present we are very much in the dark, and any explanation that may be put forward is necessarily of a tentative nature.

The following story is sent us by Mr. J. J. Crowley, of the Munster and Leinster Bank, who writes as follows: "The scene is outside Clonmel, on the main road leading up to a nice old residence on the side of the mountains called — Lodge. I happened to be visiting my friends, two other bank men. It was night, about eight o'clock, moonless, and tolerably dark, and when within a quarter of a mile or perhaps less of a bridge over a small stream near the house

p. 123

[paragraph continues] I saw a girl, dressed in white, wearing a black sash and long flowing hair, walk in the direction from me up the culvert of the bridge and disappear down the other side. At the time I saw it I thought it most peculiar that I could distinguish a figure so far away, and thought a light of some sort must be falling on the girl, or that there were some people about and that some of them had struck a match. When I got to the place I looked about, but could find no person there.

"I related this story to my friends some time after arriving, and was then told that one of them had wakened up in his sleep a few nights previously, and had seen an identical figure standing at the foot of his bed, and rushed in fright from his room, taking refuge for the night with the other lodger. They told the story to their landlady, and learned from her that this apparition had frequently been seen about the place, and was the spirit of one of her daughters who had died years previously rather young, and who, previous to her death, had gone about just as we described the figure we had seen. I had heard nothing of this story until after I

p. 124

had seen the ghost, and consequently it could not be put down to hallucination or over-imagination on my part."

The experiences of two constables of the Royal Irish Constabulary while on despatch duty one winter's night in the early eighties has been sent us by one of the men concerned, and provides interesting reading. It was a fine moonlight night, with a touch of frost in the air, when these two men set out to march the five miles to the next barrack. Brisk walking soon brought them near their destination. The barrack which they were approaching was on the left side of the road, and facing it on the other side was a white-thorn hedge. The road at this point was wide, and as the two constables got within fifty yards of the barrack, they saw a policeman step out from this hedge and move across the road, looking towards the two men as he did so. He was plainly visible to them both. "He was bare-headed" (runs the account), "with his tunic opened down the front, a stout-built man, black-haired, pale, full face, and short mutton-chop whiskers." They thought he was a newly-joined constable who was doing "guard"

p. 125

and had come out to get some fresh air while waiting for a patrol to return. As the two men approached, he disappeared into the shadow of the barrack, and apparently went in by the door; to their amazement, when they came up they found the door closed and bolted, and it was only after loud knocking that they got a sleepy "All right" from some one inside, and after the usual challenging were admitted. There was no sign of the strange policeman when they got in, and on inquiry they learnt that no new constable had joined the station. The two men realised then that they had seen a ghost, but refrained from saying anything about it to the men at the station—a very sensible precaution, considering the loneliness of the average policeman's life in this country.

Some years afterwards the narrator of the above story learnt that a policeman had been lost in a snow-drift near this particular barrack. Whether this be the explanation we leave to others: the facts as stated are well vouched for. There is no evidence to support the theory of hallucination, for the apparition was so vivid that the idea of

p. 126

its being other than normal never entered the constables’ heads till they had got into the barrack. When they found the door shut and bolted, their amazement was caused by indignation against an apparently unsociable or thoughtless comrade, and it was only afterwards, while discussing the whole thing on their homeward journey, that it occurred to them that it would have been impossible for any ordinary mortal to shut, bolt, and bar a door without making a sound.

In the winter of 1840–1, in the days when snow and ice and all their attendant pleasures were more often in evidence than in these degenerate days, a skating party was enjoying itself on the pond in the grounds of the Castle near Rathfarnham, Co. Dublin. Among the skaters was a man who had with him a very fine curly-coated retriever dog. The pond was thronged with people enjoying themselves, when suddenly the ice gave way beneath him, and the man fell into the water; the dog went to his rescue, and both were drowned. A monument was erected to perpetuate the memory of the dog's heroic self-sacrifice, but only the pedestal now remains. The ghost of the

p. 127

dog is said to haunt the grounds and the public road between the castle gate and the Dodder Bridge. Many people have seen the phantom dog, and the story is well known locally.

The ghost of a boy who was murdered by a Romany is said to haunt one of the lodge gates of the Castle demesne, and the lodge-keeper states that he saw it only a short time ago. The Castle, however, is now in possession of Jesuit Fathers, and the Superior assures us that there has been no sign of a ghost for a long time, his explanation being that the place is so crowded out with new buildings "that even a ghost would have some difficulty in finding a comfortable corner."

It is a fairly general belief amongst students of supernatural phenomena that animals have the psychic faculty developed to a greater extent than we have. There are numerous stories which tell of animals being scared and frightened by something that is invisible to a human being, and the explanation given is that the animal has seen a ghost which we cannot see. A story that is told of a certain spot near the village of

p. 128

[paragraph continues] G—, in Co. Kilkenny, supports this theory. The account was sent us by the eye-witness of what occurred, and runs as follows: "I was out for a walk one evening near the town of G— about 8.45 P.M., and was crossing the bridge that leads into the S. Carlow district with a small wire-haired terrier dog. When we were about three-quarters of a mile out, the dog began to bark and yelp in a most vicious manner at 'nothing' on the left-hand side of the roadway and near to a straggling hedge. I felt a bit creepy and that something was wrong. The dog kept on barking, but I could at first see nothing, but on looking closely for a few seconds I believe I saw a small grey-white object vanish gradually and noiselessly into the hedge. No sooner had it vanished than the dog ceased barking, wagged his tail, and seemed pleased with his successful efforts." The narrator goes on to say that he made inquiries when he got home, and found that this spot on the road had a very bad reputation, as people had frequently seen a ghost there, while horses had often to be beaten, coaxed, or led past the place. The explanation locally current is that a suicide was

p. 129

buried at the cross-roads near at hand, or that it may be the ghost of a man who is known to have been killed at the spot.

The following story has been sent us by the Rev. H. R. B. Gillespie, to whom it was told by one of the witnesses of the incidents described therein. One bright moonlight night some time ago a party consisting of a man, his two daughters, and a friend were driving along a country road in County Leitrim. They came to a steep hill, and all except the driver got down to walk. One of the two sisters walked on in front, and after her came the other two, followed closely by the trap. They had not gone far, when those in rear saw a shabbily-dressed man walking beside the girl who was leading. But she did not seem to be taking any notice of him, and, wondering what he could be, they hastened to overtake her. But just when they were catching her up the figure suddenly dashed into the shadow of a disused forge, which stood by the side of the road, and as it did so the horse, which up to this had been perfectly quiet, reared up and became unmanageable. The girl beside whom the figure had walked had seen and

p. 130

heard nothing. The road was not bordered by trees or a high hedge, so that it could not have been some trick of the moonlight. One of the girls described the appearance of the figure to a local workman, who said, "It is very like a tinker who was found dead in that forge about six months ago."

Here is another story of a haunted spot on a road, where a "ghost" was seen, not at the witching hour of night, not when evening shadows lengthen, but in broad daylight. It is sent to us by the percipient, a lady, who does not desire to have her name mentioned. She was walking along a country road in the vicinity of Cork one afternoon, and passed various people. She then saw coming towards her a country-woman dressed in an old-fashioned style. This figure approached her, and when it drew near, suddenly staggered, as if under the influence of drink, and disappeared! She hastened to the spot, but searched in vain for any clue to the mystery; the road was bounded by high walls, and there was no gateway or gap through which the figure might slip. Much mystified, she continued on her way, and arrived at her destination. She there

p. 131

mentioned what had occurred, and was then informed by an old resident in the neighbourhood that that woman had constantly been seen up to twenty years before, but not since that date. By the country-people the road was believed to be haunted, but the percipient did not know this at the time.

The following is sent us by Mr. T. J. Westropp, and has points of its own which are interesting; he states: "On the road from Bray to Windgates, at the Deerpark of Kilruddy, is a spot which, whatever be the explanation, is distinguished by weird sounds and (some say) sights. I on one occasion was walking with a friend to catch the train at Bray about eleven o'clock one evening some twenty-five years ago, when we both heard heavy steps and rustling of bracken in the Deerpark; apparently some one got over the gate, crossed the road with heavy steps and fell from the wall next Bray Head, rustling and slightly groaning. The night was lightsome, though without actual moonlight, and we could see nothing over the wall where we had heard the noise.

"For several years after I dismissed the matter as a delusion; but when I told the

p. 132

story to some cousins, they said that another relative (now a Fellow of Trinity College, Dublin) had heard it too, and that there was a local belief that it was the ghost of a poacher mortally wounded by gamekeepers, who escaped across the road and died beyond it." Mr. Westropp afterwards got the relative mentioned above to tell his experience, and it corresponded with his own, except that the ghost was visible. "The clergyman who was rector of Greystones at that time used to say that he had heard exactly similar noises though he had seen nothing."

The following story of an occurrence near Dublin is sent us by a lady who is a very firm believer in ghosts. On a fine night some years ago two sisters were returning home from the theatre. They were walking along a very lonely part of the Kimmage Road about two miles beyond the tram terminus, and were chatting gaily as they went, when suddenly they heard the "clink, clink" of a chain coming towards them. At first they thought it was a goat or a donkey which had got loose, and was dragging its chain along the ground. But they could see nothing, and could hear no noise

p. 133

but the clink of the chain, although the road was clear and straight. Nearer and nearer came the noise, gradually getting louder, and as it passed them closely they distinctly felt a blast or whiff of air. They were paralysed with an indefinable fear, and were scarcely able to drag themselves along the remaining quarter of a mile to their house. The elder of the two was in very bad health, and the other had almost to carry her. Immediately she entered the house she collapsed, and had to be revived with brandy.

An old woman, it seems, had been murdered for her savings by a tramp near the spot where this strange occurrence took place, and it is thought that there is a connection between the crime and the haunting of this part of the Kimmage Road. Whatever the explanation may be, the whole story bears every evidence of truth, and it would be hard for anyone to disprove it.

Churchyards are generally considered to be the hunting-ground of all sorts and conditions of ghosts. People who would on all other occasions, when the necessity arises, prove themselves to be possessed of at any rate a normal amount of courage, turn pale

p. 134

and shiver at the thought of having to pass through a churchyard at dead of night, It may be some encouragement to such to state that out of a fairly large collection of accounts of haunted places, only one relates to a churchyard. The story is told by Mr. G. H. Millar of Edgeworthstown: "During the winter of 1875," he writes, "I attended a soirée about five miles from here. I was riding, and on my way home about 11.30 P.M. I had to pass by the old ruins and burial-ground of Abbeyshrule. The road led round by two sides of the churchyard. It was a bright moonlight night, and as my girth broke I was walking the horse quite slowly. As I passed the ruin, I saw what I took to be a policeman in a long overcoat; he was walking from the centre of the churchyard towards the corner, and, as far as I could see, would be at the corner by the time I would reach it, and we would meet. Quite suddenly, however, he disappeared, and I could see no trace of him. Soon after I overtook a man who had left the meeting long before me. I expressed wonder that he had not been farther on, and he explained that he went a 'round-about'

p. 135

way to avoid passing the old abbey, as he did not want to see 'The Monk.' On questioning him, he told me that a monk was often seen in the churchyard."

A story told of a ghost which haunts a certain spot on an estate near the city of Waterford, bears a certain resemblance to the last story for the reason that it was only after the encounter had taken place in both cases that it was known that anything out of the ordinary had been seen. In the early eighties of last century — Court, near Waterford, was occupied by Mr. and Mrs. S— and their family of two young boys and a girl of twenty-one years of age. Below the house is a marshy glen with a big open drain cut through it. Late one evening the daughter was out shooting rabbits near this drain and saw, as she thought, her half-brother standing by the drain in a sailor suit, which like other small boys he wore. She called to him once or twice, end to her surprise got no reply. She went towards him, and when she got close he suddenly disappeared. The next day she asked an old dependent, who had lived many years in the place, if there was anything

p. 136

curious about the glen. He replied at once: "Oh! you mean the little sailor man. Sure, he won't do you any harm." This was the first she had heard of anything of the sort, but it was then found that none of the country-people would go through the glen after dusk.

Some time afterwards two sons of the clergyman of the parish in which — Court stands were out one evening fishing in the drain, when one of them suddenly said, "What's that sailor doing there?" The other saw nothing, and presently the figure vanished. At the time of the appearance neither had heard of Miss S—’s experience, and no one has been able to explain it, as there is apparently no tradition of any "little sailor man" having been there in the flesh.

Mr. Joseph M’Crossan, a journalist on the staff of the Strabane Chronicle, has sent us a cutting from that paper describing a ghost which appeared to men working in an engine-house at Strabane railway station on two successive nights in October 1913. The article depicts very graphically the antics of the ghost and the fear of the men who saw it. Mr. M’Crossan interviewed

p. 137

one of these men (Pinkerton by name), and the story as told in his words is as follows: "Michael Madden, Fred Oliphant, and I were engaged inside a shed cleaning engines, when, at half-past twelve (midnight),a knocking came to all the doors, and continued without interruption, accompanied by unearthly yells. The three of us went to one of the doors, and saw—I could swear to it without doubt—the form of a man of heavy build. I thought I was about to faint. My hair stood high on my head. We all squealed for help, when the watchman and signalman came fast to our aid. Armed with a crowbar, the signalman made a dash at the 'spirit,' but was unable to strike down the ghost, which hovered about our shed till half-past two. It was moonlight, and we saw it plainly. There was no imagination on our part. We three cleaners climbed up the engine, and hid on the roof of the engine, lying there till morning at our wit's end. The next night it came at half-past one. Oliphant approached the spirit within two yards, but he then collapsed, the ghost uttering terrible yells. I commenced work, but the spirit 'gazed' into

p. 138

my face, and I fell forward against the engine. Seven of us saw the ghost this time. Our clothes and everything in the shed were tossed and thrown about."

The other engine-cleaners were interviewed and corroborated Pinkerton's account. One of them stated that he saw the ghost run up and down a ladder leading to a water tank and disappear into it, while the signalman described how he struck at the ghost with a crowbar, but the weapon seemed to go through it. The spirit finally took his departure through the window.

The details of this affair are very much on the lines of the good old-fashioned ghost yarns. But it is hard to see how so many men could labour under the same delusion. The suggestion that the whole thing was a practical joke may also be dismissed, for if the apparition had flesh and bones the crowbar would have soon proved it. The story goes that a man was murdered near the spot some time ago; whether there is any connection between this crime and the apparition it would be hard to say. However, we are not concerned with explanations

p. 139

[paragraph continues] (for who, as yet, can explain the supernatural?); the facts as stated have all the appearance of truth.

Mr. Patrick Ryan, of P—, Co. Limerick, gives us two stories as he heard them related by Mr. Michael O’Dwyer of the same place. The former is evidently a very strong believer in supernatural phenomena, but he realises how strong is the unbelief of many, and in support of his stories he gives names of several persons who will vouch for the truth of them. With a few alterations, we give the story in his own words: "Mr. O’Dwyer has related how one night, after he had carried the mails to the train, he went with some fodder for a heifer in a field close to the railway station near to which was a creamery. He discovered the animal grazing near the creamery although how she came to be there was a mystery, as a broad trench separated it from the rest of the field, which is only spanned by a plank used by pedestrians when crossing the field. 'Perhaps,' he said in explanation, 'it was that he should go there to hear.' It was about a quarter to twelve (midnight), and, having searched the field in vain, he was returning home,

p. 140

when, as he crossed the plank, he espied the heifer browsing peacefully in the aforementioned part of the field which was near the creamery. He gave her the fodder and —Heavens! was he suffering from delusions? Surely his ears were not deceiving him—from the creamery funnel there arose a dense volume of smoke mingled with the sharp hissing of steam and the rattling of cans, all as if the creamery were working, and it were broad daylight. His heifer became startled and bellowed frantically. O’Dwyer, himself a man of nerves, yet possessing all the superstitions of the Celt, was startled and ran without ceasing to his home near by, where he went quickly to bed.

"O’Dwyer is not the only one who has seen this, as I have been told by several of my friends how they heard it. Who knows the mystery surrounding this affair!"

The second story relates to a certain railway station in the south of Ireland; again we use Mr. Ryan's own words: "A near relative of mine" (he writes) "once had occasion to go to the mail train to meet a friend. While sitting talking to O’Dwyer, whom he met on the platform, he heard talking going

p. 141

on in the waiting-room. O’Dwyer heard it also, and they went to the door, but saw nothing save for the light of a waning moon which filtered in through the window. Uncertain, they struck matches, but saw nothing. Again they sat outside, and again they heard the talking, and this time they did not go to look, for they knew about it. In the memory of the writer a certain unfortunate person committed suicide on the railway, and was carried to the waiting-room pending an inquest. He lay all night there till the inquest was held next day. 'Let us not look further into the matter,' said O’Dwyer, and my relative having acquiesced, he breathed a shuddering prayer for the repose of the dead."

The following story, which has been sent as a personal experience by Mr. William Mackey of Strabane, is similar in many ways to an extraordinary case of retro-cognitive vision which occurred some years ago to two English ladies who were paying a visit to Versailles; and who published their experiences in a book entitled, An Adventure (London, 1911). Mr. Mackey writes: "It was during the severe winter of the Crimean

p. 142

[paragraph continues] War, when indulging in my favourite sport of wild-fowl shooting, that I witnessed the following strange scene. It was a bitterly cold night towards the end of November or beginning of December; the silvery moon had sunk in the west shortly before midnight; the sport had been all that could be desired, when I began to realise that the blood was frozen in my veins, and I was on the point of starting for home, when my attention was drawn to the barking of a dog close by, which was followed in a few seconds by the loud report of a musket, the echo of which had scarcely died away in the silent night, when several musket-shots went off in quick succession; this seemed to be the signal for a regular fusillade of musketry, and it was quite evident from the nature of the firing that there was attack and defence.

"For the life of me I could not understand what it all meant; not being superstitious I did not for a moment imagine it was supernatural, notwithstanding that my courageous dog was crouching in abject terror between my legs; beads of perspiration began to trickle down from my forehead, when suddenly there arose a flame as

p. 143

if a house were on fire, but I knew from the position of the blaze (which was only a few hundred yards from where I stood), that there was no house there, or any combustible that would burn, and what perplexed me most was to see pieces of burning thatch and timber sparks fall hissing into the water at my feet. When the fire seemed at its height the firing appeared to weaken, and when the clear sound of a bugle floated out on the midnight air, it suddenly ceased, and I could hear distinctly the sound of cavalry coming at a canter, their accoutrements jingling quite plainly on the frosty air; in a very short time they arrived at the scene of the fight. I thought it an eternity until they took their departure, which they did at the walk.

"It is needless to say that, although the scene of this tumult was on my nearest way home, I did not venture that way, as, although there are many people who would say that I never knew what fear was, I must confess on this occasion I was thoroughly frightened.

"At breakfast I got a good sound rating from my father for staying out so late.

p. 144

[paragraph continues] My excuse was that I fell asleep and had a horrible dream, which I related. When I finished I was told I had been dreaming with my eyes open!—that I was not the first person who had witnessed this strange sight. He then told me the following narrative: 'It was towards the end of the seventeenth century that a widow named Sally Mackey and her three sons lived on the outskirts of the little settlement of the Mackeys. A warrant was issued by the Government against the three sons for high treason, the warrant being delivered for execution to the officer in command of the infantry regiment stationed at Lifford. A company was told off for the purpose of effecting the arrest, and the troops set out from Lifford at 11 P.M.

"'The cottage home of the Mackeys was approached by a bridle-path, leading from the main road to Derry, which only permitted the military to approach in single file; they arrived there at midnight, and the first intimation the inmates had of danger was the barking, and then the shooting, of the collie dog. Possessing as they did several stand of arms, they opened fire

p. 145

on the soldiers as they came in view and killed and wounded several; it was the mother, Sally Mackey, who did the shooting, the sons loading the muskets. Whether the cottage went on fire by accident or design was never known; it was only when the firing from the cottage ceased and the door was forced open that the officer in command rushed in and brought out the prostrate form of the lady, who was severely wounded and burned. All the sons perished, but the soldiers suffered severely, a good many being killed and wounded.

"'The firing was heard by the sentries at Lifford, and a troop of cavalry was despatched to the scene of conflict, but only arrived in time to see the heroine dragged from the burning cottage. She had not, however, been fatally wounded, and lived for many years afterwards with a kinsmen. My father remembered conversing with old men, when he was a boy, who remembered her well. She seemed to take a delight in narrating incidents of the fight to those who came to visit her, and would always finish up by making them feel the pellets between the skin and her ribs.'"

Next: Chapter VI. Apparitions At or After Death