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Legendary And Ancestral Ghosts

Scary Books: True Irish Ghost Stories
: St John D Seymour

Whatever explanations may be given of the various stories told in our

previous chapters, the facts as stated therein are in almost every case

vouched for on reliable authority. We now turn to stories of a different

kind, most of which have no evidence of any value in support of the

_facts_, but which have been handed down from generation to generation,

and deserve our respect, if only for their antiquity. We make no apology
r /> for giving them here, for, in addition to the interesting reading they

provide, they also serve a useful purpose as a contrast to authenticated

ghost stories. The student of folklore will find parallels to some of

them in the tales of other nations.

Lord Walter Fitzgerald sends us the following: "Garrett oge" (or Gerald

the younger) "Fitzgerald, 11th Earl of Kildare, died in London on the

16th November 1585; his body was brought back to Ireland and interred in

St. Brigid's Cathedral, in Kildare. He was known as 'the Wizard Earl' on

account of his practising the black art, whereby he was enabled to

transform himself into other shapes, either bird or beast according to

his choice; so notorious was his supernatural power that he became the

terror of the countryside.

"His wife, the Countess, had long wished to see some proof of his skill,

and had frequently begged him to transform himself before her, but he had

steadily refused to do so, as he said if he did and she became afraid, he

would be taken from her, and she would never see him again. Still she

persisted, and at last he said he would do as she wished on condition

that she should first of all undergo three trials to test her courage; to

this she willingly agreed. In the first trial the river Greese, which

flows past the castle walls, at a sign from the Earl overflowed its banks

and flooded the banqueting hall in which the Earl and Countess were

sitting. She showed no sign of fear, and at the Earl's command the river

receded to its normal course. At the second trial a huge eel-like monster

appeared, which entered by one of the windows, crawled about among the

furniture of the banqueting hall, and finally coiled itself round the

body of the Countess. Still she showed no fear, and at a nod from the

Earl the animal uncoiled itself and disappeared. In the third test an

intimate friend of the Countess, long since dead, entered the room, and

passing slowly by her went out at the other end. She showed not the

slightest sign of fear, and the Earl felt satisfied that he could place

his fate in her keeping, but he again warned her of his danger if she

lost her presence of mind while he was in another shape. He then turned

himself into a black bird, flew about the room, and perching on the

Countess's shoulder commenced to sing. Suddenly a black cat appeared from

under a chest, and made a spring at the bird; in an agony of fear for its

safety the Countess threw up her arms to protect it and swooned away.

When she came to she was alone, the bird and the cat had disappeared, and

she never saw the Earl again."

It is said that he and his knights lie in an enchanted sleep, with their

horses beside them, in a cave under the Rath on the hill of Mullaghmast,

which stands, as the crow flies, five miles to the north of Kilkea

Castle. Once in seven years they are allowed to issue forth; they gallop

round the Curragh, thence across country to Kilkea Castle, where they

re-enter the haunted wing, and then return to the Rath of Mullaghmast.

The Earl is easily recognised as he is mounted on a white charger shod

with silver shoes; when these shoes are worn out the enchantment will be

broken, and he will issue forth, drive the foes of Ireland from the land,

and reign for a seven times seven number of years over the vast estates

of his ancestors.

Shortly before '98 he was seen on the Curragh by a blacksmith who was

crossing it in an ass-cart from Athgarvan to Kildare. A fairy blast

overtook him, and he had just time to say, "God speed ye Gentlemen"

to the invisible "Good People," when he heard horses galloping up behind

him; pulling to one side of the road he looked back and was terrified at

seeing a troop of knights, fully armed, led by one on a white horse. The

leader halted his men, and riding up to the blacksmith asked him to

examine his shoes. Almost helpless from fear he stumbled out of the

ass-cart and looked at each shoe, which was of silver, and then informed

the knight that all the nails were sound. The knight thanked him,

rejoined his troop, and galloped off. The blacksmith in a half-dazed

state hastened on to Kildare, where he entered a public-house, ordered a

noggin of whisky, and drank it neat. When he had thoroughly come to

himself he told the men that were present what had happened to him on the

Curragh; one old man who had listened to him said: "By the mortial! man,

ye are after seeing 'Gerod Earla.'" This fully explained the mystery.

Gerod Earla, or Earl Gerald, is the name by which the Wizard Earl is

known by the peasantry.

One other legend is told in connection with the Wizard Earl of a

considerably later date. It is said that a farmer was returning from a

fair in Athy late one evening in the direction of Ballintore, and when

passing within view of the Rath of Mullaghmast he was astonished to see a

bright light apparently issuing from it. Dismounting from his car he went

to investigate. On approaching the Rath he noticed that the light was

proceeding from a cave in which were sleeping several men in armour, with

their horses beside them. He cautiously crept up to the entrance, and

seeing that neither man nor beast stirred he grew bolder and entered the

chamber; he then examined the saddlery on the horses, and the armour of

the men, and plucking up courage began slowly to draw a sword from its

sheath; as he did so the owner's head began to rise, and he heard a voice

in Irish say, "Is the time yet come?" In terror the farmer, as he shoved

the sword back, replied, "It is not, your Honour," and then fled from the


It is said that if the farmer had only completely unsheathed the sword

the enchantment would have been broken, and the Earl would have come to

his own again.

In 1642 Wallstown Castle, the seat of the Wall family, in County Cork,

was burnt down by the Cromwellian troops, and Colonel Wall, the head of

the family, was captured and imprisoned in Cork jail, where he died.

One of the defenders during the siege was a man named Henry Bennett, who

was killed while fighting. His ghost was often seen about the place for

years after his death. His dress was of a light colour, and he wore

a white hat, while in his hand he carried a pole, which he used to place

across the road near the Castle to stop travellers; on a polite request

to remove the pole he would withdraw it, and laugh heartily. A caretaker

in the place named Philip Coughlan used frequently to be visited by this

apparition. He came generally about supper time, and while Coughlan and

his wife were seated at table he would shove the pole through the window;

Coughlan would beg him to go away and not interfere with a poor

hard-worked man; the pole would then be withdrawn, with a hearty laugh

from the ghost.

In the Parish Church of Ardtrea, near Cookstown, is a marble monument and

inscription in memory of Thomas Meredith, D.D., who had been a Fellow of

Trinity College, Dublin, and for six years rector of the parish. He died,

according to the words of the inscription, on 2nd May 1819, as a result

of "a sudden and awful visitation." A local legend explains this

"visitation," by stating that a ghost haunted the rectory, the visits of

which had caused his family and servants to leave the house. The rector

had tried to shoot it but failed; then he was told to use a silver

bullet; he did so, and next morning was found dead at his hall-door while

a hideous object like a devil made horrid noises out of any window

the servant man approached. This man was advised by some Roman Catholic

neighbours to get the priest, who would "lay" the thing. The priest

arrived, and with the help of a jar of whisky the ghost became quite

civil, till the last glass in the jar, which the priest was about to

empty out for himself, whereupon the ghost or devil made himself as thin

and long as a Lough Neagh eel, and slipped himself into the jar to get

the last drops. But the priest put the cork into its place and hammered

it in, and, making the sign of the Cross on it, he had the evil thing

secured. It was buried in the cellar of the rectory, where on some nights

it can still be heard calling to be let out.

A story of a phantom rat, which comes from Limerick, is only one of many

which show the popular Irish belief in hauntings by various animals. Many

years ago, the legend runs, a young man was making frantic and

unacceptable love to a girl. At last, one day when he was following her

in the street, she turned on him and, pointing to a rat which some boys

had just killed, said, "I'd as soon marry that rat as you." He took her

cruel words so much to heart that he pined away and died. After his death

the girl was haunted at night by a rat, and in spite of the constant

watch of her mother and sisters she was more than once bitten. The priest

was called in and could do nothing, so she determined to emigrate. A

coasting vessel was about to start for Queenstown, and her friends,

collecting what money they could, managed to get her on board. The ship

had just cast off from the quay, when shouts and screams were heard up

the street. The crowd scattered, and a huge rat with fiery eyes galloped

down to the quay. It sat upon the edge screaming hate, sprang off, and

did not reappear. After that, we are told, the girl was never again


A legend of the Tirawley family relates how a former Lord Tirawley, who

was a very wild and reckless man, was taken from this world. One evening,

it is said, just as the nobleman was preparing for a night's carouse, a

carriage drove up to his door, a stranger asked to see him and, after a

long private conversation, drove away as mysteriously as he had come.

Whatever words had passed they had a wonderful effect on the gay lord,

for his ways were immediately changed, and he lived the life of a

reformed man. As time went on the effect of whatever awful warning the

mysterious visitor had given him wore off, and he began to live a life

even more wild and reckless than before. On the anniversary of the visit

he was anxious and gloomy, but he tried to make light of it. The day

passed, and at night there was high revelry in the banqueting hall.

Outside it was wet and stormy, when just before midnight the sound of

wheels was heard in the courtyard. All the riot stopped; the servants

opened the door in fear and trembling: outside stood a huge dark coach

with four black horses. The "fearful guest" entered and beckoned to Lord

Tirawley, who followed him to a room off the hall. The friends, sobered

by fear, saw through the door the stranger drawing a ship on the wall;

the piece of wall then detached itself and the ship grew solid, the

stranger climbed into it, and Lord Tirawley followed without a struggle.

The vessel then sailed away into the night, and neither it nor its

occupants were ever seen again.

The above tale is a good example of how a legend will rise superior to

the ordinary humdrum facts of life, for it strikes us at once that the

gloomy spectre went to unnecessary trouble in constructing a ship, even

though the task proved so simple to his gifted hands. But the coach was

at the door, and surely it would have been less troublesome to have used


A strange legend is told of a house in the Boyne valley. It is said that

the occupant of the guest chamber was always wakened on the first night

of his visit, then he would see a pale light and the shadow of a skeleton

"climbing the wall like a huge spider." It used to crawl out on to the

ceiling, and when it reached the middle would materialise into apparent

bones, holding on by its hands and feet; it would break in pieces, and

first the skull and then the other bones would fall on the floor. One

person had the courage to get up and try to seize a bone, but his hand

passed through to the carpet though the heap was visible for a few


The following story can hardly be called _legendary_, though it may

certainly be termed ancestral. The writer's name is not given, but he is

described as a rector and Rural Dean in the late Established Church of

Ireland, and a Justice of the Peace for two counties. It has this added

interest that it was told to Queen Victoria by the Marchioness of Ely.

"Loftus Hall, in County Wexford, was built on the site of a stronghold

erected by Raymond, one of Strongbow's followers. His descendants

forfeited it in 1641, and the property subsequently fell into the hands

of the Loftus family, one of whom built the house and other buildings.

About the middle of the eighteenth century, there lived at Loftus Hall

Charles Tottenham, a member of the Irish Parliament, known to fame as

'Tottenham and his Boots,' owing to his historic ride to the Irish

capital in order to give the casting vote in a motion which saved £80,000

to the Irish Treasury.

"The second son, Charles Tottenham, had two daughters, Elizabeth and

Anne, to the latter of whom our story relates. He came to live at Loftus

Hall, the old baronial residence of the family, with his second wife and

the two above-mentioned daughters of his first wife. Loftus Hall was an

old rambling mansion, with no pretence to beauty: passages that led

nowhere, large dreary rooms, small closets, various unnecessary nooks and

corners, panelled or wainscotted walls, and a _tapestry chamber_. Here

resided at the time my story commences Charles Tottenham, his second wife

and his daughter Anne: Elizabeth, his second daughter, having been

married. The father was a cold austere man; the stepmother such as that

unamiable relation is generally represented to be. What and how great

the state of lonely solitude and depression of mind of poor Anne must

have been in such a place, without neighbours or any home sympathy, may

easily be imagined.

"One wet and stormy night, as they sat in the large drawing-room, they

were startled by a loud knocking at the outer gate, a most surprising

and unusual occurrence. Presently the servant announced that a young

gentleman on horseback was there requesting lodging and shelter. He had

lost his way, his horse was knocked up, and he had been guided by the

only light which he had seen. The stranger was admitted and refreshed,

and proved himself to be an agreeable companion and a finished

gentleman--far too agreeable for the lone scion of the House of

Tottenham, for a sad and mournful tale follows, and one whose strange

results continued almost to the present day.

"Much mystery has involved the story at the present point, and in truth

the matter was left in such silence and obscurity, that, but for the acts

of her who was the chief sufferer in it through several generations,

nothing would now be known. The fact, I believe, was--which was not

unnatural under the circumstances--that this lonely girl formed a strong

attachment to this gallant youth chance had brought to her door, which

was warmly returned. The father, as was his stern nature, was obdurate,

and the wife no solace to her as she was a step-mother. It is only an

instance of the refrain of the old ballad, 'He loved, and he rode away';

he had youth and friends, and stirring scenes, and soon forgot his

passing attachment. Poor Anne's reason gave way.

"The fact is but too true, she became a confirmed maniac, and had to be

confined for the rest of her life in the tapestried chamber before

mentioned, and in which she died. A strange legend was at once invented

to account for this calamity: it tells how the horseman proved such an

agreeable acquisition that he was invited to remain some days, and made

himself quite at home, and as they were now four in number whist was

proposed in the evenings. The stranger, however, with Anne as his

partner, invariably won every point; the old couple never had the

smallest success. One night, when poor Anne was in great delight at

winning so constantly, she dropped a ring on the floor, and, suddenly

diving under the table to recover it, was terrified to see that her

agreeable partner had an unmistakably cloven foot. Her screams made him

aware of her discovery, and he at once vanished in a thunder-clap leaving

a brimstone smell behind him. The poor girl never recovered from the

shock, lapsed from one fit into another, and was carried to the tapestry

room from which she never came forth alive.

"This story of his Satanic majesty got abroad, and many tales are told of

how he continued to visit and disturb the house. The noises, the

apparitions, and disturbances were innumerable, and greatly distressed

old Charles Tottenham, his wife, and servants. It is said that they

finally determined to call in the services of their parish priest, a

Father Broders, who, armed with all the exorcisms of the Church,

succeeded in confining the operations of the evil spirit to one room--the

tapestry room.

"Here, then, we have traced from the date of the unhappy girl's

misfortune that the house was disturbed by something supernatural,

and that the family sought the aid of the parish priest to abate it, and

further that the tapestry room was the scene of this visitation.

"But the matter was kept dark, all reference to poor Anne was avoided,

and the belief was allowed to go abroad that it was Satan himself who

disturbed the peace of the family. Her parents were ready to turn aside

the keen edge of observation from her fate, preferring rather that it

should be believed that they were haunted by the Devil, so that the story

of her wrongs should sink into oblivion, and be classed as an old wives'

tale of horns and hoofs. The harsh father and stepmother have long gone

to the place appointed for all living. The Loftus branch of the family

are in possession of the Hall. Yet poor Anne has kept her tapestried

chamber by nearly the same means which compelled her parents to call in

the aid of the parish priest so long ago.

"But to my tale: About the end of the last century my father was invited

by Mrs. Tottenham to meet a large party at the Hall. He rode, as was then

the custom in Ireland, with his pistols in his holsters. On arriving he

found the house full, and Mrs. Tottenham apologised to him for being

obliged to assign to him the tapestry chamber for the night, which,

however, he gladly accepted, never having heard any of the stories

connected with it.

"However, he had scarcely covered himself in the bed when suddenly

something heavy leaped upon it, growling like a dog. The curtains were

torn back, and the clothes stripped from the bed. Supposing that some of

his companions were playing tricks, he called out that he would shoot

them, and seizing a pistol he fired up the chimney, lest he should wound

one of them. He then struck a light and searched the room diligently, but

found no sign or mark of anyone, and the door locked as he had left it on

retiring to rest. Next day he informed his hosts how he had been annoyed,

but they could only say that they would not have put him in that room if

they had had any other to offer him.

"Years passed on, when the Marquis of Ely went to the Hall to spend some

time there. His valet was put to sleep in the tapestry chamber. In the

middle of the night the whole family was aroused by his dreadful roars

and screams, and he was found lying in another room in mortal terror.

After some time he told them that, soon after he had lain himself down in

bed, he was startled by the rattling of the curtains as they were torn

back, and looking up he saw a tall lady by the bedside dressed in stiff

brocaded silk; whereupon he rushed out of the room screaming with terror.

"Years afterwards I was brought by my father with the rest of the family

to the Hall for the summer bathing. Attracted by the quaint look of the

tapestry room, I at once chose it for my bedroom, being utterly ignorant

of the stories connected with it. For some little time nothing out of the

way happened. One night, however, I sat up much later than usual to

finish an article in a magazine I was reading. The full moon was shining

clearly in through two large windows, making all as clear as day. I was

just about to get into bed, and, happening to glance towards the door, to

my great surprise I saw it open quickly and noiselessly, and as quickly

and noiselessly shut again, while the tall figure of a lady in a stiff

dress passed slowly through the room to one of the curious closets

already mentioned, which was in the opposite corner. I rubbed my eyes.

Every possible explanation but the true one occurred to my mind, for the

idea of a ghost did not for a moment enter my head. I quickly reasoned

myself into a sound sleep and forgot the matter.

"The next night I again sat up late in my bedroom, preparing a gun and

ammunition to go and shoot sea-birds early next morning, when the door

again opened and shut in the same noiseless manner, and the same tall

lady proceeded to cross the room quietly and deliberately as before

towards the closet. I instantly rushed at her, and threw my right arm

around her, exclaiming 'Ha! I have you now!' To my utter astonishment my

arm passed through her and came with a thud against the bedpost, at which

spot she then was. The figure quickened its pace, and as it passed the

skirt of its dress lapped against the curtain and I marked distinctly the

pattern of her gown--a stiff brocaded silk.

"The ghostly solution of the problem did not yet enter my mind. However,

I told the story at breakfast next morning. My father, who had himself

suffered from the lady's visit so long before, never said a word, and it

passed as some folly of mine. So slight was the impression it made on me

at the time that, though I slept many a night after in the room, I never

thought of watching or looking out for anything.

"Years later I was again a guest at the Hall. The Marquis of Ely and his

family, with a large retinue of servants, filled the house to

overflowing. As I passed the housekeeper's room I heard the valet say:

'What! I to sleep in the tapestry chamber? Never! I will leave my lord's

service before I sleep there!' At once my former experience in that room

flashed upon my mind. I had never thought of it during the interval, and

was still utterly ignorant of Anne Tottenham: so when the housekeeper was

gone I spoke to the valet and said, 'Tell me why you will not sleep in

the tapestry room, as I have a particular reason for asking.' He said,

'Is it possible that you do not know that Miss Tottenham passes through

that room every night, and, dressed in a stiff flowered silk dress,

enters the closet in the corner?' I replied that I had never heard a word

of her till now, but that I had, a few years before, twice seen a figure

exactly like what he had described, and passed my arm through her body.

'Yes,' said he, 'that was Miss Tottenham, and, as is well known, she was

confined--mad--in that room, and died there, and, they say, was buried in

that closet.'

"Time wore on and another generation arose, another owner possessed the

property--the grandson of my friend. In the year 185--, he being then a

child came with his mother, the Marchioness of Ely, and his tutor, the

Rev. Charles Dale, to the Hall for the bathing season. Mr. Dale was no

imaginative person--a solid, steady, highly educated English clergyman,

who had never even heard the name of Miss Tottenham. The tapestry room

was his bed-chamber. One day in the late autumn of that year I received a

letter from the uncle of the Marquis, saying, 'Do tell me what it was you

saw long ago in the tapestry chamber, for something strange must have

happened to the Rev. Charles Dale, as he came to breakfast quite

mystified. Something very strange must have occurred, but he will not

tell us, seems quite nervous, and, in short, is determined to give up his

tutorship and return to England. Every year something mysterious has

happened to any person who slept in that room, but they always kept it

close. Mr. D----, a Wexford gentleman, slept there a short while ago.

He had a splendid dressing-case, fitted with gold and silver articles,

which he left carefully locked on his table at night; in the morning he

found the whole of its contents scattered about the room.'

"Upon hearing this I determined to write to the Rev. Charles Dale, then

Incumbent of a parish near Dover, telling him what had occurred to myself

in the room, and that the evidence of supernatural appearances there were

so strong and continued for several generations, that I was anxious to

put them together, and I would consider it a great favour if he would

tell me if anything had happened to him in the room, and of what nature.

He then for the first time mentioned the matter, and from his letter now

before me I make the following extracts:

"'For three weeks I experienced no inconvenience from the lady, but one

night, just before we were about to leave, I had sat up very late. It was

just one o'clock when I retired to my bedroom, a very beautiful moonlight

night. I locked my door, and saw that the shutters were properly

fastened, as I did every night. I had not lain myself down more than

about five minutes before something jumped on the bed making a growling

noise; the bed-clothes were pulled off though I strongly resisted the

pull. I immediately sprang out of bed, lighted my candle, looked into the

closet and under the bed, but saw nothing.'

"Mr. Dale goes on to say that he endeavoured to account for it in some

such way as I had formerly done, having never up to that time heard one

word of the lady and her doings in that room. He adds, 'I did not see the

lady or hear any noise but the growling.'

"Here then is the written testimony of a beneficed English clergyman,

occupying the responsible position of tutor to the young Marquis of Ely,

a most sober-minded and unimpressionable man. He repeats in 1867 almost

the very words of my father when detailing his experience in that room in

1790--a man of whose existence he had never been cognisant, and therefore

utterly ignorant of Miss Tottenham's doings in that room nearly eighty

years before.

"In the autumn of 1868 I was again in the locality, at Dunmore, on the

opposite side of the Waterford Estuary. I went across to see the old

place and what alterations Miss Tottenham had forced the proprietors to

make in the tapestry chamber. I found that the closet into which the poor

lady had always vanished was taken away, the room enlarged, and two

additional windows put in: the old tapestry had gone and a billiard-table

occupied the site of poor Anne's bed. I took the old housekeeper aside,

and asked her to tell me how Miss Tottenham bore these changes in her

apartment. She looked quite frightened and most anxious to avoid the

question, but at length hurriedly replied, 'Oh, Master George! don't talk

about her: last night she made a horrid noise knocking the billiard-balls


"I have thus traced with strict accuracy this most real and true

tale, from the days of 'Tottenham and his Boots' to those of his

great-great-grandson. Loftus Hall has since been wholly rebuilt, but

I have not heard whether poor Anne Tottenham has condescended to visit

it, or is wholly banished at last."