On Hallowe’en night, the gateways between our world and the Otherworld, the realm of the supernatural, are opened.
It is an in-between time marking the beginning of winter and the end of summer. Indeed, time was said to stand still on this night. Our ancestors believed that the Banshee, the devil, the fairies and all manner of ghosts and evil spirits could travel here in great numbers. Many were full of mischief and intent on wreaking havoc and all wanted their presence felt.
People were advised to stay indoors to avoid any encounters with them but the warnings of those who knew better were occasionally ignored. This means that legends of the returning dead and supernatural creatures were very plentiful in Ireland and some of these were recorded by schoolchildren for The Schools’ Folklore Collection of 1937-38. North Tipperary has one of the most extensive collections of hair-raising ghost stories and I have chosen some of the spookiest to share with you this Hallowe’en.
Oíche Shamhna Mhaith agaibh go léir!
(Story from Kilcommon National School)
Most people have a strong belief that the spirits of their dead are very near. There are few who haven’t heard or seen something. So near are they with some that one wonders how they have courage to sleep at all.
I know a house – and I believe there are several others – where chairs are left by the fire at night for their beloved dead. They will actually tell you that they have heard these chairs being drawn nearer to the fire after having retired to bed, that they heard the fire being poked with the tongs and so on.
By what extraordinary psychological process they persuade themselves to these extraordinary occurrences it is hard to say.
Others – numbers of families – leave a bucket of water on the table at night with a cup beside it presumably for the spirits of the dead, while others and they are not a few leave bread. A man told me that he forgot to leave water once and when he had retired he heard the bucket being kicked around the house.
Another told me he had seen a woman and her little son sitting in a field after both had died with fever.
Another saw a dying girl going up the hill the day of her death while she was actually in her death-agony in bed. A man who had been dead for years cried around the house the night before his farm was sold.
Such is the belief of many in the return of their dead from the great unknown (NFCS 542: 372-3).
2. Buried Alive
(Story from Cahernahallia NS)
About fifty years ago, there lived an old woman over in Kilmoylan. She was very fond of jewellery and she used to wear beautiful rings on her fingers and when she was dying, they left the rings on her fingers. One night after the woman being buried, there did two men decide to go to her grave and open the coffin.
So they opened the coffin and when they were trying to get the rings off her fingers, her fingers began to bleed and she began to rise up out of the coffin and the men brought her home. She was very thankful to the men and she employed them for the remainder of her life (NFCS 540: 300).
3. A Lucky Escape
(Story from Cloughjordan NS)
In the olden times before clocks became general, a woman lived near Grawn chapel. She used to take eggs and butter to Nenagh every Wednesday as it was market day in that town. She had no ass or car but she used to walk and carry the basket on her head.
It happened one night that she went to bed early. There was a full moon at the time. She woke very u and thought it was broad daylight. She readied herself and packed her eggs and butter as it was the market day.
She then started out on her journey to Nenagh – a town about eight miles distant. She had only proceeded half way when she met a funeral. She thought it very unusual to meet a funeral so early in the morning.
She soon met a man coming from a gamble and asked him “What time of the day was it.” “Ah, woman dear”, says he, “it’s only night yet”, and told her it was only a quarter to twelve. “Well”, says she, “I thought it was morning and started to Nenagh. I think it’s better for me to continue now than to go back.” So on she went, and very soon met a man on horseback with a huge black dog by his side. She doubted if the first man had told her the truth regarding the time and asked the horseman the same question.
After some hesitation, he spoke in a rough manner. “The night is for us and the day for you and in future let the devil and the devil’s dog pass by undisturbed or woe betide you”. She must have been a brave woman as she continued on her journey and sold her butter and eggs in the market. She also bought a new clock. After this she never made a mistake in the time (except when the clock refused to chime) (NFCS 533: 186-7).
4. The Ghostly Limb
(Story from Gortagarry National School)
One night a man from Blackfield was driving home from town along the long boreen that leads to his home in the hills.
When he was about half a mile from his own home, the leg of a man appeared on the top of the ditch beside him and leaped on to the shaft of his car.
The man jumped off his car and was making his way home across the fields as quickly as possible.
He was not got far however when ‘the leg’ appeared by his side. He got such a fright that he fell in a faint and when he recovered ‘the leg’ had vanished. But it was seen at a later date by another man from Blackfield (NFCS 536: 329-30).
5 . The Headless Carriage
(Story from Killadangan National School.)
About a quarter of a mile from my house there is a lonely lane. It was once a public road. Many stories are told of this lane. This is one of them:-
Every night at twelve o’clock the sound of a car starts from the Cathair Gate in this lonely lane of which I have spoken. The noise travels off towards Knigh Cross. A stop is made here, and for a period of five minutes, a number of people seem to set up a lively chat. Then the car appears to start off again, and proceed to Quin’s gate on the Ballyanny road just above the Ballyanny Cross where another five minutes pause is made. Off once more it moves and makes a last stop at Scott’s Hill where it gets lost.
One night a man who lived up near Casey’s Cross followed in the direction from which the noise came. As he approached the mill, a bright light shone glaringly in his face. Soon the light was extinguished and in its place stood two men. Our friend thought these were robbers and to scare them away, he drew a blow of his stick at one of them. The stick seemed to pass through the man’s body. Instantly the two men disappeared and our friend fell in a swoon on the ground. Before he fell he gave a scream which was heard by some people living nearby. They came to his assistance and helped him to his home. It was quite a long time before he fully recovered from the effects of the fright that he got. He left the task of investigating the last stage of the headless carriage’s journey to someone else (NFCS 533: 402-3).
6 . The Ghost of Ballyhough Castle
(Story from Aglish National School.)
The old castle of Ballyhough, to which the story relates, is now in ruins and stands in the townland of Ballyhough about a mile to the north of the village of Eglish and half a mile from the Nenagh-Banagher road.
About the beginning of the 19th century, a man named Horan lived in a house near the castle. He had a groom and he refused to pay him his wages. Before he left, the groom said he would be avenged, dead or alive. On different nights the flock of geese were frightened and made great noise on the ground floor of the castle where they were housed.
Soon after, Horan’s dog ran in under his bed frightened one night and was got dead in the morning. The following morning Horan himself was found dead in his room.
When my father was a young lad, he used to go out sometimes with others to get fruit in the orchard. But they couldn’t take anything as the spirit of the castle always scared them away. He (the spirit) used to come from the top, down the stone stairs, making a noise as if chains were dragging down the stone steps. When he came to the bottom, they used to hear the heavy iron bolt shoot back, then they heard a sound like the crack of a whip, and saw a flash of fire in the orchard. By that time they had got out of the orchard.
In the big windy night of 1839 the castle fell and the spirit was not heard of again (NFCS 532: 10-11).
7. The Devil Purchasing Souls
(Story from Borrisoleigh National School.)
When I was a boy I often heard an old man called Pat Ryan Oge tell the following story. Pat was a carpenter by trade and worked in our village from Monday till Saturday, on the evening of which he went to his mother’s house in Moankenane and returned to his employer’s house every Sunday night.
His way lay past the old churchyard in Glenkeen and one Sunday night when passing the entrance gate, the hair stood on his head when he beheld a withered-looking little man sitting behind a table lit by a candle with his hands outstretched. In one hand he held a small bag and in the palm of the other lay a heap of golden coins. To Pat he said, “Take it,” and he would have done so had not his fear overcome his desire for easy money. Though he felt himself riveted to the spot he had sufficient presence of mind to make the sign of the cross and proceed on his journey. Having gone about fifty yards he was tempted to look back and saw a ball of blue light rolling along the path leading to the graveyard.
To the end of his days, Pat believed that the devil had attempted to purchase his soul (NFCS 544: 218).
8.The Banshee’s Comb
(Story from Upperchurch NS)
Anne Quinlan’s father was one day leaving his fort at Carhue. Before he jumped off the ditch, he saw a woman combing her long golden hair. When she saw him, she disappeared leaving a white comb after her. He brought home the comb and left it on the dresser.
That night at twelve, he heard a woman outside crying for her comb. He handed it out through the window with the tongs. He was lucky that he did not put out his hand for the tongs was twisted to bits (NFCS 543: 234).
Other tales from North Tipperary highlight the humourous nature of story tellers
9. Losing the Head
(Story from Lisgarode National School.)
One time there lived in the parish of Kilruane a man by the name of Johnny Ryan but he used to go by the name Long Johnny. One night Johnny forgot to cut some hay for the cows. He went out to cut the hay. When he had some cut he felt the knife cutting something very hard. Then he heard something falling on the ground and when he looked he saw he was after cutting the head off a man.
There was a very heavy frost that night, and the man’s head stuck on to his body again. Then Johnny took him in again to give him a cup of tea, but with the heat of the fire and the heat of the tea, the man’s head fell off again. Then Johnny got glue to stick on the head but in his hurry to stick on the head before his wife would waken, he stuck it on back to front and that is the way the man’s head was ever afterwards (NFCS 533: 354).
Not all ghostly apparitions are menacing. In this example, one saves a man’s life
10. The Lighted Candle
(Story from Lisgarode National School.)
One very dark night a man was coming home from rambling. It was late in the night and he said he would go across the field to get home quickly. He had to come a part of the road before he could go across the field and he knew the road very well.
So he got into the field and was not gone very far when he saw a hand holding a lighted candle in it. Of course he was frightened but he thought of what he heard at home that you should always follow a light in the night. So he followed the example.
When he came near the light it went along slowly in front of him. There was a neighbour’s house on his way home and when the light came to the house it disappeared. He went into the house to see if anything were wrong. When he went in, the man of the house was in bed but was tied up some way in the bedclothes and was choking. So he relieved the choking man and went on his way home (NFCS 533: 253-54).
Hallowe’en is also a time for playing games and tricks but this man paid for his pretence with his life
11. Flannery’s Mistake
(Story from Lisgarode National School.)
About five years ago, a man named Flannery lived in the townland of Ballinamurra. This man used get his meals at different houses in Ballinamurra. At night-time he used to go around to houses telling ghost stories.
He used to be telling people that he was not afraid of ghosts. One night a man heard that Flannery was going by a churchyard. He heard that Flannery was not afraid of ghosts so he said he would try if this were true.
He dressed himself up in a torn sheet and lay down at one of the graves. After a while, Flannery came walking along the road. He looked in over the wall of the churchyard and saw the man lying down. He thought it was a ghost so he went in, caught the man by the neck, beat him and left him there dying (NFCS 533: 257).
Finally, not all ethereal visions occur under the cover of darkness. Some are witnessed during the day:
12 The Funeral that Passed Moher Clé
Story from Curreeny National School.)
On the 3rd April 1931, a funeral was seen crossing the side of a high hill called Moher Cle, situated in the parish of Templederry about ten miles from Nenagh. That same evening Mrs. Burke of Coumnagella was dead.
The funeral which consisted of white horses and common cars commenced in Coumnagella and after passing over the side of Moher Cle disappeared at Bray’s lough. There were about 50 cars altogether and in some cases the drivers of the cars could be seen whipping the horses. The evening was clear and bright and the time about 7 o’clock (NFCS 537: 7).