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Mistaken Identity Conclusion

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

We have given various instances of ghostly phenomena wherein the

witnesses have failed at first to realise that what they saw partook

in any way of the abnormal. There are also many cases where a so-called

ghost has turned out to be something very ordinary. Though more often

than not such incidents are of a very trivial or self-explanatory

nature (_e.g._ where a sheep in a churchyard almost paralysed a midnight

till he summoned up courage to investigate), there are many

which have an interest of their own and which often throw into prominence

the extraordinary superstitions and beliefs which exist in a country.

Our first story, which is sent us by Mr. De Lacy of Dublin, deals with an

incident that occurred in the early part of last century. An epidemic

which was then rife in the city was each day taking its toll of the

unhappy citizens. The wife of a man living in Merrion Square was stricken

down and hastily buried in a churchyard in Donnybrook which is now

closed. On the night after the funeral one of the city police, or

"Charlies" as they were then called, passed through the churchyard on his

rounds. When nearing the centre he was alarmed to hear a sound coming

from a grave close at hand, and turning, saw a white apparition sit up

and address him. This was all he waited for; with a shriek he dropped his

lantern and staff and made off as fast as his legs would carry him. The

apparition thereupon took up the lamp and staff, and walked to Merrion

Square to the house of mourning, was admitted by the servants, and to the

joy of the whole household was found to be the object of their grief

returned, Alcestis-like, from the grave. It seems that the epidemic was

so bad that the bodies of the victims were interred hastily and without

much care: the unfortunate lady had really been in a state of coma or

trance, and as the grave was lightly covered, when she came to she was

able to force her way up, and seeing the "Charlie" passing, she called

for assistance.

An occurrence which at first had all the appearance of partaking of the

supernormal, and which was afterwards found to have a curious

explanation, is related by Dean Ovenden of St. Patrick's Cathedral,

Dublin. "At Dunluce Rectory, Co. Antrim," he writes, "I had a strange

experience. There was a force-pump attached to the back wall of the

house, and many people drew water from it, as it was better than any

obtained at that time in Bushmills. We used to notice, when going to bed,

the sound of someone working the pump. All the servants denied that they

ever used the pump between 11 P.M. and 12 midnight. I often looked out

of the back window when I heard the pump going, but could not see anyone.

I tied threads to the handle, but although they were found unbroken in

the morning the pumping continued, sometimes only for three or four moves

of the handle. On many nights no pumping was heard. The man-servant sat

up with a gun and the dog, but he neither saw nor heard anything. We gave

it up as a bad job, and still the pumping went on. After about two years

of this experience, I was one night alone in the house. It was a calm and

frosty night and I went to bed about 11.30 P.M. and lay awake; suddenly

the pump began to work with great clearness, and mechanically I counted

the strokes: they were exactly twelve. I exclaimed, 'The dining-room

clock!' I sprang from bed and went down, and found that the clock was

fast, as it showed two minutes past twelve o'clock. I set back the hands

to 11.55 and lay in bed again, and soon the pumper began as usual. The

explanation was that the vibration of the rising and falling hammer was

carried up to the bedroom by the wall, but the sound of the bell was

never heard. I found afterwards that the nights when there was no pumping

were always windy."

A man was walking along a country lane at night and as he was coming

round a bend he saw a coffin on the road in front of him. At first he

thought it was a warning to him that he was soon to leave this world; but

after some hesitation, he finally summoned up courage to give the thing a

poke with his stick, when he found that the coffin was merely an outline

of sea-weed which some passer-by had made. Whereupon he went on his way

much relieved.

The unbeliever will state that rats or mice are more often than not the

cause of so-called ghostly noises in a house. That, at any rate,

instances have happened where one or other of these rodents has given

rise to fear and trepidation in the inmates of a house or bedroom is

proved by the following story from a Dublin lady. She tells how she was

awakened by a most mysterious noise for which she could give no

explanation. Overcome by fear, she was quite unable to get out of bed,

and lay awake the rest of the night. When light came she got up: there

was a big bath in the room, and in it she found a mouse which had been

drowned in its efforts to get out. So her haunting was caused by what we

may perhaps call a ghost in the making.

The devil is very real to the average countryman in Ireland. He has given

his name to many spots which for some reason or other have gained some

ill-repute--the Devil's Elbow, a very nasty bit of road down in Kerry, is

an instance in point. The following story shows how prevalent the idea is

that the devil is an active agent in the affairs of this world.

A family living at Ardee, Co. Louth, were one night sitting reading in

the parlour. The two maids were amusing themselves at some card game in

the kitchen. Suddenly there was a great commotion and the two girls--both

from the country--burst into the sitting-room, pale with fright, and

almost speechless. When they had recovered a certain amount, they were

asked what was the matter; the cook immediately exclaimed, "Oh, sir! the

devil, the devil, he knocked three times at the window and frightened us

dreadfully, and we had just time to throw the cards into the fire and run

in here before he got us." One of the family, on hearing this,

immediately went out to see what had caused all this trepidation, and

found a swallow with a broken neck lying on the kitchen window-sill. The

poor bird had evidently seen the light in the room, and in its efforts to

get near it had broken its neck against the glass of the window.

An amusing account of a pseudo-haunting comes from County Tipperary, and

shows how extraordinarily strong is the countryman's belief in

supernatural phenomena. The incidents related occurred only a very short

time ago. A farmer in the vicinity of Thurles died leaving behind him a

young widow. The latter lived alone after her husband's death, and about

three months after the funeral she was startled one night by loud

knocking at the door. On opening the door she was shocked at seeing the

outline of a man dressed in a shroud. In a solemn voice he asked her did

she know who he was: on receiving a reply in the negative, he said that

he was her late husband and that he wanted £10 to get into heaven. The

terrified woman said she had not got the money, but promised to have it

ready if he would call again the next night. The "apparition" agreed,

then withdrew, and the distracted woman went to bed wondering how she was

to raise the money. When morning came she did not take long in telling

her friends of her experience, in the hope that they would be able to

help her. Their advice, however, was that she should tell the police,

and she did so. That night the "apparition" returned at the promised

hour, and asked for his money. The amount was handed to him, and in a low

sepulchral voice he said, "Now I leave this earth and go to heaven."

Unfortunately, as he was leaving, a sergeant and a constable of the

R.I. Constabulary stopped him, questioned him, and hauled him off to the

barracks to spend the remainder of the night in the cell, where no doubt

he decided that the haunting game has its trials.[14]

[Footnote 14: _Evening Telegraph_ for Dec. 10, 1913.]

An occurrence of very much the same description took place in County

Clare about three years ago. Again the departed husband returns to his

sorrowing wife, sits by the fire with her, chatting no doubt of old

times, and before he leaves for the other world is regaled with pig's

head and plenty of whisky. The visit is repeated the next night, and a

request made for money to play cards with down below: the wife willingly

gives him the money. Again he comes, and again he borrows on the plea

that he had lost the night before, but hoped to get better luck next

time. On the woman telling a neighbour a watch was kept for the dead

man's return, but he never came near the place again.

An account of a police-court trial which appeared in the _Irish Times_ of

31st December 1913 emphasizes in a very marked degree the extraordinary

grip that superstition has over some of the country people. A young woman

was on her trial for stealing £300 from the brother of her employer,

Patrick McFaul of Armagh. District Inspector Lowndes, in opening the case

for the Crown, told the bench that the money had been taken out of the

bank by McFaul to buy a holding, for the purchase of which negotiations

were going on. The money was carelessly thrown into a drawer in a

bedroom, and left there till it would be wanted. A short time afterwards

a fire broke out in the room, and a heap of ashes was all that was found

in the drawer, though little else in the room besides a few clothes was

injured. "The McFauls appeared to accept their loss with a complacency,

which could only be accounted for by the idea they entertained that the

money was destroyed through spiritual intervention--that there were

ghosts in the question, and that the destruction of the money was to be

taken as a warning directed against a matrimonial arrangement, into which

Michael McFaul was about to enter." The accused girl was servant to

the McFauls, who discharged her a few days after the fire: but before

this she had been into Derry and spent a night there; during her stay she

tried to change three £20 notes with the help of a friend. But change was

refused, and she had to abandon the attempt. "If some of the money was

burned, some of it was certainly in existence three days later, to the

amount of £60. One thing was manifest, and that was that an incredible

amount of superstition appeared to prevail amongst families in that

neighbourhood when the loss of such a sum as this could be attributed to

anything but larceny, and it could for a moment be suggested that it was

due to spiritual intervention to indicate that a certain course should

be abandoned."