CELTIC HARBINGERS OF DEATH

Celtic Harbinger of Death

For centuries clans and bloodlines have been forewarned of imminent death within their walls by way of portents and harbingers.

I first learned of such things as a child when my mother would tell me of the banshees and the accounts of local families here in County Limerick, who would have strange phenomena occur during times of impending bereavement.

In Ireland it is extremely common for creatures and ethereal beings to appear in the days and moments preceding the demise of a relative. The most terrifying aspect is that one of these harbingers attaches itself to a lineage and hangs over them forever more, particularly when it comes to the families of high social standing and nobility.

THE FOXES OF GORMONSTON

 

Gormonston Castle

 

In Irish Peerage the title of Baron or Viscount of Gormonston belongs to the patriarch of the Preston family and has been around since the late fourteenth century, their residence being Gormonston castle in Drogheda, County Meath.

The castle remained in the family until the 1950’s when it was sold to a Holy Order to create a school. Prior to that however, it was the location of one of the strangest occurrences for generations.

With the first instance reported in the seventeenth century, it was documented that the foxes in the surrounding countryside would know when the head of the Preston household was dying, even if that fact was unbeknown to the family themselves.

Arriving in twos and amassing under the window of the Viscount’s bed chamber, the foxes would howl and cry all night long. Servants would do their utmost to drive the animals away, only for them to return to their place of vigil.

Once the Viscount had passed away, the foxes soundlessly faded into the night.

fox

BANSHEES

 

Banshee

Banshee

Banshees have forever been known as portents of death, however there have been sightings of these wailing spirits seeking death for revenge and torment.

This evil being has the appearance of a wretched old hag, dress shredded, matted grey hair, pointed rotting teeth and long, yellow fingernails. If she sets her mind to have you as her prey, she will stalk you, forcing you to listen to her soul wrenching scream of despair until you go insane and your own soul is lost in the depths of her evil cry.

Of course of you are lucky, you will have a quick death by looking into her blood red eyes, filled with enough loathing and agony to kill you instantly. Those strong enough not to succumb to either, are ripped apart with her bare hands.

More often than not however, the Banshee is a herald of despair and even as a child I heard tales and indeed the chilling cries through the still of the night that led to the report of a death the following morning.

In the early sixteenth century in Bunratty Castle in County Clare, it was reported that a visitor to the O’Brien family home was staying in a room overlooking the river and was woken by a piercing scream. Upon investigation the guest was horrified to see a pale deathly face floating at the window, dishevelled red hair cascading over her face.

The following morning the Lady told of her experience, to be told a family member had died in the castle in the night. The Banshee was believed to be the spirit of the wife of a worker drowned in the river by a former castle Lord, with her revenge being to bring death to descendants of the Castle.

In Dingle on John Street, the Hussey family were settled in for the night when their blood ran cold. The pitiful gut-wrenching cry of the Banshee was at their door. Thankfully due to their lowly status, it would appear to have been a case of mistaken identity, as the Banshee left and the following morning a well to do man in the fishing village, also called Hussey, was found dead.

HELLHOUNDS

 

Shuck

Shuck

Shucks, or Devil Dogs have long been written about in Irish history. They are black as the night, large, with glowing red eyes, some with cloven hooves instead of paws. Sometimes they are raised to protect treasure such as the one that breathes fire at Castle Biggs in Tipperary, others simply to forewarn of death.

Quite possibly the inspiration for Sherlock Holmes and the Hound of the Baskervilles, they are seen in rural and isolated areas, although once your eyes set on the Shuck the mark of death is upon you.

In Kanturk, County Cork a local man by the name of Foley was walking home when he encountered the hell beast on the road, eyes glowing and snarling. He stood terrified as the Shuck brushed up against his leg. Unable to sleep that night, he told his family of his encounter and died just a few days later.

ORNITHOMANCY

 

Raven

Raven

Crows and Ravens have long been emblematic of death, made all the more foreboding by their predisposition to feed on carrion, the decaying flesh of animals, as well as their black plumage.

These birds were purported to be chaperones, guiding the souls of the departed into the next world as well as conduits between this world and the spirit plain.

In Ireland there are references going back to ancient times and in Celtic folklore, The Morrigan is symbolised by a crow. She is a goddess of battle, strife and sovereignty and a harbinger of doom for those men who cross her path.

 

The Morrigan

The Morrigan

No corporeal weapons were needed in order for the Morrigan to take her prey. She relied solely on magic and her ability to shapeshift at will and is known primarily for appearing as a crow to those at death’s door.

The belief has continued over the centuries that when a single raven or crow has appeared at a house, tapping on the window, a death within was looming.

In the late eighteenth century there is an account of the Ross-Lewin family in Kilchrist, in County Clare being terrorised by their own messenger of death. The father of the household was away on business and his children went to spend the evening with friends.

On returning home, they passed the old abandoned church where they saw an old hag crying and waving her hands in the air.

Thinking her crazy the terrified youth went towards her only for the old woman to vanish. They sped home and told their mother of their encounter and the matriarch expressed her fears of a death in the family.

At that moment an enormous raven landed on the window sill and tapped three times on the pane. A few days later the family were in mourning as news reached them of the death of Mr Ross-Lewin.

Of course birds of ill-news do not end there. Thrushes flying in the window and settling and white owls seen during the day are also signs of a bereavement in the home.

THE COACH OF DEATH AND THE DULLAHAN

death coach

By far the most fearsome of all the harbingers is the Headless Horseman and his Cóiste Bodhar. Unlike the other portents who are seen as messengers of death and attached to bloodlines, the Dullahan is Death and he has no master other than the sacrificial god, Crom Dubh. He will not be stopped and his malevolent call to the dying is a summoning of their very soul.

The Dullahan is believed to be an incarnation of Crom Dubh. The god did not want to be denied human souls following the introduction of Christianity and so disguised himself as the one without a head, a tribute to the sacrifices through decapitation that gave Crom Dubh his power.

He rides through the darkness on the blackest steed with glowing red eyes, breathing flame and sparks from its nostrils. The Dullahan carries a whip made from the spine of a human corpse as he stands on his coach, with wheel spokes of thigh bone and covered with dried human skin. Some say the carriage is headed by six horses, black as the darkest soul, however the rider is always the same.

The headless horseman lights his way with candles embedded into skulls, his own incandescent head that he carries, a beacon in the dead of night. He has supernatural vision and when he senses a soul for the taking he holds his head aloft, seeing for miles across fields and forests, through windows and into the darkest and dingiest of rooms.

The Dullahan is only permitted to speak once on each ride and that is to utter the name of the person who is going to die. When the horseman stops, he has found his quarry and speaks their name aloud, bringing forth their spirit to be devoured.

 

Dullahan

Dullahan

So all are harbingers of death, however with the exception of the Dullahan, are these messengers of doom a horror to be feared with the knowledge of what is to follow, or rather an old family friend, come to warn of loved ones being taken into the eternal night?

 

 

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IRELAND’S FIVE MOST TERRIFYING POLTERGEISTS!

The media interest surrounding the Enfield Haunting and the associated television mini series has caused quite a stir more than 30 years after the original claims of activity.

Ireland has a history of poltergeists, much going back to the bloodshed and dark history in castles in ancient buildings.   Such activity was deemed the work of demons and possession and the Catholic Church would not admit to its existence or any involvement in clearing such entities.  As a result those affected would  not come forward for fear of reprisals.

I was surprised therefore to find 20th and 21st century documented accounts, particularly in residential homes.  Here are my top five Irish Poltergeist Hauntings.

Olympia Theatre, Dublin - home to poltergeist activity

Olympia Theatre, Dublin – home to poltergeist activity

Ireland’s Five Most Terrifying Poltergeists

GHOSTS OF RMS LUSITANIA AND THE PORT OF COBH

With a sea faring history going back hundreds of years, Cobh in County Cork is an unassuming port that continues to be visited by some of the largest ocean liners in the world today.  A picturesque town with strong regal connections, it is hard to imagine that Cobh is synonymous with two of the biggest passenger liner tragedies of all time, just three years apart – RMS Titanic and RMS Lusitania. 

7th May 2015 marks the one hundred year anniversary of the sinking of RMS Lusitania.  As Cobh is making itself ready to remember the dead of this First World War tragedy, what part did the former Queenstown play in the disaster and why do some of the victims of the sinking refuse to leave?

CONSTRUCTION AND USE OF THE LUSITANIA

RMS LUSITANIA

RMS LUSITANIA

Built in Scotland, the Lusitania was largely funded by the Admiralty, as Europe was in a state of unrest and conflict was believed imminent.  By contributing to the cost and overseeing the construction, the Navy would be able to call on the 787 ft liner in the event of war, while in the meantime she was one of Cunard’s front running cruise vessels setting records for speed.

The Lusitania made 201 successful transatlantic voyages as a passenger ship since 1907.  Once war broke out, the cruiser was also used to ship weapons to Britain with travellers knowing little or anything about the additional military cargo stored a few decks beneath their feet.

The Cunard liner was painted camouflage grey as war approached but continued to be used as a passenger vessel.

THE FATEFUL CROSSING

Pier 54, New York

Pier 54, New York

On 1st May 1915, RMS Lusitania set sail from New York for Liverpool on her 202nd voyage with 1962 passengers and crew on board.

By now the cruise ship had been transformed to her initial glory from the camouflage grey, however she was not bearing flags in marked out war zones, contravening Cruiser Rules dictated by the First World War.  These rules were set to safeguard passengers in the event of capture or attack and prevent any misidentification by the enemy.

The ship set sail from Pier 54 in New York despite the following statement from the German Embassy being printed in dozens of American newspapers:

“Notice!

Travellers intending to embark on the Atlantic voyage are reminded that a state of war exists between Germany and her allies and Great Britain and her allies; that the zone of war includes the waters adjacent to the British Isles; that, in accordance with formal notice given by the Imperial German Government, vessels flying the flag of Great Britain, or any of her allies, are liable to destruction in those waters and that travellers sailing in the war zone on the ships of Great Britain or her allies do so at their own risk.

Imperial German Embassy

 Washington, D.C., April 22, 1915.”

Although the ship’s manifest openly documented munitions in the cargo hold, the extent of undocumented firepower has never been fully disclosed and undoubtedly contributed to the Lusitania’s demise.

KINSALE AND THE TORPEDO

GERMAN U-20

GERMAN U-20

As RMS Lusitania approached the south coast of Ireland, a German U Boat crossed her path and due to the nature of her cargo, prior warnings and without the relevant flags, the captain of the U-20 give an order to fire.

The Lusitania sustained a direct hit which in turn caused further explosions within the hull, most likely due to the extent of ammunition and artillery on board.

Due to the lack of lifeboats being launched, poor execution of evacuation and the way in which she tilted and descended, the Lusitania sank to the bottom of the sea, 11 miles from Kinsale, County Cork in just twenty minutes.

The sinking of the Lusitania, both in speed and manner was eerily reminiscent of RMS Titanic, just 3 years earlier.  Despite rescue efforts from localised fishing vessels, 1201 souls were lost.

Sketch of the sinking Lusitania

Sketch of the sinking of RMS Lusitania

AFTERSHOCK

Some of the deceased were brought to Kinsale by rescue boats and interred at St Multose Church, while it was also in Kinsale that the local Coroner launched an official enquiry the following day.

The majority of the bodies however, were either brought to or washed up in Cobh, (Queenstown as it was known at the time) along with the few survivors.  In the Old Church Cemetery on the outskirts of Cobh, almost 200 of the victims of the tragedy are buried in mass and individual graves.  Of course many more were never recovered at all.

Mass Funeral Service for Lusitania Victims

Actual image of the Funeral Service for victims of RMS Lusitania

In a sickening coincidence, Ireland’s first custom built hotel, The Commodore opened for business in 1854 and its focus was to attract the many passengers embarking on voyages including the Titanic and Lusitania.  At the time of the sinking of the Lusitania by a German U Boat, the hotel was under German ownership.

Otto Humbert and his family were forced to hide in the cellars as a crowd gathered and demanded the hotel be burned to the ground. The hotel itself was then converted into a hospital and makeshift morgue for the victims.

THE COMMODORE HOTEL, COBH

THE COMMODORE HOTEL, COBH

GHOSTS AND HAUNTINGS OF RMS LUSITANIA

While locals feel there must be some residual energy left from the fear and torment of the poor passengers within Cobh and particularly The Commodore Hotel, the haunting most reported is one witnessed on more than one occasion from a diverse section of the community including the White Witch of Cobh and a Graves Inspector.

This supernatural event is none other than the chilling sound of a mass funeral procession for the victims of the Lusitania which had taken place on 10th May 1915.  The White Witch herself claims to have ‘seen’ it, however most accounts refer to many low murmuring voices and the sound of footsteps approaching the cemetery wall.  Some have in fact assumed a current funeral was approaching and have looked up to see nothing but an empty road.

With so much maritime tragedy at its heart, it is little wonder that as the broken bodies of the victims of the RMS Lusitania lay in Cobh, the despairing spirits also remain.

Lusitania monument, Cobh, County Cork

Lusitania monument, Cobh, County Cork

More tales of Haunted Cobh can be found here! 5 Haunted Places to Visit in Cobh

ON TRIAL FOR WITCHCRAFT – IRISH WOMEN OF SORCERY OR POWER?

Witch trial

Were some of Ireland’s most powerful and notorious women in actual fact Witches? Or were they victims of their own success falling foul of the jealous and fearful?  Let’s take a look at three of the most well-known ‘Witches’ to be put on trial and find out!

DAME ALICE KYTELER

Alice Kyteler

In Kilkenny you will find Kyteler’s Inn, the home and business of Alice Kyteler.  Alice was the first person to be accused and charged with witchcraft in Ireland in 1324.  A moneylender in the town, Alice was married a total of four times, with each husband dying under mysterious circumstances, leaving her more wealthy each time.

Kyteler’s Inn was a meeting place for local businessmen who all vied for the attention of the bewitching Alice, showering her with gifts and money.  With her staff of luscious women, the premises were by far the busiest in Kilkenny.

As local envy and suspicion reached its peak, the surviving children of Alice’s four husbands had her charged with using poison, Sorcery, favouring her first born, denying the faith, blasphemy and animal sacrifices to the demons of the underworld.

Alice had many connections and her manipulative ways meant that she managed to avoid arrest for some time.  After several twists including her accuser, the Bishop of Ossory being jailed himself, Alice was finally imprisoned to await trial.

First up for trial was Alice’s maid, Petronella de Meath who was tortured and confessed to practising Witchcraft with her mistress.  Petronella was found guilty and burned at the stake.  Alice’s first son William was also found guilty of among other things, perjury, extortion and heresy, however his was a more lenient sentence of three masses a day for a year and feeding the poor.

In 1325 Alice escaped, only to be tried in her absence and found guilty of Witchcraft.   Alice Kyteler remained at large, never to be heard of again.  Did she use magic to finally be rid of the threat of execution, or was she simply a smart woman, able to use her skills and charm to be a success and escape the stake?

Kyteler's Inn, Kilkenny

Kyteler’s Inn, Kilkenny

FLORENCE NEWTON, THE WITCH OF YOUGHAL

witchtrial

Another sensational witch trial for Ireland was that of Florence Newton in 1661.  She was accused of enchanting Mary Langdon, the maid of a prominent figure in the town called John Pyne.

Florence had called to the house during the winter of 1660 asking for meat from the master’s table.   The maid refused and the slighted beggar left muttering curses.  When Florence met Mary Langdon on the street, she grabbed her and gave her a vicious kiss, after which time Mary became violently ill.  She suffered seizures and visions and the house of her master became subject to poltergeist activity.

When Newton was brought into Mary’s presence her sickness became worse and she began vomiting needles and nails.  Mary claimed that Florence would appear in visions, sticking pins into her body.

Newton was also accused of causing the death of her jailer through sorcery, as his widow accused Florence of kissing her husband on the hand shortly before he dropped dead.

So important was the trial of the Witch of Youghal that the Irish Attorney General came to Cork to preside and it was assumed that Florence was found guilty and hanged.  You see, despite well-kept records of the beginning of the trial, the remainder of them vanished completely so we will never know exactly what happened to Florence Newton.  Did she also use Sorcery to survive?

BIDDY EARLY AND THE MAGIC BLUE BOTTLE

blue bottle

Biddy Early was born in 1778 in Kilenena, County Clare and took her mother’s maiden name.  Ellen Early taught her daughter herbal cures, however both parents died when Biddy was sixteen and she was left in poverty and living in the poorhouse.

Marginalised for being aloof, rumour had it that Biddy had been talking to the fairies since she was a child and could control them at will.  A good looking woman, Biddy met the first of her four husbands at market, a man twice her age.

Already making a name for herself as a healer, Biddy also opened a successful Shebeen, were the local folk would drink illicit alcohol and play cards.  Within five years her husband Pat had died from alcohol consumption and she married her stepson John who also died from alcohol related issues. Her third husband died in 1868 when she was 70 and in 1869 she married a man in his thirties in exchange for a cure.

Biddy’s healing powers seemed to have centred on a mysterious blue bottle that was supposedly brought to her by a dead relative from the fairies.  No one was allowed to touch the bottle and only true believers would receive help from Biddy.

If she knew you had been to a physician you were thrown out and priests in disguise would be regularly hunted away as they tried to get to the root of her power.  Biddy publicly denounced the Catholic Church and was accused and charged with Witchcraft in 1865, which was very unusual this late on.

Fear took hold of those who had agreed to testify and Biddy was acquitted.  On her deathbed she repented and at her funeral a gathering of priests asked the community to pray for the soul of Biddy Early.

Her cottage stands in ruins and her grave in Feakle is unmarked, however her blue bottle was not to be seen after she died.  Did the fairies reclaim the source of Biddy Early’s power?

The Ruins of Biddy Early's Cottage, County Clare

The Ruins of Biddy Early’s Cottage, County Clare

Skilled, manipulative and powerful all three, but were they Witches? That knowledge is lost forever, by way of Witchcraft or otherwise!   

13 SHADES OF FEAR: IRELAND’S MOST COLOURFUL FEMALE GHOSTS

Red LadyIreland has long been famed for the number of female hauntings across the country and many of them have been associated with colour.  Here I look at thirteen of the most colourful in more ways than one! 13 Shades of Fear: Ireland’s Most Colourful Female Ghosts