Haunted Locations Around Ireland 2

THOOR BALLYLEE--Gort, Galway

Once known as Islandmore Castle, this evocative and atmospheric stone tower, with its narrow, time-worn stairs was a virtual ruin when the poet W.B.Yeats (1865-1939) purchased it in 1917 for the nominal sum of �35. Yeats renamed it Thoor (Irish for tower) Ballylee, commenting that, "I think that the harsh sound of Thoor amends the softness of the rest". Following considerable restoration, the property was finally habitable in 1919, when it became his summer residence and, thereafter, a central symbol of his poetry. Yeats was a devotee of the occult, once observing that, "The mystical life is the centre of all I do and all that I think and all that I write". He believed implicitly in the existence of ghosts, and was convinced that the tower was haunted by an Anglo-Norman soldier. A later curator was also convinced that a spectral form wandered the worn stairway of the tower, and was reluctant to ascend it as the day turned into night. This feeling was evidently shared by her pet dog, which would show signs of terror at something it could apparently see in the downstairs rooms. In 1989, an English family touring Co. Galway arrived at the tower one summer�s afternoon as it was closing. Since they wished to photograph Yeat's sitting room, the curator obligingly reopened the window shutters so that a picture could be taken. David Blinkthorne stayed alone in the room to take photographs whilst his family went off to explore the rest of the building. When the film was developed, Mr Blinkthorne was astonished to see on one of the prints, the ghostly figure of a short-haired young boy standing in front of the camera. No one else had been in the room when the photograph was taken, and none of the other prints showed the strange and inexplicable apparition. The ghostly boy�s identity still remains a mystery, although some have suggested that it may have been Yeat's own son.

KILLAKEE HOUSE--Killakee, Dublin

In 1968, Mrs Margaret O'Brien and her husband, Nicholas, purchased what was then a derelict building, with the intent of turning it into an art centre. Several workmen lived on the site during renovation, and they soon grew used to eerie sounds and uncanny happenings. But, when a large feline appeared mysteriously before them and then suddenly vanished, the builders became decidedly uneasy and the legend of "The Black Cat of Killakee" was born. Mrs O'Brien thought the stories were nonsense to being with, but then she too saw the creature and, as she put it, "Began to understand the fear". The first time she crossed its path it was squatting on the flagstones of the hallway, just glaring at her. Every door in the house was locked both before and after its sudden appearance and subsequent disappearance. It was the painter Tom McAssey who had the most famous confrontation with the mysterious creature. In March 1968, he and two other men were working in a room of the house when the temperature began to drop alarmingly. Suddenly, the doors swung wide open and a hazy figure appeared in the darkness. Thinking it was someone playing a joke, he called out, "Come in, I can see you". All three men froze in terror when the reply was a low, angry growl. Moments later they fled the room, slamming the door behind them. But, when Tom McAssey looked back, the door was wide open again, and a hideous black cat with blazing red eyes was snarling at him from the shadows of the room. "I thought my legs wouldn't take me away from the place", he later called, "I was really in a bad state". Following this chilling encounter Margaret O'Brien had the building exorcised, and things quietened down for a time. But in October 1969, a group of actors staying at the arts centre, decided to hold a s�ance, and the disturbances began again. Furthermore, they seemed to have raised the spirits of two nuns, who would appear before startled witnesses in the gallery of the centre. A local medium, Sheila St. Clair, visited the property and claimed that the phantoms were the unhappy spirits of two women who had assisted at satanic rituals held during the meetings of the "Hellfire Club" in the 18th century. The Irish branch of this notorious club held their sinister assemblies in the hunting lodge, the ruins of which can still be seen on Mont Pelier Hill behind the house. Local legend tells how Richard "Burnchapel" Whaley, a member of one of the areas richest families, had joined the club and had revelled in the debauched rituals. These are said to have included the burning alive of a black cat on at least one occasion, the worshipping of cats in place of Satan himself, the setting on fire of an unfortunate woman stuffed inside a barrel, plus the beating and murder of a poor, deformed boy. At a meeting of the club in 1740, a servant is said to have spilled a drink on Whaley, who was so enraged by the accident that he had the servant doused in brandy and set ablaze. The subsequent fire burnt down the lodge, in the process killing several members of the club. In July 1970, a dwarfish skeleton was discovered, buried beneath the kitchen floor of the building. In the grave with it was the brass statuette of a monstrous demon, which gave credence to at least the legend of the deformed boy. A priest was called to give the body a proper burial, and thereafter the manifestations of the black cat ceased. Today, a pleasant restaurant occupies the old house, and hellish felines seem to be very much a thing of the past. But reminders still exist of its more sinister bygone days. Chief amongst these is Tom McAssey's portrait of "The Black Cat of Killakee" that gazes hauntingly down from one of the walls, its eerie red eyes and almost human features enough to send icy cold shivers racing up and down the spine.

KILMAINHAM GAOL--Dublin

The vast and eerie Kilmainham Gaol is Ireland's largest unoccupied prison. Its echoing corridors and poignant courtyards provide a vivid idea of what it would have been like to find your self confined in one of these forbidding bastions between 1796, when it opened, and 1924, when it closed. As well as housing many common criminals, it was also the place where fourteen of the sixteen leaders of the republican insurrection, known as the Easter Rising, of April 1916 were detained and executed. A plaque in the gaol's courtyard commemorates those patriotic men who, bravely and defiantly, faced the firing squads in the cold early mornings of May 1916. The last to die was James Connolly, who had to be tied to a chair as he was unable to stand on his own due to his terrible injuries. With such an eventful, and often gruesome history, it is inevitable that Kilmainham Gaol should have several ghosts. The building had stood empty for many years before a dedicated band of volunteers set about restoring it in the early 1960s. At the time, the governor�s quarters were being utilised as a home by a resident caretaker. Not in the least bit perturbed by the fact that his front windows looked out onto the place where the gallows had once stood, the man carried out his duties with cool, level headed efficiency. One evening he was preparing for bed when he happened to glance from a side window and saw, to his surprise, that the chapel lights, which he had only just turned off, had been switched back on. He walked across to the chapel, switched them off and returned home where he once more prepared to retire. But on looking from the window, he saw that the chapel lights were blazing again. He made the long cold walk to the chapel a total of three times in that one night. During the restoration yet another man, whom colleagues described as "very religious and teetotal", was painting in the dungeon area of the prison, when a huge gust of wind suddenly blew him against the wall. Battling hard against the tempest, he managed to fight his way out of the dungeon, where his ashen face and shaking hands were vivid testimony to his terrifying brush with the uncanny force. He then refused point black to ever work in or even set foot in, the gaol again. On another occasion, a volunteer was decorating the 1916 Corridor when he heard what he took to be a colleagues heavy footsteps climbing the stone stairs and walking along the passage behind him. Turning to greet whoever it was, he was astonished to find no one else in the corridor, despite the fact that the plodding footsteps continued, as though some invisible presence had just walked right past him. Several children visiting the old gaol have paused, terrified, on the threshold, refusing to go one step further, whilst one guide who was particularly susceptible to psychic sensations claimed that there was an evil and fearsome aura around the balcony chapel. Others, however, sense the gaol to be a tranquil place, and speak fondly of how the eyes of the thousands of past inmates watch them, apparently looking out for their well being. Perhaps the last words on the haunting of the gaol should go to the old caretaker; who was always pointing out that no one should ever fear the inmates, because they knew that those who now run the prison are only trying to tell their often forgotten stories: "But" he would say, "the soldiers and the guards? Now they're a different matter"

ST MICHAN'S CHURCH--Dublin

St Michan is thought to have been a Danish bishop who, in 1095, built a church above vault that had been constructed upon the site of an ancient oak forest. The church was rebuilt in the 18th century and contains, among other things, the death mask of the charismatic Irish patriot, Theobald Wolfe Tone [1763 - 1798], and the organ on which Handel is reputed to have practised his Messiah before the first performance in Dublin. The philosopher Edmund Burke was christened here, and the funeral of home rule leader Charles Stewart Parnell took place here. It is in the dark vaults beneath the church, however, that you will find one of the creepiest and most unique haunted locations in the whole of Ireland. You enter this subterranean world via two heavy iron doors that open onto a steep flight of stone steps, down which you descend into eerie darkness. The air, however, is strangely warm and fresh, not in the least like the cold and clammy atmosphere you would expect to find in such a place. As your eyes grow accustomed to the dark, you notice a series of vaulted cells that lead from a central passage. In several of the chambers, coffins are stacked in untidy piles as generations of the same family lie on top of one another. In places the weight of the dead pressing upon the dead has resulted in the coffins collapsing into each other. In the past, arms, legs, or even heads would protrude from their final resting places as if successive generations were posing for some grotesque and macabre family portrait. What is even more remarkable is that, despite the fact some of these people died 500 years ago; they have not crumbled into dust, but have been preserved like mummies, their flesh the texture of tanned leather. Even more bizarre, their joints are supple and can actually be moved! The only living creatures in this underground world of twisting shadows are spiders. Their webs, woven thick across the ceilings and walls, form grim, grey veils that disappear into dark corners. In one vault, four open coffins display occupants whose heads are either thrown back or lying to one side, their mouths open as if they have just fallen asleep, and you find yourself half expecting them to emit loud snores at any moment. The body of a man lies with one leg crossed over the other, the traditional posture denoting a crusader. Such is the state of preservation that you can actually examine the nails of someone who died around 800 years ago. There was a time when you could even stoop and shake his hand, but such intimacy is now forbidden thanks to the accidental breaking of several of his fingers! The remarkable preservation of the crusaders is thought to be the result of the air being chemically impregnated by the remains of the oak forest that stood on the site in ancient times. As long as the vaults remain dry, decay ceases. Let only a little moisture enter, and the bodies crumble into a fine dust. In 1853 the two brothers, John and Henry Sheares, who were beheaded after being hanged in the 18th century, were re-coffined and stood upright in the vault, with their severed heads resting by their feet. The people of Dublin brought wreaths - and within a year, the moisture from the flowers had wrecked everything in that vault. Not surprisingly, the tales of ghostly happenings pale in comparison to the gruesome reality of the crypt. But people exploring the macabre charnel house have heard strange and disembodied voices whispering around them, and some have felt ice-cold fingers run down their necks as they stoop to examine the permanent residents of this subterranean world of silent shadows.
 
 

For the believer no proof is necessary, for the non-believer no proof is possible (Stewart Chase 1929)

 
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