The supernatural has always held a fascination for mankind. Unexplained phenomena, often combined with gullibility and superstition have given rise to stories of ghosts, spooks, and spectres, many of which when investigated can be explained by natural phenomena or human agency. Two such stories from Ireland appeared in newspapers in 1862 and 1882.
The first took place near Emly in County Limerick. Having buried her husband a few months previously a widow heard a knock at the door late one night. On asking who was there a shrouded figure answered her with a hollow voice, “I am your husband whom you buried, and I am very miserable in Purgatory till my debts are paid. Sell the two pigs you have, and be sure to have the money for me on such a night when I call.”
The widow, either through love or fear, sold the pigs but also went to her priest and told him the story. The Father was no fool, and he advised the woman to have two policemen in the house when she would be handing the money over to her deceased husband. After the widow had secured the sale of the pigs the shrouded figure appeared once more, only to be arrested by the police and thrown into Limerick jail. The ghost turned out to be a near neighbour and a godfather to one of her children.
Twenty years later a story circulated about a house in Ireland that had seen a succession of tenants move in only to quickly move out again. The house had gained the reputation of being haunted and local residents would not live in it for love nor money. An impecunious minister of a poor congregation in the town unaware of the rumoured haunting approached the landlord, who was happy to let it go rent free for a year with a nominal rent to be charged thereafter. The house, the landlord warned the minister, was troubled by a ghostly visitant. The minister, determined to solve the mystery, took the keys and having told his wife he would be away for a few nights, moved into the house.
At nearly midnight the minister was disturbed by a loud thump at the front door which flew open, followed by the sound of feet going upstairs. Having struck a light the minister followed the footsteps only to find no trace of anyone or anything after a thorough search. The following night the same phenomena were repeated and the minister, now considering that there might be something supernatural in it after all decided to wait outside on the third night so he could watch the approach of any visitor.
Again the door flew open and the ghostly footsteps tramped up the stairs to be lost in the garret. The minister, having seen that no-one had approached the house, was now annoyed, puzzled, and frightened, and saw no option but to give up any prospect of dwelling in the house. It was then that he spotted a light in the near distance which he found was a smithy. On enquiring the next day he discovered that a man had been working there each night and would be working there again that night.
At midnight on the fourth night the minister, stationed at the window of the front room of the house, observed the smith begin to work. As the smith’s hammer fell on the anvil the front door flew open and with each successive blow the noise of the footsteps proceeded through the house. A bricked drain passed under the door of the house and directly under the anvil, and it was the vibrations from the hammer blows passing along the drain that had caused the door to open and the sound of ghostly footsteps. The minister, having solved the mystery to his satisfaction rented the house on the beneficial terms offered and he and his family lived there for a number of years to the surprise of the landlord and the inhabitants of the town. The minister cannily not letting them into the secret behind the supposed haunting.
Research from the Defence Studies Department, King's College London
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