Sunday, 20 August 2017

Supposed Spectral Visits and Mysterious Sounds

 The following is a standard ghostly-goings-on-scare-a-family-from-their-home story that, for most of the newspapers that covered it, required only a couple of paragraphs to tell. Over at The Derry Journal, however, one journalist saw it as a chance to shine.
SUPPOSED SPECTRAL VISITS AND MYSTERIOUS SOUNDS
From time to time the Derry constabulary have had rather knotty problems submitted to them for solution, but it is open to doubt if they ever had placed before them a “case” so queer and uncanny as that which is presently having the attention of the acutest members of the Bishop Street Station force. It is often difficult enough, in all conscience, to get at the real root of disturbances happening in the open, during wide daylight, and usually traceable to a sudden ebullition of temper among a group of persons whom controversy causes to adopt dangerous methods. However, when the peace of a household is repeatedly disturbed and a certain measure of alarm is raised only in the gloom of night and only through manifestations of an occult nature, the difficulty of satisfactory investigation is ten-fold increased.
An extensive section of a thickly populated district in Derry city has been thrown into a state of consternation by a series of extraordinary and mysterious nocturnal occurrences. Faint rumours of peculiar noises having been heard within an inhabited house in the vicinity of the thoroughfare known as Hogg’s Folly made themselves felt about a week ago. At first they were discredited as being the outcome of  a practical joke. These reports of a man and his family being most strangely disturbed at night in their residence continued in circulation despite a general tendency among people in the quarter to set them down as childish and as not having foundation in fact. Still the rumours persisted, and when a neighbour spoke jocularly to a member of the family concerned about the alleged mysterious happenings in their house the answer given was in no humorous vein. Though the inhabitants of the house were for obvious reasons inclined to allay undue alarm, yet the prevalent reports were corroborated with circumstantiality. As a consequence, excitement in the neighbourhood increased and it became common knowledge, by this time, where the abode which caused all the commotion was situated.
The house which, by the way, within the past two or three days has been hurriedly vacated by the family who dwelt there stands, as the last of a street row, on a little eminence at the junction of two thoroughfares, namely Hollywell Street and Hogg’s Folly. It is a plain-built but substantial two-storied structure, having a frontage lighted by five windows. In exterior aspect its walls contrast favourably with those of some adjoining houses, since they are freshly and neatly whitewashed. In brief the building might be described on the view as a very suitable cottage for an artizan’s family. It seems that there is a cellar beneath the ground floor of the cottage, and it is from this cellar that uncanny noises have been for some time emanating nightly. Patient and cool attempts to trace the origin of this mysterious visitation were made but the investigators were baffled and yet remain so.
Not only have these inexplicable noises been heard by the inmates of the house, but the ghostly din manifested itself so loudly after midnight on two nights of last week that it reached the ears of neighbours dwelling on the opposite side of the street. Disquieting, as these incidents undoubtedly were, it appears that they alone did not determine the family to leave the place. On one of the nights the spectral figure of a woman was seen passing slowly from one apartment to another within the house.
This latter remarkable circumstance was among the particulars made known to the police when a report of the extraordinary affair was conveyed to them. The phantom female figure was described as been clothed in a flowing robe.
Then the question was put – “Of what colour?”
“Of pearl grey colour,” was the reply.
The house was visited on Saturday by Sergeant Quinlivan, Sergeant Morrow, and by other members of the Bishop Street constabulary who, indeed, owing to the information they got, have been pretty constantly in the neighbourhood for the past four or five days engaged in the language of the young lads living in the locality, “Watching for the ghost.”
Indeed the spectacle in the street of nights recently, was wholly uncommon and not without aspects of weirdness. A number of young men who heard the news of the mysterious noises decided to test the truth of the matter for themselves by waiting at a little distance from the house outside on the road till after the midnight hour. They appeared cheerful enough at the outset, but as twelve o’clock drew nigh loud talk gave way to low whispers. The more timid left before the clock chimed, while those who remained after twelve listened with bated breath. Some stated subsequently they heard no sounds from the house. Others asserted positively that they heard the sounds of “heavy footsteps in the cellar,” though at that time it was known that the cellar was absolutely unoccupied.
Each night the listening crowd assumed larger proportions, and towards the end of the week the thoroughfare was quite filled with people discussing the mystery for which no solution has yet been found.
From inquiries made it appears that the house was occupied by a tenant with his wife and three children till Thursday last. On that day they removed to another dwelling, but a good deal of their furniture was left behind until Saturday when it was conveyed to their new abode. The family declare they were quite comfortable in the house they left were it not for the mysterious nocturnal disturbances.
It is said that the family kept a dog in the cellar and on the nights when the strange sounds were heard the animal tore at the floor frantically with his paws so that quite a large hole would be found thus scooped out in the mornings. This incident suggested to some practical reasoners that rats might have been at the bottom of the mischief, but a very careful search since made in the cellar has failed to detect the slightest traces of these rodents.
It is now alleged as a curious coincidence that a previous tenant left the place less than a year ago. His decision was suddenly come to, and he declined to discuss – even with his wife – his reasons for leaving on the very day after he had arrived home late one night.
At present the “ins and outs” of the extraordinary affair form the chief topic of conversation for numerous citizens, especially those living in the vicinity of the place concerned.
One of Hood’s finest poems gives an exceptionally vivid description of an empty habitation, and the pedestrian passing along yesterday by the house under notice was reminded by the silent look of the place of the lines:--
“No dog was at the threshold, great or small,
No pigeon on the roof – no household creature –
No cat demurely dozing on the wall,
Not one domestic feature
No human figure stirr’d, to go or come,
No face looked forth from shut or open casement,
No chimney smoked – there was no sign of Home
From parapet to basement.”
A strange thing in much that is singular in these eerie occurrences, or imaginings plus the occurrences is the conduct of the house dog – a glut with a litter of whelps. The animal, usually gentle and quiet, suddenly develops intense excitement, and sets as if protecting its offspring, whilst there is no visible cause for its disturbed and anxious condition.
We give the case in its details as investigated, leaving our readers to form their own judgement between imagination and manifestation.
Source: 
The Derry Journal, 10 August 1908

Monday, 7 August 2017

James McAnespie and the Fintona Fairies

Back in April 2016, I posted a short piece about the death of James McAnespie. McAnespie had gained infamy in April 1950, at the age of 72, when he failed to return home after leaving to collect firewood in the demesne near his home. A search was organised and McAnespie was eventually found, frozen to the spot where a fairy thorn had recently been destroyed. 
When the Belfast Telegraph reported on McAnespie’s death in January 1954, they recounted this incident.  The Telegraph gave the impression that Mr McAnespie just happened to be passing this spot when something very strange happened. But, according to this story from The Northern Whig and Belfast Post of 21 April 1950, it seems this wasn’t McAnespie’s first visit to the site. And he definitely wasn’t just passing by.
"The Wee Folk" are said to be angry out at Fintona (County Tyrone) because a 300-year-old fairy thorn has been bulldozed out of existence in a field just outside the village.  Villagers have not been surprised at this week’s queer happenings, because many of them forecast reprisals four weeks ago, immediately after the destruction of the fairies’ little sacred tree.
About a month ago, Fintona Golf Club were given permission by Mr. Raymond Browne-Lecky to carry out improvements and extensions to the golf course on his lands. He gave them permission, among other things, to cut down a thorn hedge, because it was in the way. But the men on the job made a mistake. They were using a bulldozer for levelling purposes, and they bulldozed the fairy thorn out by its roots.
This fairy thorn, set in the middle of a field in Mr Browne-Lecky’s Ecclesville Demesne, was planted by his ancestors over 300 years ago. Naturally, he was he was angry when the tree was destroyed. He told the Golf Club so – and so did many villagers.
“The people in the village are in a rage over it,” Mr. Browne-Lecky told a “Northern Whig” reporter last night. “For my part, however, the hatchet is buried, because it was apparently a mistake. I was not angry because because of possible revenge from the fairies – I’m afraid I don’t believe in them. But many people do, and that’s why the villagers are upset about it.”
Anyway, the “wee folk” are said to have begun their reprisals. Old-age pensioner James McAnespie – who is 72, lives by himself in a house opposite Fintona Police Barracks, and is a former hotel hand – bought some of the bulldozed tree to use as firewood.
That was two or three weeks ago. Mr. McAnespie took the wood home and started to use it regularly. And things (according to him) started to happen. He began to hear bells tinkling in his house, and he says he saw little things flying about in the air – little things like wasps, which he could not catch.
Last Sunday James McAnespie used the last of his firewood and decided to go for more. On Sunday night the people next door realized that he had not returned – and that was unusual for Jimmy McAnespie, because he is usually in house by about eight o’clock at night. So the people next door went out to search for him. They couldn’t find him, so they ran across to the Barracks and told the police. And a search party of police and civilians set out to find the missing pensioner. R.U.C. Sergeant Boland was in command.
The searchers called out at intervals, but never got a reply. They made their way through the demesne, still calling, still getting no answer.
Then at 11.30 p.m. – just 30 minutes before the witching hour – they saw James standing motionless at the very spot on which had been the fairy thorn. As they came near he walked towards them, then went back to the village with them.
And what does James McAnespie say about all this? He says he gathered sticks for firewood around the place where the thorn had been cut down. He tied the sticks to a rope, began to go home when it became dusk. And when he got to The Spot he was suddenly unable to move and unable to speak. That was why he could not answer the search party.
For two hours, he says, he stood there with all his powers dispelled. He heard bells ringing around his feet. He saw a sort of ditch all around him, and a big house, or perhaps it was a barn, with lights inside it. He saw two fairies – “wee fellows.” And his hands were absolutely closed tight on the rope.
Sergeant Boland bears out the fact that James McAnespie was found standing on the site of the bulldozed fairy thorn. But the sergeant is a disbeliever. He laughed last night and said: “I must say I heard no bells and I saw no house.”
Source:
  • The Northern Whig and Belfast Post, 21 April 1950

Sunday, 23 July 2017

The Mad Gasser of Mullingar?

In the autumn of 1917, a ghostly voyeur was disturbing the sleep of the good people of Mullingar. The Freeman’s Weekly Journal of 8 September 1917 reported:
Our Mullingar correspondent states that the inhabitants of that town are considerably exercised in their minds by stories of a spectral figure which roams the streets after dark. Opinion differs as to who or what he is. Some hold that he is an escaped German from an internment camp; others classify him as a wandering lunatic; and a superstitious section does not hesitate to allude to him as “The Ghost.”
The stranger, who is tall and thin, and dressed in grey, is never seen until darkness has fallen upon the town. Then his pale countenance is seen gazing into ground floor windows, and his gaunt form is to be dimly discerned hovering in the gloomiest corners. A number of unimaginative policemen are now engaged in trying to “lay” this “ghost,” which has annoyed the town for about ten days.
The Dundee Evening Telegraph also carried the story:
A ghost is prowling about the precincts of Mullingar, and the inhabitants thereof have got the shivers. Some think it is a lunatic, and others believe it to be an escaped German prisoner. If it be the latter, and an officer, you have Mr Churchill’s word that you need not salute him.
However, when the Freeman’s Weekly Journal returned to the story a few weeks later, it was because things had taken a sinister turn.
The Mullingar apparition has reappeared, and is no longer content with peering into cottage windows, but has forcibly entered houses, and in one case came to grips with the occupier.
About midnight recently a man named Miller, who resides in a cottage on the road at the corner of Mullingar Fair Green, was awakened by the noise of somebody moving about, and on going to the next room he was confronted by a powerful man, who had an open knife extended in his hand in a threatening attitude. Mr Miller sprang upon him and succeeded in gripping the arm of the man and deflecting the knife. A fierce struggle followed, and the two rolled over in grips on the floor.
Meantime, Mrs Miller rushed out to the door in her night attire and called loudly for help. On hearing her voice the assailant let go of Mr Miller, who, whilst on the floor, was conscious of his opponent using something in either a handkerchief or cotton wool which he believes to have been chloroform, and which, at all events, had a pungent odour and a somewhat stifling effect.
He describes the visitor as clad only in a soldier’s khaki trousers, stockings, and shirt, and the reason he had divested himself of the other portions of his clothing seems fully explained by the discovery subsequently made of his means of effecting an entry. This was through a small window protected by two iron bars, and which would only admit the body of a man with great difficulty. The bars were found to have been torn away, and Mrs Miller, it appears, as the intruder rushed past her in flying from the house, saw him catch up from the ground outside the door a cap, coat, and pair of boots.
On the same night, something later, it appears, the house of a Mrs Rooney, an old woman who resides with her daughter about forty yards from Miller’s – which is at an angle of the Fair Green and not far from the military barracks – was also entered, but on the alarm being raised the intruder made good his escape.
There was a lot going on in Ireland at this time, so it’s highly likely that these events had quite a mundane explanation that never got reported. However, the events in Mullingar do remind me of later events in Mattoon, Illinois [1], but on a very much smaller scale. 
If you can add anything to this story, please get in touch.
Notes:
  1. See Loren Coleman's Mysterious America
Sources:
  • Dundee Evening Telegraph, 11 September 1917
  • Weekly Freeman’s Journal, 8 & 29 September 1917

Monday, 3 July 2017

The Earl of Erne's Eerie Light Mystery

A derelict church on the banks of Lower Lough Erne
In 1912, a mysterious light was appearing on Church Island, on Lough Beg, creating much interest and speculation in the newspapers. However, a similar light had been appearing on Lough Erne for years, and the interest in the Church Island mystery prompted the Earl of Erne to ask, via the Dublin Daily Mail [1], for the public’s help in solving his mystery.
“Sir – On December 17 an account was given of a mysterious light which has lately appeared in the vicinity of Church Island, Lough Beg, County Derry, Ireland. A somewhat similar light has at intervals been seen in this neighbourhood, Lough Erne, County Fermanagh.
“Of course it has been put down to supernatural causes, but I cannot help thinking that a scientific solution to the mystery is to be found if there be anyone capable of unravelling it.
“This light has been seen at intervals several times within the last six or seven years by ‘all sorts and conditions of men’ and women too. It is of a yellow colour, and in size and shape very much the same as a motor car lamp. It travels at a considerable pace along the top of the water – sometimes against the wind, at other times with it. It lights up all objects within a certain radius and disappears as quickly as it appears. It is mostly seen on stormy and wet nights rather than on fine ones.
“Perhaps some of your readers could throw some light on the matter.”
The Earl of Erne’s request generated a lot of responses. Most believed that the light was a will-o’-the-wisp. Others, such as the editor of the Derry Journal, believed that luminous owls were to blame.
The Earl was unimpressed. And while he professed to be seeking a “scientific” explanation, he seemed to despair that the public had hot grasped just how strange this light was. In another letter to the Dublin Daily Mail [2], he included a statement from his wife.
“On Easter Eve,1910, about 4.30pm, I saw a light crossing the lake below the windows of Crom Castle. It was like a large motor car lamp, seemingly quite round, and about 2 ft. across, like the sun when it sets on a winter’s evening. Its colour was a deep yellow. Its peculiarity was that it threw no light behind, but in front there was a blaze: so much so that when it passed a small copse on the borders of the lake it lit up the trees, showing each trunk clear and hard. I saw at once from the pace it was going that it could not be a motor lamp. It disappeared behind the trees as quickly as it appeared.”
Lower Lough Erne
Later that same year, according to the Earl, the head gardener at Crom Castle - aka the Earl's house - saw the light. It came directly towards him – then disappeared. And another gardener, who had the misfortune of being on a boat on the lough during his encounter, rowed for his life to get away from it.
What could it be?
A correspondent for the Northern Whig had one more theory: “… meteors of various sizes which change from yellow to red and blue are responsible.”
To the best of my knowledge, the Earl of Erne never solved the mystery.
Notes:
  1. I couldn’t get a copy of the relevant issue of the Daily Mail, but the letter was reprinted in a number of newspapers, including the Derry Journal.
  2. As above, I’ve quoted from a reprint of the letter in the Northern Whig.
Sources:
  • Derry Journal, 24 December 1912, 8 January 1913
  • Dublin Daily Express, 27 December 1912
  • Northern Whig, 2 January 1913

Monday, 26 June 2017

Furl Blast or Flying Saucer?

To celebrate the 70th anniversary of Kenneth Arnold’s encounter with some pelicans, I’m posting two stories from 1947. Individually, they’re both quite interesting. Together, however, they illustrate how, even in rural Ireland, Arnold’s sighting quickly influenced how we interpret strange things seen in the sky.
The first story appeared in the Leinster Leader on 8 February 1947, a few months before Arnold’s encounter.
The curious appearance of the “Ballingar Light” is a phenomenon in the Ballingar district, near Daingean, which has puzzled local people for years and for which many different explanations have been offered. It concerns the sudden appearance, in the remote district of Ballymoney, of a light of extraordinary brilliance which illuminates the entire area around and which seems to be concentrated on a shallow valley near the roadside. It was seen some time ago by two members of the St. Conleth’s staff, Daingean, one of whom told the writer that the light saved them from a very nasty accident. They were cycling past the spot late at night when the light appeared, and besides revealing the valley, it showed them an animal lying across the road blocking their path. They would have cycled into it and sustained some injuries were it not for the sudden appearance of the light. Visiting the place later to find an explanation for the light, they found, at the bottom of the valley, a large and curiously-shaped stone. According to Mr. Thomas Dunne, a reliable authority on such matters locally, this is a Mass Rock which was used during the Penal days by hunted priests. It is mentioned as such in various histories of the Diocese, including Dr Comerford’s. A more mundane explanation offered is that the light comes from motor cars turning on the road some distance above the valley!
The second story, also from the Leinster Leader, appeared in the 23 August 1947 issue.
A number of people who witnessed a strange phenomenon in the sky over portion of Derries Bog, near Cloncannon, on Thursday evening last, are puzzled as to its origin and significance. Those who witnessed it were first made aware of something unusual by hearing a sort of explosion in the skies and on looking upwards saw countless objects, like large birds, diving and circling at a great height above them. The objects eventually fell in the bog, but so far as can be ascertained, none have been recovered. Some explanations given concern military practice in the Curragh; the “flying saucers;” and that strange “furl blast” or “fairy wind” which strikes downwards at the earth and returns to the sky carrying with it anything movable in its passage. Its visit is regarded by old people as being an infallible sign of fine weather.
Sources:
  • Leinster Leader, 8 February & 23 August 1947

Thursday, 18 May 2017

John Corr's Donkey

"This is overkill," says Barney the Donkey. "Everyone knows what a donkey looks like!"
At 1:30 am on Wednesday, 28 November 1906, James Hughes saw a ghostly figure on the Red Row, near Coalisland, County Tyrone. Shortly after this, Hughes’s colleague at the coal pit, Joe McMahon, also saw the figure. According to McMahon, it was dressed in white and had a white cover over its head. “You could not see the arms and legs on it,” he said. “But nevertheless it was distinctly the shape of a human being.”
At about the same time on Thursday, 29 November, Joe McMahon and James Hughes were in the “cabin” at the pit with Joe Hararan and Bernard Quinn when the figure appeared again. It was at a chestnut tree. And though the “ghost” had been moving when it first caught their attention, it stopped and remained static for about five minutes, giving the men a good look at it. In fact, Hughes and Hararan went outside to get an even better look. All of the men agreed that it looked like a man or a woman.
The “ghost” moved on again, prompting the men to fall to their knees and pray. As they prayed, the strange figure climbed a ditch into the field with the coal pit – and disappeared.
At 1:10 am on Saturday, 1 December, the “ghost” was seen walking on the pavement of the Red Row. It walked past the home of the Rev. Mackay, and when it reached the corner of the Row, it stopped and took in the night air for about three to four minutes. It then walked past the chestnut tree and disappeared.
According to the Saturday witnesses, the “ghost” wasn’t remotely human-shaped: it had the shape of a four-footed animal, they said; it was about the size of a sheep; and it had a two-feet long tail and 18-inch long ears.
But 10 minutes after the “ghost” disappeared, it reappeared again, about 20 yards from the pit. This time it was in human form and “dazzling white.” It stood in the middle of the road for a while before walking into the field next to the pit.
It would be an understatement to say the “ghost” caused quite a stir. Priests were called on to counsel some of the witnesses, and many of the men at the pit were afraid to even look at the place where the “ghost” often appeared. According to the Derry Journal: “They all say the apparition would terrify the strongest-nerved man in Ireland.”
A story was being pieced together to explain the events. The “ghost” was a “woman in white”, and the chestnut tree was no ordinary chestnut tree. No. The tree was in an area known as The Mass Garden, a place where Mass was celebrated in “olden times,” according to the Belfast Evening Telegraph. And this very tree was the exact site of those Masses.
But, according to The Tyrone Courier, the whole debacle was just a story to stop the locals stealing coal from the pit. If that was the case it was very effective, as it was reported that “youths and maidens, and even those of riper years, were afraid to move out of doors after sunset.”
However, on 13 December 1906, the Belfast News-Letter reported that one particularly brave local had staked out the area and discovered that the “ghost” was nothing more than a donkey - a grey donkey with “an unusually light-coloured coat” - belonging to local man John Corr.
“It is hoped this explanation will allay the fears of the minds of the timid,” said The Tyrone Constitution.
And it did. Because no one mentioned that donkeys are donkey shaped and humans are human shaped, or that donkeys are bigger than sheep. And not one paper attempted to explain the donkey’s teleporting abilities.
Sources:
  • Belfast Evening Telegraph, 4 December 1906
  • Belfast News-Letter, 13 December 1906
  • Derry Journal, 7 December 1906
  • The Tyrone Constitution, 21 December 1906
  • The Tyrone Courier, 6 December 1906
  • Wicklow People, 22 December 1906

Sunday, 9 April 2017

The Scareship Letter

I love scareship stories almost as much as I love weasel stories, so I was overjoyed when I found the following in the Irish News and Belfast Morning News of 5 January 1910.
We are disposed to feel sceptical about news of weird and wonderful “shapes” manoeuvring in the higher regions of the atmosphere. Last year a London paper published sensational stories about the performance of one Dr. Boyd in a highly navigable dirigible balloon over Belfast and around the rear slopes of Cave Hill. No one saw Dr. Boyd; and his balloon never existed. Perhaps he did not exist himself. But his alleged exploits were nothing more visionary than aerial monsters which certain Belfast citizens of considerable credibility in other respects stated they had seen hovering threateningly over the Lisburn Road.
Remembering these things, we print the following communication from a correspondent in Drumnaherk, Letterbarrow, Co. Donegal, with due reserve. It is dated “Sunday, January 2nd”:-
“While two young men named Hughey Monaghan and Willie McBride were returning home from a Christmas Party in the early hours of Sunday morning, they were terrified by a strange noise which broke upon their ears. ‘It resembles the vibration of an engine,’ said Hughey. At first they were not able to locate the place; but after a few seconds they had no difficulty. The sound came as if from the clouds; and, looking up, they saw a huge monster moving slowly in the air.
“Asked as to what it looked like, the more intelligent of the two said – ‘It looked like a big cigar with wings. I could see it quite distinct, as it was an exceedingly clear morning; for the moon was shining brightly.’ Asked as to what height it was and what direction did it move in, he said – ‘It was within a gunshot and moved northwards.’
“This is the third airship that has been seen in this part of the County Donegal, and the peaceful inhabitants are greatly alarmed.”
Our correspondent, writing on Monday, sends the following addendum to his awe-inspiring communication –
“A mysterious letter has been found in the vicinity where the airship has been seen, supposed to have dropped from the occupants of the airship. The letter is written in a foreign language, and will be returned to the owner in due course.”
But this is “easier said than done.” If the people of Drumnaherk can locate the owner of the document, that is to say, “the occupant of the airship,” they will have solved the mystery. Lord Charles Beresford, Lord Roberts, and other scaremongers are wasting their time in England. If the British Empire is to be saved they must speedily “commission” one of the Bleriot aeroplanes just purchased by the Government to make a flight to the Co. Donegal. Lord Cawdor’s mistake is now evident. The Germans have no intention of establishing a naval base in Belfast; they intend to build a huge fortress, and within it manufacture destructive aerial warships at Drumnaherk.
As to the other incidents referenced in the article: a few months earlier, at about 5:30 am on Tuesday, 6 July 1909, an airship passed over the townland of Mountcharles, in County Donegal. And despite the early hour, thanks to the actions of a local Paul Revere (minus the horse) who called people out of their houses, there were many witnesses who saw the “cigar-shaped” airship and heard “the machinery working and the human sound of the occupants.”
So far I’ve failed to find anything on the other incident. Can anyone help?
Sources:
 - Derry Journal, 9 July 1909
 - The Irish News and Belfast Morning News, 5 January 1910