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Ghosts of the Emerald Isle

Erin Go Bragh and Slainte everyone! A Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you all. I love this holiday. It is one of my very favorites, a day to show my Irish pride and revel in Irish culture. And what better day to engross yourself in some supernatural tales from across the pond. The Irish always have a flair for the dramatic and of course we all know some very famous poets and writers that have come from old Eirinn. It is no surprise that sometimes their otherworldly tales can have you at the edge of your seat. I’ve scoured the web and some of my personal collection of ghost books to find you a few neat little yarns. So pull up a chair, a nice tall pint, and maybe a good friend or two and read on.

 

The legend of Lord Tyrome and Lady Beresford – This one I found at http://www.colours-of-the-rainbow.com/irish-ghost-stories.html and have paraphrased here in my own words. Lord Tyrone was born John Le Poer and Lady Beresford Nichola Sophia Hamilton.

 

From a young age these two orphaned children were raised by a stern, strongly atheist guardian but it only served to cement their faith further. The pair promised each other that whoever should die first, that person would visit the other and prove that there was in fact a life beyond this one. When the children grew up they grew apart and Nichola married into a wealthier family. One night, she awoke with terror to find her foster brother standing by the bedside. She managed to stifle a scream at his pleading to be quiet, and he revealed to her that he had died and held to their long-kept promise. He also passed along to her certain pieces of information about future events that would come to pass. Confused and fearful that this was all a terrible dream, Lady Beresford asked for proof, at which point Lord Tyrone suddenly seized her wrist in his hand. The flesh on her wrist withered and left a deformity that she would carry with her for the rest of her life tied up under a silk kerchief. It was proof enough certainly, and definitely more than she had wanted. After his disappearance she mulled over the foreboding predictions he had made to her.

Her husband would soon die and she would remarry to have four children. But after the last was born, she would die on the day of her forty seventh birthday. Through the years her foster brother’s predictions all came to pass one by one and left her in trepidation of her final birthday. But on her forty-eighth birthday she decided to throw a party and celebrate having finally escaped from fate’s harsh pronouncement. At the party was a priest who had been an old family friend and had known her since they were young. When she triumphantly cheered for living to forty-eight he gently reminded her, “No my dear, you are only 47.” Having looked at her birthday in the church register only a few days before, he was absolutely certain of the fact. Shrieking in shock and horror she exclaimed “You have signed my death warrant!”, subsequently shut herself in her room and began to write out a will. She died later that night as predicted those many years ago.

Notes: Tales of predictions and omens from beyond the grave are rampant in Irish folklore. And I am sure some of you older readers may know, after about 35 it does get rather difficult to keep track of how old you are. I’ve been known to slip by a year myself. :)

 

Visits from people at the moment they died is a common staple in Irish ghost stories. Here is another chilling example. As someone who has been in a building in which a doorknob turned by itself, this story strikes home perhaps a bit too much. I found this one in a book by John D. Seymour called “True Irish Ghost Stories”:

“On Wednesday, October 17, 1879, I had a very jubilant letter from my friend, announcing that the expected event had successfully happened on the previous day, and that all was progressing satisfactorily. On the night of the following Wednesday, October 22, I retired to bed at about ten o’clock. My wife, the children, and two maid-servants were all sleeping upstairs, and I had a small bed in my study, which was on the ground floor. The house was shrouded in darkness, and the only sound that broke the silence was the ticking of the hall-clock.
“I was quietly preparing to go to sleep, when I was much surprised at hearing, with the most unquestionable distinctness, the sound of light, hurried footsteps, exactly suggestive of those of an active, restless young female, coming in from the hall door and traversing the hall. They then, apparently with some hesitation, followed the passage leading to the study door, on arriving at which they stopped. I then heard the sound of a light, agitated hand apparently searching for the handle of the door. By this time, being quite sure that my wife had come
down and wanted to speak to me, I sat up in bed, and called to her by name, asking what was the matter. As there was no reply, and the sounds had ceased, I struck a match, lighted a candle, and opened the door. No one was visible or audible. I went upstairs, found all the doors shut and everyone asleep. Greatly puzzled, I returned to the study and went to bed, leaving the candle alight. Immediately the whole performance was circumstantially repeated, but this time the handle of the door was grasped by the invisible hand, and partly turned, then relinquished. I started out of bed and renewed my previous search, with equally futile results. The clock struck eleven, and from that time all disturbances ceased.
“On Friday morning I received a letter stating that Mrs. — had died at about midnight on the previous Wednesday. I hastened off to Adare and had an interview with my bereaved friend. With one item of our conversation I will close. He told me that his wife sank rapidly on Wednesday, until when night came on she became delirious. She spoke incoherently, as if revisiting scenes and places once familiar. ‘She thought
she was in your house,’ he said, ‘and was apparently holding a conversation with you, as she used to keep silence at intervals as if listening to your replies.’ I asked him if he could possibly remember the hour at which the imaginary conversation took place. He replied that, curiously enough, he could tell it accurately, as he had looked at his watch, and found the time between half-past ten and eleven o’clock—the exact time of the mysterious manifestations heard by me.”

 

The Banshee

The wailing banshee

The wailing banshee

What Irish ghost story collection would be complete without the famous banshee? The name in Gaelic translates roughly to “woman of the barrows” and it is sometimes spelled “beansidhe” which seems to point to close ties with the “sidhe” or faerie folk of Irish lore. Of all the many folktales and legends, she is probably the most chilling, especially because of our own fear of mortality. For the banshee brings the warning of certain death. She can appear in many guises and go from beautiful woman to old crone. Legends say that she is seen by the water washing human limbs, heads, and clothes until the water runs red with their blood, all the while weeping and wailing, a sound that is said to chill you right to the bone if heard. Banshees are often said to be attached to great historical Irish families and multiple banshee sightings foretell the death of a very holy person. On top of her weeping, she is also seen as a mournful young woman brushing her hair and has been known to directly give warnings to someone of their imminent death. Even in modern days there are supposed sightings of the banshee. Here is one of the oldest and best known banshee stories. I found it here: http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/celt/tigs/tigs09.htm. The story was sent in from a Mr. T. J. Westropp, but I have heard a few similar ones from my own family and acquaintances. I think this sums up a banshee experience nicely so I will simply paste this story as is here for you.

“My maternal grandmother heard the following tradition from her mother, one of the Miss Ross-Lewins, who witnessed the occurrence. Their father, Mr. Harrison Ross-Lewin, was away in Dublin on law business, and in his absence the young people went off to spend the evening with a friend who lived some miles away. The night was fine and lightsome as they were returning, save at one point where the road ran between trees or high hedges not far to the west of the old church of Kilchrist. The latter, like many similar ruins, was a simple oblong building, with long side-walls and high gables, and at that time it and its graveyard were unenclosed, and lay in the open fields. As the party passed down the long dark lane they suddenly heard in the distance loud keening and clapping of hands, as the country-people were accustomed to do when lamenting the dead. The Ross-Lewins hurried on, and came in sight of the church, on the side wall of which a little gray-haired old woman, clad in a dark cloak, was running to and fro, chanting and wailing, and throwing up her arms. The girls were very frightened, but the young men ran forward and surrounded the ruin, and two of them went into the church, the apparition vanishing from the wall as they did so. They searched every nook, and found no one, nor did anyone pass out. All were now well scared, and got home as fast as possible. On reaching their home their mother opened the door, and at once told them that she was in terror about their father, for, as she sat looking out the window in the moonlight, a huge raven with fiery eyes lit on the sill, and tapped three times on the glass. They told her their story, which only added to their anxiety, and as they stood talking, taps came to the nearest window, and they saw the bird again. A few days later news reached them that Mr. Ross-Lewin had died suddenly in Dublin. This occurred about 1776.”

This idea of three knocks and birds bringing bad omens has also held strongly in my family. Three knocks is said to be a warning of a death. The belief that things often happen in threes is also strong in Irish culture. Ravens are generally bad news, and one banging at your window is no better. But in a way I think the legend of the banshee is a sad one. For all the poor woman is trying to do, in her terrifying way, is to warn of an impending death that she has no control over and to share in the mourning for the loss of one of Ireland’s own.

I actually wrote this little poem about the banshee for a contest and I’d like to share it with you because there is no more appropriate day than this!

Dark are the shadows of grief-cloaked night.
My hands, they are calloused
Torn by bloodied clothes
My tears fall upon them
As I wash them clean
Grief and pain flow away
In my tear filled waters.
And into my heart

My back is bent
With the weight of grief
I bear to lessen your load
I sing death’s song
Notes of loss and notes of pain
Sorrow’s song of nevermore
Keened in the crisp night air

You fear me,
My weeping, my grief
Makes your hearts grow cold
The warning foretold
Despite your will
The day has come
Of eternal sleep
Alone, feared, I grieve
For a soul lost to Ireland
One less star in her crown

I am the banshee, the wailing woman
My cries fill the night
As I absorb your sorrow
It is all that is left
For me to feel.
Do not fear me
You, beloved of Eirinn
For it is at your deathbed
That I cry my tears
Pray that your soul
Goes ever onward
And forgive an old woman
That washes and wails.

~ by Laura

 

The Dullahan – “Ireland’s scariest headless coachman”

The last haunting figure of Irish lore I would like to share with you (though there are so many!), is the headless coachman of the death coach. Believe it or not, I actually came across this little legend in the movie “Darby O’Gill and the Little People”, a classic that I used to watch every year as a kid. But it turns out that there is a rich heritage of ghost stories concerning the “death coach”. Also called the “Dullahan”, it is Ireland’s version of the headless horseman.

Ireland's terrifying headless coachman

Ireland’s terrifying headless coachman

The Dullahan is actually the most gory and possibly the most chilling of them all, which is why I have left him for last. Unlike the banshee the Dullahan can foretell anyone’s death and can even determine who will be next to die after his intended target. He is a headless horseman riding a headless horse.

Dullahans are headless. Although the dullahan has no head upon its shoulders, he carries it with him, either on the saddle-brow of his horse or upraised in his right hand. The head is the colour and texture of stale dough or mouldy cheese, and quite smooth. A hideous, idiotic grin splits the face from ear to ear, and the eyes, which are small and black, dart about like malignant flies. The entire head glows with the phosphoresence of decaying matter and the creature may use it as a lantern to guide its way along the darkened laneways of the Irish countryside. Wherever the dullahan stops, a mortal dies.

Legend has it that even if you are not the intended target of a dullahan, you are still in a heap of trouble. If you are a witness to one of its crazy midnight rides and see too much, it may throw blood on you which is a sure indication that you will now be next in line. It may also opt to take your eyes out with its whip. Its head is equipped with supernatural sight, enabling it to be able to see for miles. In some areas he is said to be the driver of a coach before which all gates and latches open no matter how well they were fastened, so there is no keeping him at bey. It is allowed to speak just once on each ride and so it calls out the name of the intended deceased, sucking out his or her soul in the process. During certain Irish festivals lore has it that it is ill advised to go out at night, and to keep your shutters drawn lest you see something you are not intended to.

This little short tale comes from storyteller W. J. Fitzpatrick from County Down, and it tells of a chilling sight indeed.

“I seen the dullahan myself, stopping on the brow of the hill between Bryansford and Moneyscalp late one evening, just as the sun was setting. It was completely headless but it held up its own head in its hand and I heard it call out a name. I put my hand across my ears in case the name was my own, so I couldn’t hear what it said. When I looked again, it was gone. But shortly afterwards, there was a bad car accident on that very hill and a young man was killed. It had been his name that the dullahan was calling.”

It seems there is only one small thing that can save you from a run in with a dullahan. Like most creatures of fairy lore that are sensitive to certain metals, the dullahan has an irrational fear of gold as told in this story from dullahan.com:

“A man was on his way home one night between Roundstone and Ballyconneely. It was just getting dark and, all of a sudden, he heard the sound of horse’s hooves pounding along the road behind him. Looking around, he saw the dullahan on his charger, hurtling towards him at a fair speed. With a loud shout, he made to run but the thing came on after him, gaining on him all the time. In truth, it would have overtaken him and carried him away had he not dropped a gold-headed pin from the folds of his shirt on the road behind him. There was a roar in the air above him and, when he looked again, the dullahan was gone.”

 

Ireland is so rich with these legends that it has been so difficult to choose but a few. But there is always next year! I hope you have enjoyed these little snippets. May you all have a wonderful and fun-filled St. Patrick’s Day. Slainte!

 

 

Comment ( 1 )

  1. / Replydave
    I never liked the Banshee !! Creepy.

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