Ulster has its quota of stories that tell of spirits that come back to keep a tryst, to give a warning, or perhaps to visit the scene of a long-forgotten tragedy.
Traditionally, Halloween is the time when restless spirits are abroad – a time when a benighted pedestrian, hurrying along an unfrequented country road, finds himself fervently echoing the prayer to be delivered from ‘ghoulies and ghosties and things that go bump in the night’.
Ulster certainly has had its share of ghostly attention, from aristocratic ancestral haunting all the way down to the rough stuff of the poltergeist.
CASTLEREAGH AND THE GHOST
One day when he was a very young man, he was out shooting and finding himself far from home in rough weather. He stopped at a large country house. As the house was full of visitors already Captain Stewart was provided with a shake-down of rugs and cloaks on the floor before a blazing fire.
During the night he was startled by such a vivid light that he thought the room was in flames. When he sat up he found that the peculiar light proceeded from the dazzling form of a beautiful naked boy who stood to gaze upon him. In a moment or two, the vision faded.
Captain Stewart though he had been the victim of a practical joke and the following morning pressed his host for an explanation. Reluctantly the man gave it; the ‘Radiant Boy’ was an apparition, and legend said that whoever saw him would rise to the summit of power, and then die a violent death. This was amply fulfilled in the case of Lord Castlereagh.
One hundred and fifty years ago William Mackey of Strabane, was returning home one night from wild-fowl shooting. He was surprised to hear several shots not far from him. These were answered by a fusillade of musketry. Next, he saw ablaze as if a house were on fire, though no house stood on that spot, while pieces of burning thatch and timber sparks fell hissing into the water at his feet. His dog cowered in terror.
Soon the firing ceased, there was a sound of a bugle followed by the trot of approaching cavalry.
When Mr. Mackey related his strange experience he was told that towards the end of the 17th century a widow named Sally Mackey and her three sons lived in a thatched house on that spot.
A warrant was issued against the three boys for high treason, and the officer in command of the regiment stationed at Lifford set out with a small party of soldiers to affect the arrest. The woman and her sons barricaded themselves into the house, the mother doing the shooting while the sons loaded the muskets. The defense ceased only when all three boys were shot dead, the mother severely wounded and the cottage ablaze.
A troop of cavalry dispatched from Lifford to investigate the cause of the prolonged shooting arrived just in time to witness the prostrate form of the woman being carried from her burning home.
Back in the early 1950s, a friend of mine had a very curious experience while pursuing his hobby of architectural photography. He obtained permission to photograph a Castle which had been partially destroyed by fire a short time before, and which it was then inhabited only by an old house-keeper.
When the photographs were developed and printed my friend saw to his surprise that standing in the entrance doorway was the figure of a man. He appeared in one picture only – a tall, thin man past middle age, with a gun in his hand and a dog at his feet.
He took the photograph to the old housekeeper, who immediately identified the mysterious figure as the former Lord of the castle, long since dead. The housekeeper’s question was where had my friend found the old photograph with such a good likeness of the master at the door? She refused to believe that it had been taken only a few days previously.
SIGHTINGS AND OTHER PECULIAR HAPPENINGS
You might expect a graveyard and churches to be a place of rest for departed souls but alas no. Many years ago the oldest graveyard in Belfast, Friars Bush reported haunted sightings of a lady in white holding a lantern while St.Nichola’s church in Carrickfergus is haunted by a former clergyman.
On the site of the former Courtaulds factory outside the town, the figure of a monk has been seen walking around the site – not surprising for in olden day a priory stood here.
Staying in Carrickfergus, the famous medieval castle is haunted by Button Cap who carries his head under his arms as he wanders around the battlements.
An ancient battle in the 16th century once took place where the Art College now stands, students have reported hearing clashing of swords and the roar of cannons.
The White Horse Hotel in Derry City is said to be haunted by a mail stage coach, complete with a heavy set driver who pulls up and enters the hotel dressed in his large heavy coat only to vanish mysteriously disappear.
The Tower Museum, Derry City houses one of the oldest coaches in Ireland and it is frequently visited by Mary Anne Knox who was shot by her lover ‘Half-hanged’ Mc.Naughton. A photograph taken on the coach has shown a mist in the coach – the photographs can be seen in the museum.
The Work House Museum in the waterside is haunted by a matron and two children. The matron is supposedly buried at the top of 13 steps which lead to a room where she accidentally left two children to suffocate. She apparently roams the workhouse switching on lights.
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