THE DRUID’S CURSE OF MOOREHALL

Moore Hall Front

Overlooking Lough Carra in County Mayo stands the burned out family manor of one of the most influential families in Ireland.  A burned out shell that has touched on the worst parts of Irish history and was said to have been built on an ancient curse.

George Henry Moore was a prominent Irish Politician in the eighteenth century and both he and his descendants rose to distinction in military, political and cultural fields. Moore himself emigrated to Spain following the implementation of the penal laws and rose to prominence gaining a place in the Spanish Court.  He set up a business trading in brandy and fine wines, which afforded him the luxury of having enough money to build his own mansion upon returning to Ireland.

With many sites to choose from, George Moore settled on Muckloon Hill overlooking Lough Carra.  Locals vehemently warned against such a location as the land was deemed to be cursed.  In around 400 A.D The King of Connacht, Brian Orbsen was slain by his enemies.  The King’s Druid, Drithliu, however made good his escape.  He sought sanctuary on Muckloon Hill but failed to outrun his pursuers who caught up with him and Drithliu bled out on the shores of the Lough.

The stubborn landowner went ahead regardless and Moorehall was built by Waterford Cathedral architect John Roberts, with Moore taking up residency in 1795.  Shortly afterwards George Henry Moore suffered a stroke and was left blind. And so the curse of Moorehall had begun.

George’s son John trained as a lawyer and was made President of Connacht which was a Republic at the time of his commission in 1798.  Unfortunately, his position was a short-lived affair following the appointment of Command-In-Chief of Ireland, the1st Marquess Cornwallis in direct response to the Irish Rebellion.  John was arrested by the Lord Lieutenant and was given the death penalty.  George Moore used some of his fortune to secure the best lawyers he could find and had his son’s sentence commuted to a deportation order.  While on remand awaiting the transport ship John succumbed to the injuries he sustained in custody.  Just a few months later George Moore was also dead.  The curse had struck again.

The next owner of Moorehall was also named George Henry Moore.  His money was made in horseracing yet not without tragedy.  In 1845 his brother Augustus was jockeying a horse by the name of Mickey Free in the English Grand National.  He fell from his horse during the race and died.   George himself won the Gold Cup the following year and used the money to buy grain and cattle for his famine struck tenants.  It was documented that not one of the people on Moore land became victims of the Famine.

George Augustus Moore was to be the last resident owner of Moorehall and the great grandson of the man who had built the very same.  Born in 1852, he went on to study the arts and become a prolific writer as well as a founder of the Abbey Theatre.  George’s social circle included Oscar Wilde, folklorist Lady Gregory and occultist and esteemed writer W. B Yeats, all regular visitors to his grand ancestral home.

George Augustus Moore

While George was residing in England at the height of the Irish Civil War, the anti-treaty IRA took umbrage at his cousin Maurice’s political stance and after commandeering Moorehall, set the mansion with explosives and burned it out.  Was this the final part of the curse?

Apparently not.

The facade remains, exposed to the elements.  Creeping tentacles of ivy crawl through the dark soulless voids where the windows once reflected the beauty of the sky and the Lough.  If you pass through the undergrowth and the age weary tunnel at the rear of the once majestic building, you can see the lowest level of Moorehall, left much as it was in 1923, whatever remains within peering up into the twenty first century sky.

Visitors to the cursed site describe ominous sensations and the overwhelming feeling that they are being watched by some unseen presence.  There have been reports of hearing children’s laughter and seeing shadows darting through the remaining structure. The woods themselves that encompass the fallen noble home are said to have an oppressive and foreboding silence within them.

Historic tragedy has befallen the residents of Moorehall over generations, which has directly led to accounts of paranormal activity within the ruins and the tale of a serpent like creature known as a péist dwelling in the waters of Lough Carra. It should also not be forgotten that the Moore family are interred close by in their ancestral vault. Included is John Moore who’s body was not located until the mid-twentieth century where he was brought home and laid with his kin following a full military send off.

Moore grave

So could the murder of an ancient Druid on Muckloon Hill have created a curse so strong that is has spiraled down through the centuries?  Is part of that curse that the Moores’ remain in residence for eternity? No one will ever know for sure.  No one but a Druid named Drithliu.

 

 

 

WITCHES OF IRELAND PART 1 – ALICE KYTELER, THE BLACK WIDOW OF KILKENNY

alice

Long before the publication of Malleus Maleficarum, attention was brought to bear on the small medieval town of Kilkenny in the Kingdom of Ossory.  One of the earliest ever recorded witch trials took place in the early 14th century against a local businesswoman and serial bride by the name of Alice Kyteler – and what a sensational trial it was.

So who was the local entrepreneur and femme fatale who caused uproar in the Irish legal system and brought the Ecclesiastical authorities of Ireland to their knees?

THE BLACK WIDOW

Alice Kyteler’s family were Flemish brokers and they had settled in Kilkenny sometime towards the end of the 13th century with just one child, a daughter.  Alice learned the ropes of the family business and grew up to be very shrewd, so it came as no surprise that her first husband was an affluent local businessman and financier by the name of William Outlaw.

Believed to have married in 1280 when Alice would have been only sixteen or so, they went on to have a son, also called William.  The banker’s wife groomed her son for great things and by an early age he had gained positions of authority within the local community.  By 1302 William’s father was dead and Alice was already onto her second marriage.  Husband number two was another moneylender by the name of Adam le Blund, from the market town of Callan on the Kilkenny/Tipperary county borders.

Both parties were already wealthy before the union, however marriage brought them a new level of power and prosperity.   The couple’s wealth and status had left feelings of acrimony running high in the parish and rumours had already began to circulate that Alice’s first husband had not died from natural causes.  The locals were convinced that Alice and Adam had in fact, committed murder.

The fire of fear and distrust aimed at Alice Kyteler was beginning to take hold, however it would appear that Alice and the events surrounding her insisted on adding fuel to the growing flames.  In 1307, Adam le Blund relinquished all legal entitlement to his own wealth and gave what was effectively full Power of Attorney to his stepson William, together with the complete nullification of William’s debts agreements.  This incident was deemed all the more suspicious as Adam had offspring of his own from a prior marriage and was in seemingly good mental and physical health.  Two years later he was dead.

1309 saw Alice wed for the third time.  Richard de Valle was an affluent landowner from the neighbouring county of Tipperary and once again the marital union was short lived.  A seemingly fit and well Richard died mysteriously, leaving all his wealth to Alice.  The son of the unfortunate deceased, also called Richard, kept hold of the assets and was the subject of legal proceedings, as the widow demanded her rightful wealth.

By the time Alice Kyteler married yet another wealthy landlord, Sir John le Poer, the local rumour mill was in overdrive and the whispering of foul play continued.  In frighteningly similar circumstances to her first three husbands, John’s health began to decline, in spite of his relatively young age.   John’s finger nails and toe nails were discolouring and falling out, he was rapidly going bald, and the little hair he had left was devoid of pigmentation.  As his ailments increased and his already poor health took a decided turn for the worse, two game changing events took place.  First of all, with no regard for his own blood kin, John made a will bequeathing all his money and assets to Alice and her son William.  The second, fearing for his life, John turned to the church for help. By 1324 he was dead and the whispers had turned to shouts of witchcraft.

KYTELER’S INN

kytelers-inn

Despite marrying prosperous landowners, Alice insisted that she remain in her birthplace on St. Kieran’s Street in Kilkenny.

As a rich wife and ultimately an incredibly wealthy serial widow, Alice did not need to work, however her focus was on building and maintaining a thriving business.  She continued with her practice of moneylending, made easier by having the perfect location to conduct her affairs.

Kyteler’s Inn wasn’t just any old hostelry. It was a meeting place for local businessmen who all vied for the attention of the bewitching Alice, showering her with gifts and money.   It should therefore come as no surprise that this was the very place Alice set eyes on her ill-fated husbands to be.

Whilst the attention of so many of the wealthy local male population was scintillating for Alice, she was a canny businesswoman first and foremost.  She hired the most luscious and alluring of young women to work in her premises, enticing men from their wives and responsibilities and spending their money in Kyteler’s Inn, making her establishment the most successful in Kilkenny.

It was also here in the inn that Alice was said to work her sorcery and that her patrons were bewitched by Alice and her alleged coven.

SORCERY, THE CHURCH AND THE LAW

Contrary to popular belief, the Church often turned a blind eye to sorcery, accepting that some forms of Malficium were minor offences and that the medical benefits offered by those who practiced such arts outweighed the ‘crime’.  As such, any issues relating to witchcraft were dealt with by the local authorities and not the Church, except in the case of direct heretical doctrine.

Unfortunately for Alice, this all changed when Pope John XXII came to the Papal Throne in 1316.  He was genuinely terrified of witchcraft and was convinced his life was in jeopardy, leading to the granting of sweeping powers to his Inquisitors.

Pope John XXII published a definitive list of practices that would constitute heresy and subsequent prosecution by the Church, particularly in relation to demon worship and pacts with the devil.

pope-john-xxii

Unfortunately for Alice, this canon law reached Ireland and in particular, Richard Ledrede, the Bishop of Ossory.

ACCUSATIONS, ARRESTS AND ABSCONDING

Whether out of bitterness of being cheated from their respective inheritance or genuine concern that Alice Kyteler was indeed a witch, the children of her last three deceased husbands joined together and called upon the assistance of Richard Ledrede.

Richard was a devout Christian and fanatical with seeking out and punishing heretics.  He was unhappy that respect for the Church and canon law were fading and that the law of the land took precedent.  He had the necessary background to implement Church doctrine and proceed with charges of heresy against Alice and her son William Outlaw, however he was up against resistance from local law enforcement and Alice’s very powerful contacts.

Having heard the allegations from Alice’s stepchildren, Ledrede went ahead and charged Alice, her maid Petronella and her son William with heresy.  The charges included denying the Faith, desecration of the church with black magic rituals, sorcery, demonic animal sacrifice, murder, controlling members of the local community with potions and spells and fornicating with a demon known by many names including Robin Artisson, in exchange for power and prosperity.

Richard’s first attempt at arrest was thwarted by the Chancellor of Ireland, Roger Outlaw, a relative of Alice’s first husband.  He advised Ledrede that there could be no warrant issued for the arrests without the accused having first been excommunicated for at least 40 days and a public hearing.  Meanwhile the well timed intervention of another relation by marriage, Sir Arnold de Poer, senior steward of Kilkenny allowed Alice to flee to Dublin and saw the imprisonment of Richard Ledrede.

While Richard was in prison, the whole of the diocese of Ossory saw an embargo on funerals, baptisms and marriage.  As the majority of the population believed in Hell and eternal damnation, the public outcry was too much and the Bishop of Ossory was released.

Incarceration left Ledrede incensed and he heightened his efforts to prosecute Alice, her son and maid by involving the Justice of Ireland, who insisted upon a full witch trial.

William Outlaw pleaded guilty to the charges of heresy, illegal money lending, adultery and perverting the course of justice.  His punishment was to attend three masses a day, donate to the poor and agree to reroof the cathedral with lead.

WITCH

In the meantime, Alice had absconded and the trial continued in her absence.  The alleged depths of her depravity and heresy began to be revealed to the court.  The witch Kyteler was said to have used a human skull to brew her potions, with ingredients including parts of corpses, the innards of fowl, worms and insects and the clothing of deceased infants.  The concoctions were said to rouse her innocent victims to do her bidding, with acts of love, hatred or murder.

Alice and her coven were said to have conducted black masses in the churches, sacrificed and dissected livestock to bargain with demons at crossroads and Alice herself was accused of continued carnal relations with a powerful demon in order to maintain her position of influence over the local community.

The final accusations were of the murder of each of her four husbands.  Evidence regarding her last husband, John le Poer was put forward.  He had no nails, they were ripped from their beds and left bleeding, all bodily hair had fallen out and he was completed withered away to a skeleton at the time of his death.

While Alice had disappeared, some say to England with the help of her well positioned male acquaintances, her maid was not so fortunate.

Petronella de Meath was tortured repeatedly in Kilkenny Jail until she confessed to being a witch and a member of the coven of Alice Kyteler.  On 3rd November 1324, Petronella was the first woman in Ireland to be burned at the stake as a witch.

burning-at-the-stake

THE LEGACY OF ALICE KYTELER

So what of Alice? Well Alice Kyteler was never heard of again – whether she used witchcraft to cloak her whereabouts or was helped abroad by calling on infatuated men of position we will never know.

What we do know, is that the accusations and the trial were very real indeed.  They remain documented as they have been for centuries and the trial changed the balance of law and power back in favour of the Church.

The most exciting revelation of this account is that the locations remain.  The Jail still stands, bars on windows.  As you stand on the street, peering into the eerie darkness of the cold, cramped cells, a shiver runs up your spine at the realization there could be something ethereal staring back at you, perhaps the tormented blackened soul of Petronella de Meath.

Kyteler’s Inn is still the most famous hostelry in Kilkenny and the spirit of Alice is said to remain, watching over her establishment and the revelers within for eternity.

So was Alice Kyteler indeed a witch, or just the most successful and richest business woman in medieval Ireland? Perhaps if you come across her in Kyteler’s Inn, you can ask her yourself!

alice-sculpture

I shall leave you with Alice, immortalised in the words of W. B Yeats:

"A sudden blast of dusty wind and after
Thunder of feet, tumult of images,
Their purpose in the labyrinth of the wind;
And should some crazy hand dare touch a daughter
All turn with amorous cries, or angry cries,
According to the wind, for all are blind.
But now wind drops, dust settles; thereupon
There lurches past, his great eyes without thought
Under the shadow of stupid straw-pale locks,
That insolent fiend Robert Artisson
To whom the love-lorn Lady Kyteler brought
Bronzed peacock feathers, red combs of her cocks."

 

 

LOFTUS HALL 666 – CELEBRATING THE 666th ANNIVERSARY OF IRELAND’S MOST HAUNTED HOUSE

Loftus Hall 2

Standing majestically on the Hook Peninsula in County Wexford, Loftus Hall is an imposing structure, ominously shadowing the isolated and sea whipped landscape for hundreds of years.  This building on the Hook Peninsula has worldwide recognition as Ireland’s most haunted house, with paranormal investigations from local teams to TV’s the Ghost Adventures for a ‘Halloween Special’.

This weekend marks the 666th birthday of the heritage of Loftus Hall, complete with a paranormal investigation held by Tina Barcoe and Paranormal Researchers Ireland.  Earlier this year I was fortunate enough to be asked to take part in a unique lockdown on Friday 13th and this intrepid writer was not going to let this amazing opportunity pass her by!

Let’s look into the history of Loftus Hall, the stories and reports of paranormal activity and what I experienced first-hand in Ireland’s most Haunted House!

LOFTUS HALL – HISTORY

There has been a family residence on the grounds of Loftus since The Black Death reached its peak in 1350.  Originally constructed by the Redmond family, they maintained ownership until they were ejected during the Cromwellian confiscations during the seventeenth century.

As the Loftus family were already residing in Wexford, they were given ownership of the entire estate once Charles II regained power.  Henry Loftus took official residence in 1666, perhaps a sign of demonic events and tragedies in the years ahead.

Fast forward to the early 20th Century and the empty Loftus Hall was purchased by a religious order and adapted into a convent school for girls wishing to take Holy Vows.  It continued under religious ownership until it was purchased in 1983 by a man called Michael Deveraux who was intent in turning the historical local landmark into a hotel, using most of the financial resources at his disposal.  Just a few years later, doomed to failure, the Loftus Hall Hotel closed its doors.

Loftus Hall remained under ownership of the Deveraux family until 2011, at which point it was purchased as an abandoned building by the current proprietor Aidan Quigley.

A STRANGER, A CARD GAME AND THE DEVIL.

Devil card

While under the ownership of the Loftus family, Charles Tottenham, his second wife and daughter from his first marriage, Anne, arrived at Loftus Hall.  They were effectively house sitting for the absent landowners towards the end of the eighteenth century.

During their residency, an unusually wild tempest covered the Hook Peninsula in fog and an unfamiliar ship set anchor.  A stranger arrived by horse to Loftus Hall seeking refuge from the angry storm and was brought in and given shelter.

The charismatic young man soon charmed his way into the affections of Anne Tottenham and the couple began relations under the roof of Loftus Hall.

One night the family were sat around the table playing cards with the mysterious visitor dealing each hand.  As Anne seemed to only have been dealt two cards as opposed to the usual three, she glanced to the floor in case she had dropped one, only to see a third lying beneath the table.

Anne stooped down to retrieve the fallen card and as she did so, screamed out in terror, as the man she had given her heart to had revealed cloven hooves for feet.

Upon his secret being discovered, the creature shot upwards, crashing through the roof of Loftus Hall and out into the night sky.

Anne Tottenham became crazed with grief over her lost love and an embarrassment to her family.  Their embarrassment may will have been increased as the young woman was said to have been with child.  The circumstances of the birth and subsequent death of the infant remain a mystery, however the skeletal remains of a new-born were found in the wall of the Tapestry Room in recent years.

Anne remained locked away, a prisoner in the Tapestry Room, where she sat stooped and lifeless, not taking any food -just staring out of the window pining and hoping for the return of the ship to Dunmore East until she died.  So badly was her body contorted the poor woman had to be buried the way she sat.  Was her fatal grief for her lost love, lost child or both?

EXORCISM

exorcising

It was believed that the presence of the Dark Lord lingered and poltergeist activity became rife in the house, escalating to such a point that the Protestant clergy were powerless to abate it.

In desperation the Loftus family called upon Father Thomas Broaders, a Catholic priest residing on the townland also known as Loftus.  He performed an exorcism and appeared to banish the demons within.

Broaders rose to the position of Parish Priest and remained as Canon until his death in 1773.  He is buried in the old Horetown Cemetery and his gravestone reads:

“Here lies the body of Thomas Broaders,

Who did good and prayed for all.

And banished the Devil from Loftus Hall.”

HAUNTINGS AND MY OWN PARANORMAL INVESTIGATION AT LOFTUS HALL

Loftus Hall

 

For all his good work, the priest had failed to drive the supernatural from Loftus Hall and to this day supernatural occurrences, physical, visual and audible have been reported time and time again.  This year, on Friday 13th I decided to investigate these claims for myself.  Under the instruction and supervision of Tina Barcoe, the watchful eye of owner Aidan Quigley, and with horror writer and paranormal investigator Chris Rush as our guide, our lockdown at Loftus Hall began.

The first thing you must realise, is that these investigations take place in total darkness.  It takes a while for your eyes to adjust and make the most of any light seeping in, whilst being mindful of tricks of the light, Pareidolia and your own vivid imagination!

The second thing to be aware of are the underlying sounds.  The wind outside, the sound of the sea, other people in the room, the house itself.  Once you get a ‘feel’ for the location, you can pick out the abnormal or indeed paranormal for yourself and not get swept up in the perceptions and opinions of others.

Thirdly and most importantly I believe you should be respectful, logical and grounded.  Unless you are taunting and disrespectful there is nothing to fear.  Most sounds and imagery will have a logical explanation, which should be considered first.  Once the reasonable has been discounted, it makes the things we cannot explain all the more significant and exciting.

THE CHAPEL

The chapel at first inspection seemed peaceful and in a way, comforting, even though strange noises were coming from behind me and I felt someone or something sit along the pew from me.  The longer I sat there the less afraid and more at peace I felt, until a ‘psychic’ entered the room as a late arrival.

At this point things changed.  She began crying and screaming and was convinced she could see a dark figure coming towards her as her skin crawled.  My personal opinion was that she was hysterical, maybe even acting, however what was clear was that her behaviour was drawing in something of a supernatural persuasion and it was not pleasant.

The room became colder, considerably colder and unbelievably it became darker.  While others said they too could see a dark image before them in humanoid shape, I myself could not.  It was at this point that the room brightened and the temperature rose once more.

For someone who considers themselves objective and logical, it was an interesting start to the night!

THE MORNING ROOM

In this room Chris our guide told us that other groups had experienced loud noises, banging shutters and other phenomena.  We spread out and began asking questions.  One of our group stood in front of the shutters and asked more demanding questions, at which point a shadowy figure seemed to appear at his side as the shutters banged behind him.  Mind tricks sparked by preconceptions? Perhaps.  What was not a trick however, was the disembodied voice coming through the dormant communication unit carried by Chris.  A voice that cried out ‘Attention’, a voice that was heard throughout Loftus Hall.

THE UPPER ROOMS

These rooms are not accessible by the general public so we were privileged to be granted access.  The first room contained a couch and we just began to chill and talk about writing as we were the writers and readers group.  At this point there was the sound of singing, faint but definitely there.  Once acknowledged we continued our conversation where I was stopped mid-sentence as I felt a distinctive tug on my hair.  My first thought was to check I wasn’t caught on anything and Chris used his torch to check behind me and nothing was there. As soon as I felt the tug, a young woman with us at the other end of the room began sobbing uncontrollably.  Once she regained composure she explained she had felt something or someone touching her and holding her neck!

The second room we entered was stifling.  This was strange as the rest of the house was not this way and the door to the room had been open.  As the door was closed behind us, there was less air.  We began asking questions and it appeared that when I asked such questions as ‘Do you want the door left closed?’ and ‘are you enjoying trying to scare us?’, that sharp, deliberate taps were occurring as if in response on the shutter right behind me.  It should be noted that at this point the temperature dropped and there was a release of cool air, even though the door was shut.

THE TAPESTRY ROOM

Fully aware of the tragic circumstances relating to this room, we spread out and once again began trying to communicate.  Despite the heart-breaking history, I could not feel anything out of place.  At one point Chris was convinced I was stood beside him by the fireplace, however when he switched on his torch, it became clear I was on the other side of the room.  We moved places and similarly I became sure that another member of the group was beside me by the mantle so I asked a question only for him to answer me from the window! Were Chris and I sensing a presence that was not a part of our team? Possibly.  What definitely did happen, is that no one was standing were they had started when the lights came on and everyone had gravitated towards the centre of the room.

THE CARD ROOM

We seated ourselves at the card table and I was sat directly beneath the infamous hole in the ceiling.  There were cards strewn on the table and a group member picked up two in the darkness to use as tools to assist in communication.  Chris gathered up the rest of the cards so there would be no confusion or misidentification of sounds if anyone were to brush against them.

The first thing I became aware of was a burning sensation on my leg after I had jokingly asked was the stranger or devil under the table.  I thought nothing of it, assuming it was my jeans chafing my knee until Chris opposite me announced the very same sensation.

I began to feel a sense of unease, hairs on the back of neck standing up and then a definitive yank of my chair! I was startled rather than afraid and suggested I was not welcome in that seat so a member of the group swapped with me.

Interestingly, our team member was still firmly clutching the cards in his fingers, not allowing them to move or slip.  After some questioning, the team member stopped mid-sentence as I heard the sound of something land on the table.  A card had been forcibly pulled from his hand and dropped onto the playing surface.  At that very moment, the signal for the finish of the investigation was given and the lights were turned on as we all vacated our chairs.  We turned and looked back at the table to see a solitary card with the face of the Devil staring back at us.

LUCIFER AND LOFTUS HALL

beast

If the account of the Devil reminds you of another tale you may have heard, it should.  An identical story was told of a card game being held at the notorious Hellfire Club of Dublin on Montpelier Hill, where a stranger with cloven hooves for feet sat at the table.

As well as the Hellfire Club, Montpelier Hill was the site of a hunting lodge known as Dolly Mount.  This lodge was owned by Henry Loftus.

So the question must be asked, with Henry Loftus taking residence in 1666 and the second visit by a cloven hooved stranger to the Hellfire Club on the very land in Dublin previously owned by the Loftus family, was Anne Tottenham an unfortunate victim in the wrong place at the wrong time?

What is the meaning of the Loftus association with signs of the Devil and was a pact made with Lucifer for the Redmond Estate?

We will never know for sure, however this year marks the 666th anniversary of the founding of the mansion house and this weekend the birthday of Loftus Hall is celebrated – will Satan return again and will you dare to be there if he does?

My opinion is there is definitely something more than stone and mortar at Loftus Hall.  There is history that you can feel in every corner, there is atmosphere, welcoming and foreboding in equal measure.  Is there a supernatural presence? Definitely and more than one.

Ongoing investigations and indeed public lockdowns at Loftus Hall solidify the consensus that the place is undoubtedly haunted.  The continued gathering of evidence and reports of activity on such a high profile location maintain the validity of claims, as well as giving the general public an opportunity they would not ordinarily get to experience.

There are undoubtedly many more chilling experiences awaiting those who dare to take part in future investigations, both this weekend and further into the year.  These daring individuals, under the watchful eye of Tina Barcoe and her team will hear the main doors bang shut behind them as they begin their lockdown at Loftus Hall and their own journey into the world of the inexplicable and supernatural.  Will I be one of them? Most definitely!

 

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ST. STEPHEN’S DAY AND THE KING OF ALL BIRDS

WrenBoys

‘The wran, the wran, the king of all birds,

On St. Stephen’s day was caught in the furze.

His body is little but his family is great

So rise up landlady and give us a trate.

And if your trate be of the best

Your soul in heaven can find its rest.

And if your trate be of the small

It won’t plaze the boys at all.

A glass of whiskey and a bottle of beer

Merry Christmas and a glad New Year.

So up with the kettle and down with the pan

And give us a penny to bury the wran.

Although there are many variations of the infamous Wren Boys’ song, these particular words are the ones I recall being sang to me by my mother at Christmas time. The history of the Wren Boys and Wren’s Day is a long and complex one with a myriad of potential meanings and beginnings. It must be said however, that the tradition itself is very much a stalwart of the Irish Christmas and one that is still very much a part of St. Stephen’s Day celebrations today.

What are Wren Boys and Wren’s Day?

Wren Boys historic

Wren’s Day or Lá an Dreoilín can be dated back in one form or another to the second century and probably started in connection with Samhain as opposed to Christmas. Usually found in rural areas, this tradition and celebration centres around the wren, an iconic bird in Irish Mythology and Pagan and Christian religions.  On St. Stephen’s day, boys use to dress up in brightly coloured clothes and were known as the Wren Boys.  Others would dress in suits made from straw and be known as ‘Mummers‘.

Until the early 20th century, a real wren would be hunted and placed in a makeshift cage at the top of a pole that would be carried by the Wren leader. The challenge in the hunt of course is that the wren is scarce in winter! The Wren Boys and the Mummers would march through small townlands and villages, demanding money to keep the bird alive. At the end of the day the money would be used to throw a celebratory gathering for the townsfolk.  The boys would be joined by musicians and would hand out feathers to those who donated for good luck.

The pole would take centre stage at the celebrations, being bedecked in ribbons, evergreens and flowers and the locals would dance around it. As times began to change, the real wren was replaced with a fake bird, that would be hidden for the Wren Boys and Mummers to find as opposed to hunting the wren.

So why the Wren?

Celtic Mythology

Clíodhna

Clíodhna was a Celtic goddess of feasting and hunting, with her home in Munster and was believed to be the original Banshee. Whilst Clíodhna had a regal reputation and was worshipped, she also had a sinister side.  She would lure men through her beauty and powers of seduction and they would drown off the coast of Cork, where she resided.  Finally, one man discovered her secrets of magic and power and devised a way to destroy her.  Realising this Clíodhna transfigured into a wren and made her escape back to the Other Realm.

Druids

Druid

For centuries those who practise Paganism have revered the wren and viewed it as a symbol of divinity and wisdom. The wren was considered so precious by the Druids, that curses were cast upon those who sought to steal eggs or hatchlings, leaving homes destroyed and bodies mutilated.  The wren would also be used in the Pagan practice of Divination, each chirp and sound deemed a message for the Druid High Priests.  Indeed, the Irish word for wren, Dreoilín, translates as ‘Druid Bird and as Samhain approached, the wren was a symbol of the old year and the robin a celebration of the new.

 Christianity and Saint Stephen.

Stoning Saint Stephen

Although Saint Stephen was not Irish, he became a patron saint and the subject of an Irish National Holiday. One of the original deacons selected by the Apostles, Saint Stephen was outspoken with his teachings and distaste for the hypocrisy of the Jewish Authorities.  A warrant was issued for his arrest and while in hiding it is said that a wren gave away his location by chattering and flapping its wings.  Stephen was captured and stoned to death, making him the first official martyr of Christianity.

It was these events that enabled the Christian Clerics in Ireland in the Dark Ages to convince people to turn against Paganism, citing the wren as a symbol of evil.

The Wren of Treason

There are two events in Irish history where the wren is said to have caused the demise of Irish forces. Once during the Viking invasion, Irish soldiers had an opportunity to stage an attack as the enemy slept. A single wren landed on the drum of a soldier and began pecking at crumbs, creating a cacophony that awoke the Vikings and led to the slaughter of the home forces.  The very same turn of events occurred centuries later during a planned ambush on Cromwellian troops.

 Wren’s Day in Modern Ireland

Dingle-Wren-Day

As with most Irish Folklore and Tradition, the origins are an entwining of Christianity, Paganism and Celtic Mythology, so the definitive meaning of the wren and Wren’s Day will never be truly known. The practice continues however in small towns and particularly parts of Sligo, Leitrim and Kerry, with Dingle having an extraordinary display of costume and colour every St. Stephen’s Day and in prior years would put on a display of early combat.

The Wrens and Mummers now consist of men, women and children and the focus is very much on traditional music, with the Wrens travelling between pubs and collecting money for charity and performing in retirement homes and hospitals.

So whatever the reasoning behind the tradition of the Wren Boy, it is one that remains in Irish culture and the Wren itself is forever associated with Irish religion, folklore, myth and tradition.

Wren

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

GRIEF, GHOSTS AND GOTHIC REVIVAL AT DUCKETT’S GROVE

Ducketts Grove

Although only ruins now, the outline of the towers and turrets of Duckett’s Grove stand resplendent against the horizon and surrounding countryside of the estate to which they have belonged for nearly two centuries.

Duckett’s Grove was originally a modest two story house built in the style of its day in the mid eighteenth century by a descendant of the Duckett family, who arrived to the townland of Kneestown in County Carlow some 100 years previously.

As the family grew in wealth and social standing in both Carlow and Dublin city, it became clear that the somewhat ordinary family home was insufficient to meet the Duckett needs. Owner William Duckett, married an heiress by the name of Harriet in order to further his aspirations of grandeur.

William Duckett

William Duckett

In 1830 therefore, the services of Thomas A Cobden, renowned architect were secured and work began on making Duckett’s Grove a Gothic revival masterpiece of epic proportion, with regal arches, neo-gothic oriel windows and grotesques added to the majestic towers and imposing structure.

One of the only photographs of Ducketts Grove before the fire of 1933.

One of the only photographs of Ducketts Grove before the fire of 1933.

Now believing his home was suitable for his social needs, William Duckett began to throw lavish parties inviting the socialites of Dublin to mingle with local gentry and the Duckett family. William was somewhat of a philanderer and married his second wife, Maria Thompson in 1895 when he was 73 years old, bringing her and her daughter Olive to reside at Ducketts Grove.

William passed away in 1908 and was buried in the family plot at nearby Knocknacree. Maria continued to live in solitude at the mock Gothic castle as she and her daughter had become estranged. Finally Maria abandoned the property in 1916 to live in Dublin.

In a twist, when Maria died she was still so furious with Olive, that in her will she left nothing but what was known as the ‘Angry Shilling’ to her absentee offspring.

Not wishing to be done out of her inheritance, Olive went to court and in a week and a half long hearing, it was revealed that mother and daughter had a tempestuous and physically violent relationship, much to the shock of the Dublin city social scene. Maria was given a cash settlement and the Ducketts of Duckett’s Grove were no more.

Originally purchased by a farmer’s collective, bickering and greed over shares led to default on payment and the Land Commission stepped in and took over. During this time in the early 1920’s the IRA made use of Duckett’s Grove for training purposes and it was the base of its flying column, a mobile armed unit of soldiers.

Despite the nature of its use post-Duckett, the great house was well maintained until it was brought to a smoking shell by way of a catastrophic fire on 20 April 1933 – the cause of which was never discovered.

Although nothing but a husk, it would seem that the events within Duckett’s Grove have left their mark, with several agitated spirits being witnessed over the decades, making the building ruins a hotspot for numerous paranormal investigations, including America’s Destination Truth in 2011.

The most notorious entity identified is the Duckett’s Grove Banshee. Banshees have forever been known as portents of death, with most connected to families and more than a few of these wailing spirits seeking death for revenge and torment.

Banshee

Banshee

In this instance, the Banshee is the result of a Piseóg, a curse placed on the house and family to bring about death, despair and financial ruin. This particular curse was cast by the angry grieving mother of a young girl who had been having an affair with William Duckett and was riding on the estate when she fell from her horse.

The bringer of death can be heard shrieking on the wind through the ruins of Duckett’s Grove from the towers for two days and nights, with stories of those that heard her suffering fatality and family tragedy. Noted accounts include a woman who dropped dead in the grounds and a worker in the gardens who heard the feared cry and whose mother died the follow morning.

Servants have distinctly been heard working in what was formerly the kitchens and pantry and a phantom horse and carriage has rolled up to the former entrance.

Disembodied voices, bangs, floating balls of light and spectral shadows are just a few more of the paranormal phenomena to occur in the Carlow castle. Apparitions of various figures, believed to be members of the Duckett family have been seen, including what is believed to be the ghost of William Duckett himself, riding a horse on his estate.

The Ducketts had extremely strong ties to the Protestant church and a vocalised hatred of Catholicism, so some investigators have provoked heightened paranormal responses from the entities of Duckett’s Grove, by bringing Catholic relics such as rosary beads to investigations.

Now Duckett’s Grove is open to the public, with visitors touring the extensive gardens and woodlands. For those who look at the Gothic skeleton that remains, it is a statuesque reminder of the opulent and lavish lifestyle that used to be lived within.

Ducketts

For those who are braver, the ruins provide a hive of paranormal occurrences to be witnessed from the brightest and busiest of tourist days to the dead of night.

With a family history of materialism, violence and infidelity, and with a Duckett family motto of ‘Let us be judged by our acts’, it is little wonder therefore that this noble family and those whose lives they touched remain the eternally restless residents of Duckett’s Grove.