Telling ghost stories by the fireplace isn’t really the done thing on St Patrick’s Day as we know it, but in 1888, you had to make your own craic.
One hundred and thirty-one years ago, on Saturday, March 17th, The Weekly Irish Times published some spooky Irish stories on its front page as part of its series of "Fireside Tales of Many Counties".
The series was a collection of legends, fashion, humour, short stories, poetry and anything else, “designed to interest all classes of readers, and to please the literary tastes of old and young alike.”
Here, unedited and as it was printed in on Paddy’s Day, 1888, is part three: Gossip of the Irish Ghostland.
1. THE HAUNTED MANOR HOUSE NEAR THE SLANEY
On the right bank of the Slaney, below Enniscorthy, stands an old manor house called Bundharrig. It is several years since the latest representatives of the old family that enjoyed and suffered the comforts and crosses of human life in the fine old mansion deserted it. Hall and pleasure grounds remained without an occupier for years.
More than one observant and belated returner from fair or market of Enniscorthy, with vision affected by drugged whiskey, were afterwards heard to aver solemnly that as they passed the gates they could see coach after coach whip round the circular walk, drive up to the hall-door ,
and the occupants enter the hall. Through the lighted first-floor windows bright figures of women and men would be seen flitting to and fro, but no sound could be heard from horses’ feet, or coach wheels, or dancers, or musicians.
At last the place was leased to a Munster farmer, who, hearing the reports when it was too late, made the best of a bad bargain.
He got a Mass celebrated in the ballroom, and neither lord, nor lady, nor musician ever troubled the house again. However, the ghostly visitants had still the privilege of the gravel drive and the semicircle before the hall-door. The servant-maid of the new occupant, still in the family, declares that one night, while off her guard against ghostly tricks, and standing at the gate, she opened it to.a stately coach, guided by a coachman with the old-fashioned appointments of lace and three-cornered hat. Recalling the tradition immediately after, she made her way to the back entrance, in considerable alarm.
The writer has seen and spoken with the Munster farmer — and his daughter and son-in-law are our authorities for the legend.
2. THE WOMAN IN WHITE
Pat Gill, of the county of Kildare, was driving towards Dublin, with a load of country produce. He had made a comfortable seat for himself on the car, and had plenty of hay about him and under him. He was pleasantly employed thinking of nothing in particular, dozing and giving an eye to the proceedings of his beast. He was between the mill of Baltracy, and the cross-roads of Borheen, when he was startled by the appearance of a woman, dressed in long white clothes, crossing the fence, and advancing into the road.
She came up to the horse, and walked on with him, close by his neck. The driver chucked the beast’s head to the opposite side, for fear he should tread on her feet or long robes, but she still kept as close to him as before, and sometimes he thought he could see the lower part of the horse’s fore leg through her dress. The matter had now become very serious.
He could not keep his eyes off the apparition, and he felt his whole frame covered with a cold perspiration. He became bewildered, and could not determine either on going on or stopping. So, the horse, finding matters left to himself, jogged on, apparently unconscious of his fellow-wayfarer.
The centre of the cross-roads of Borheen is or was occupied by a patch of green turf, and when they came to its edge, the white figure stood still, while a portion of the shaft of the car on that side seemed to pass through her. Gill, observing this, draw the beast at once to the other side, crying in a voice made tremulous by terror.
“By your leave, ma’am.” On went horse and car, the edges of the load preventing him from seeing the white form. Having advanced two or three yards, he looked bank, fearing to see a mangled body on the road behind him, but he saw instead, the white appearance standing in the centre of the plot of grass, her hand seeming to shade her eyes, as she looked earnestly after him. Terrified as he was, he never turned his gaze till a bend in the road cut off the view.
The neighbourhood of Borheen, Baltracy, and Rathcoffey was blessed, or the contrary, in times past by a fortune-teller and charm-concoctor, Molly Anthony by name. So unedifying was her life and conversation that the priest refused to have any religious services performed for her after her death. She left a son, who had acquired some skill in curing cattle by herbs, and did not pretend to any supernatural gifts.
A farmer, Pat Behn, at whose house he had remained about a fortnight, and who was well pleased with his performances, was passing near the green hill in his jaunting car, accompanied by Jack Anthony, the doctor, when on a sudden an old woman in a red cloak appeared to them between the bushes on the road-fence and cried, “Jack, it’s time for you to come.”
“Sir,” said Jack to his patron, “will you excuse me for a minute while I go to say a word to this neighbour of mine?’’
“Oh, to be sure. “
Jack got on the fence and passed through the bushes, but the farmer was surprised at not subsequently hearing the sound of his or her voice. He waited for about the space of a minute, and then bade his servant climb the fence, and see if Jack was about to return.
The servant did as he was told, and the master observed him look along the inner side of the ditch, now to the left, and then to the right, and then straight before him, with a perplexed expression of face.
The master sprung down, joined his servant, and found he had a long range of vision right and left, and then up the sloping side of the green hill, and no bushes or rocks to afford concealment.
Neither Jack nor the red-cloaked woman were in view.
It was months before the doctor presented himself before his patron, and even then his account of his disappearance was not consistent in all its parts.
The writer was acquainted with Pat Behn and Jack Anthony, and heard the former relate the adventure.
3. THE HAUNTED HOUSE IN BRIDE STREET
Mr Mollan, sometime grocer in Bride street, was left a widower, with the charge of several children, some of them young girls; and very soon after their mother's death steps began to be heard upstairs and down stairs, and chiefly into the nursery.
Great alarm and fright prevailed; and the maid and the children appealed to the master of the house, who pooh-poohed their fears. They suspected, however, from his own care-worn looks, that he also had received disagreeable visits.
The poor children began to lose the natural cheer of youth, and to be found with scared looks especially towards night; and little wonder, for steps were constantly heard pacing across the nursery, and, sometimes, they would be conscious, from the low sound of breathing and sighing, that someone was standing beside their beds. One night, when the maid was following Mr Mollan upstairs from the cellar, she distinctly saw a small man, with a red cap on, following close on her master’s steps, and holding him by the skirts of his coat.
This was the only appearance; and it was the more remarkable, as all were of opinion that it was the spirit of the mother, who was showing her anxiety for her daughters in this disagreeable way.
At last, as Anne O’Neill, the maid, was one evening sitting at the kitchen table, employed at drying and drawing out laces and frills, with her Italian iron on the table before her, and the master sitting on the other side, and smoking (he had came into the kitchen for that purpose), she was sensible of the presence of her late mistress passing close by her in the direction of the fire, and could distinguish the words said in a whisper, “Ochone, ochone, ochone.”
“Oh, master,” said she “Did you hear that?”
“What, you fool ?” said he.’
“Oh, my mistress’s ghost passing by me and moaning.”
“It’s all imagination,” said he, but he spoke in a vexed tone. a’Don’t encourage the children in these nonsensical whims.”
That night the eldest daughter, who commonly seemed in more terror than her sisters, was sleeping next Anne O’Neill. She was all at once wakened up, became conscious of some awful presence, a cold perspiration burst out all over her, and she tried to cry out; but was not able. In this state she received three severe slaps on the shoulders, and fell into a swoon.
The father, hearing in the morning what had happened, made up his mind to abandon the house as soon as he could, and in a few weeks was settled in Dorset Street. The persecution, or warning, or whatever it was, did not follow the family to their new residence.
Some of the persons who experienced this domestic visitation are said to have been known to the writer, and were persons who would not wilfully tell a falsehood.
4. THE QUEEN’S COUNTY GHOST
Squire G, whose seat lay near Kilcavan, was not a patern for the faith for morals while above mould, and afterwards caused considerable annoyance to his surviving friends and dependents. No night passed without the noises usual in such cases being heard. Doors would be flung open, keys heard turning in locks, plates and dishes hurled down from the dresser on the kitchen floor, tables overturned, and chairs flung about, yet in the morning nothing would be found out of its place.
The family, at last, removed to another manor house at some distance, but the steward, and old coachman, and a few hangers-on, remained behind. None suffered more from the ghostly and ghastly treats of the late master than the coach-man. When once the night came he could not reckon on a moment’s rest. If he attempted to take a nap in the great chair, his wig would be plucked off, or the chair pulled from under him, and he would occasionally find himself pinched and bruised black and blue.
At last, he seemed utterly callous and indifferent to these marks of interest in him evinced by the old Squire. Perhaps he was more obnoxious to this persecution for having aided the defunct in his designs upon the innocence of sundry young women during his reign on earth.
There was one peculiarity in his visitations; he never made himself visible to more than one person in a company; and though he adopted the appearance of a black dog, or boar, or bull, on these occasions, the individual singled out always knew the old Squire under his disguises. .
The wives, sons, and daughters of the neighbouring farmers once took it in head to club and have a ball in the big house, for which they readily got permission. All was as merry as music, and drink, and an assemblage of young “boys” and girls could make it, when, in the height of the festivity, the old gentleman took it into his head to become visible in a hideous shape to the aunt (then a young woman) of Mrs FitzPatrick. She shrieked out, and fainted, and the universal mirth and jollity came to an abrupt conclusion.
When she was brought to herself, and related what occurred, there was a general dispersion, and that was the last attempt at a ball in the big-house.
5. THE GHOST IN GRAIGUE
A lady in the neighbourhood of that old town, much celebrated for her charities, died, and great sorrow was felt for her loss. Many Masses were celebrated, and many prayers offered up for the repose of her soul, and there was a moral certainty of her salvation among her acquaintance.
One evening, after the family had retired to rest, a servant girl in the house, a great favourite with her late mistress, was sitting beside the fire, enjoying the dreamy comfort of a hard-worked person after the day’s fatigues, and just before the utter forgetfulness of sleep.
Her mind was wandering to her late loved mistress, when she was startled by a sensation in her instep, as if it were trodden upon. “Bad manners to you, for a dog,” said she, suspecting the collie of the house to be the offender. But to her great terror, when she looked down, and around the hearth, she saw no living thing.
“Who’s that?” she cried out with the teeth chattering in her head.
“It’s I,” was the answer, and the dead lady came visible to her.
“Oh, mistress, darling!” said she, “What is disturbing out, and can I do anything for you?”
“You can do a little,” said the spirit, “and that is the reason I have appeared to you. Every day and every hour some one of my family and friends are lamenting me, and speaking of my goodness, and that is tormenting me in the other world. All my charities were done only for the pleasure of having myself spoken well of, and they are now prolonging my punishment. The only real good I over did was to give, once, half a crown to a poor scholar that was studying to be a priest and charging him to say nothing about it.
“That was the only good act that followed me into the other world. And now you must tell my husband and my children to speak well of my past life no more, or I will haunt you night after night.”
The appearance, the next moment, was no longer there, and the poor girl fainted the moment it vanished. When she recovered, she hastened into her settled-bed, and covered herself up, head and all, and cried add sobbed till morning.
Everyone wondered the next day to see such a troubled countenance. But she went through her business one way or other, though she could not make up her mind to tell her master what she seen and heard. She dreaded the quiet hour of rest; and well she might, for the displeased lady visited her again at the same hour, and reproached her for her neglect.
Three times the endured the dread visits before she made the required revelation.
This story is part of the 'Lost Leads' series - a revisiting of lesser-known stories that have made the pages of The Irish Times since 1859. What can you find? Let us know on Twitter: @DeanRuxton. For more information on subscribing to the archive, see here: www.irishtimes.com/archive