Wednesday, 20 August 2014

A GHOSTLY TALE FROM OLD IRELAND



Having more than occasionally ‘encountered’ ghosts during my 40 years in journalism Roamer has never been properly persuaded that they actually exist. But several spooky incidents caused me to speculate!

 Rev. Dr William Bruce
While we lunched on crisp, thinly-cut cucumber sandwiches in her wood-panelled Tempo Manor sitting-room three decades ago, Lady Rosamond Langham recounted a murdered stable boy who haunted her outbuildings.

The wise, eloquent and much-travelled Lady Langham showed me the stone floor under which the lad had been hastily buried several centuries ago.

She seemed quite convinced that his ‘spirit’ panicked her horses into such a frenzy that they threw themselves at the walls of the stable. Several hysterical steeds broke their necks and died.

And last year in Belfast’s Linen Hall Library, where there’s an old oil-painting of former Library President Rev. Dr William Bruce who died in 1841, library staff told me that they often heard doors slamming or creaking, and unexplained footsteps in the empty corridors when they’re working nightshifts.

Canteen staff who’d cleared up and tidied the room the day before regularly arrived for work next morning to be greeted by a half-drunk cup of coffee on a table, and more than a few well-read visitors to the library have seen a vaporous image of Dr Bruce dissolving through a wall.

While showing me photographs taken around Bruce’s oil-painting during a nightlong scientific investigation, Paranormal Ulster’s head investigator Mike Hirons told me “there was something in the vicinity. There was something strange.”

So when knowledgeable, level-headed, rational people admit to the possibilities of ghosts existing it causes me to wonder!

A reader has forwarded Roamer a curious but persuasive ‘other worldly’ account told by a former Rector of Derriaghy Rev. Philip Johnson and corroborated by a number of eminent parishioners.

The spooky story was reported in the Lisburn Standard on Friday, December 22, 1916, in a column called ‘Records of Old Lisburn’, and is compiled for posterity on Edward Connolly’s intriguing website ‘Eddie’s Extracts’.

Mr Connolly has kindly allowed me to share the story today.

In the early part of the 19th century the rector of Derriaghy Rev. Philip Johnson lived a few miles away at Ballymacash.

One night in the late autumn of 1808 Rev Johnson awoke and told his wife: “I have had a bad dream. I thought I saw the church on fire.”

Later he awoke once more and said “I have dreamt it again. I saw the church in flames. I saw the roof fall in and the walls crumble down. There must be something wrong.”

His wife said that he’d probably eaten too much dinner, and should go back to sleep. He did, but almost immediately he awoke a third time and jumped out of bed. “The church is in flames,” he cried, “I saw it distinctly. I must go at once!”

The rector flung on his clothes, rushed out and in a few minutes was galloping cross-country in the direction of Derriaghy.

Reaching the village he was startled to see in the dim light, standing in the centre of the road on the crest of the hill near the church, a figure in white.

According to the newspaper report “the figure in white resolved itself into a young girl, apparelled in a kind of bridal array, and the moment the rector approached, she grasped him frantically and excitedly by the arm, sobbing out ‘Oh! I am so glad you have come. I was so frightened. He is waiting for us down by the church. He said he had asked you to come tonight to marry us.’”

The girl, whom the rector recognised, grasped his arm and wailed “he looked so strange, I am frightened!”

Wondering if he was still dreaming the perplexed Rev Johnson said to the girl “who is the man you are going to marry?” Tremblingly violently she whispered in his ear the name of a well-known citizen of Lisburn.

The rector hastened to the church where he saw a faint and dim glimmer of light and then “he received a dreadful shock” reported the newspaper, adding “by the dim and ghostly light of a lantern resting on a tombstone he saw, digging furiously and frantically in a shallow grave, the man the girl had named.”

The man, who the rector recognised, was shovelling into the ground “with desperate energy, perspiration flowing from every pore.”

Rev Johnson moved closer, stood over the frenzied grave-digger and “looked down upon him. For one long minute, in utter silence, they gazed into each other’s eyes, and the rector shuddered at what he saw in that frozen stare. He saw mirrored there - terror, horror, murder. Then the spell was broken. The man threw down his spade, sprang out of the grave, clambered over the wall, and without a word disappeared in the darkness.”

Returning to the girl the rector found her “almost in a state of collapse.” He brought her home to her father and advised

“Be good and gentle to her, ask her no questions tonight, see her safely into her bed, and when you retire to your own room, go down on your knees and thank your Creator that she is safe under your roof this night.”

Shortly afterwards the man that the Rev Johnson had encountered in the graveyard left Lisburn for New York, from whence came the news that he “died a lonely and miserable death.”

The Lisburn Standard’s report in 1916 confirmed that the ghostly incident was “common talk” in Lisburn, and “the chief actors in it were well known.”

Eddie Connolly



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