A crisp, sunny morning like this morning isn’t really the right atmosphere for ghost stories. There’s a wisp of mist on the horizon, but not enough to spook you. Nevertheless, since it’s St Patrick’s Day, I thought I’d tell you a bit about some famous Irish ghosts and how I came to write about one of them.
Ireland is better known for tales of fairies, leprechauns, banshees (a portent of death, not a ghost) and other supernatural creatures. But there’s also some famous ghost stories, including ones that have been passed down through the generations.
There’s the Waiting Lady who appears at The Lady’s Stairs at Argillan Castle in Dublin who waits for her drowned husband to return, the Headless Horseman who rides past Roper’s Rest, Dublin after dark, a small girl in the Shelbourne Hotel, Dublin who appears to have died from an illness in a house that formerly stood on the same site, the White Lady at Charles Fort, near Kinsale who has been seen since the late 17th century, a 17th century soldier hanging from a tree outside Athcarne Castle, Co Meath, and figures dressed in Second World War uniforms at Derry Airport (formerly Eglinton Air Base, a military base during the war). Leap Castle, near Bear, Co Offaly, is reputed to be one of the most haunted places in Ireland. A lady dressed in red, a cowled figure resembling a monk, a priest who was murdered in the castle’s chapel and others have all been reported in the Castle. It must be a very busy place on All Hallow’s Eve (or Sawhain).
The one ghost that has particularly caught my attention is one that resided only a few miles from where I live. From the time I first heard its tale I was fascinated by the Cooneen or Coonian ghost. I initially heard about it from neighbours then went in search of more information. There’s been a fair amount written about this poltergeist and some of it has been exaggerated over the years. So I went back to the earliest accounts I could find, in local newspapers of the era and also a book by a ghost hunter, Shane Leslie’s Ghost Book, written in 1955, for what I think is closest to an accurate account of events at the house.
A widow with 6 children, a son and five daughters, aged five to
twenty-three, lived in a cottage on a mountain farm, in the townland Cornarooslagh, not far from Brookeborough, County Fermanagh in what is now Northern Ireland. One night in the spring of 1913 the family began to hear noises in the house and they were repeated regularly from that night for several months: knocking on the bedpost, scraping in the ceiling, footsteps in the loft above and other sounds. The bedclothes lifted from the bed and the family dog was driven from underneath the bed though no one appeared to be there. The family were terrified. After their local priest offered a Mass in the kitchen that room became peaceful and the family slept there rather than in the bedroom. Several priests and local politicians came to witness the disturbances and neighbours as well as others who were curious came to sit with the family each night as the priest tried to rid the house of the spirit. It was decided by the clergy that a poltergeist had come to the Murphy’s home and it should be exorcised. But the Bishop and the Dean of the Diocese could not agree who should conduct the exorcism so it never happened. Gradually their neighbours began to avoid the Murphy family and ostracised them, accusing them of practicing witchcraft or other demonic activity. It’s not clear when the family left but the farm changed ownership in 1916 and it is believed that the Murphys had already set sail for America by then.
After reading accounts of these events, my mind whirled and I started imagining what it would have been like for Bridget Murphy and her children to live through this and that was the starting point for An Unbidden Visitor. I employed artistic licence in parts of my story but tried to keep to what I believe is the true story as much as I could. I don’t think the Cooneen ghost story needs to be exaggerated or embellished to make it a scary and poignant tale. You can find my telling of the tale by clicking here.