Belfast Ghost Stories
(From Ghostly Tales Of Old Belfast By Joe Graham)
Is your child’s friend a ghost?
It is quite common to hear a couple speak of their child’s imaginary friend but one Shankill Road child’s story on closer examination unearthed a startling tale. It was in the late 1940’s, a young family had recently moved into a house in Canmore Street, off the Shankill Road, and before long their five year old daughter was often heard as though she speaking to someone in different parts of the house, her parents knew no-one but herself was present. The parents chuckled and remarked that the child had “made up” an imaginary friend. Later when they began to discuss the matter with the child they were very surprised to hear the girl describe her friend as “an old man like my grand-dad ... and he has had very bad leg ... he limps”. They expected their daughter to describe a little boy or girl of her own age “ach well”, they thought, “it’s just innocent fun ... a child’s imagination”. The child soon began telling her parents stories of “Old Tom”, her friend, “You know his wife died and his son was killed in the war”. The parents just didn’t know what to make of all this and became a bit worried, but the biggest shock of all came when the father was having a pint in a local bar and was telling a long term resident of his street about his daughter and her “imaginary friend”. The neighbour looked concerned and related that indeed the old man, by the name of Tom, had formerly lived in the young family’s house ... his son was killed in the recent world war and his wife had also died. The old man had lived a very sad life for a few years and neighbours were awoken to the fact one day that he had hanged himself in the back room. So it appeared that their little girl’s friend was anything but imaginary and when they learned that the old man had a limp ... well!
Have you ever heard that if there is a child under the age of seven in a company then no harm can come from a ghost? Well, this is very widely believed and, to give credit to such claims, here is a story I once heard.
Just after the last World War there were many empty houses in Belfast due to people being evacuated to places in the country, away from all the German air raids, so much swapping and changing of homes went on, people would just move into an empty house and set up home. However, a young couple moved into an empty house in the Lower Falls in just such a fashion and on the first night as they lay in bed, they felt the bed rise into the air. Furniture was hurled about the room in a most violent way, yet they were the only two people in the house. Half frightened to death, they rushed out of the house and into the home of a friend a few doors away. After listening to their plight, the friend told them of the child under seven theory and persuaded them to return to the house and bring her own five year old daughter with them, assuring them that nothing could happen in the presence of an innocent child. They returned and spent a restful night in the house. Every night for a month the young couple brought their friend’s child into the house to sleep with them and then the friend told them that by now th ghost would have left. They stopped bringing the child into the house at night and, oddly enough, nothing unusual ever took place again.
In the back entry of Brompton Park there are many stories of ghosts having been seen there. Ardoyne has a fair share of ghost stories and indeed there has been enough tragic events there to merit such stories. Some years ago a man hanged himself on the old railings in this entry, by the old‘Blackie Dam’, and a young mill worker drowned herself in that same Dam many years ago after a tragic romance. For many years many a person reported seeing the sad wailing figure of a young girl by the banks of the Dam. It is said that the girl had drowned herself after hearing that the boy whom she had planned to marry had been killed in an accident in Scotland where he had gone to work to earn the marriage money
At Beechmount many are the reports that one used to hear of people having seen a Headless Nun. Some reported seeing the statue of Our Lady in the grounds of St Rose’s school crying and omens such as the outbreak of the present troubles were read into the incident ... all this just a year before the troubles started.
Another famous ghost is that of the young nurse who was killed in an accident on the Ml some years ago. Her ghost has been often given lifts by passing motorists who stopped and let her into their cars after seeing her standing at the side of the motorway. The motorists sp of reaching Belfast and on asking the girl where she wanted out, they got no answer. Looking round, to their horror, they found the back seat where the girl had been sitting empty ... she had disappeared . and yet, they hadn’t stopped since picking the girl up!
Ballymurphy has a ghost or two, for many are the reports there of“the click of the high heels”. These footsteps are to be heard in Ballymurphy Road, usually about two in the morning; residents say that although the footsteps can be plainly heard, not a soul is to be seen. As of yet I can find no origin of this ghost, or that of the very tall man who was reported to be seen near the wall of J P Corry’s yard at Westrock. This elderly man is said to just stand there motionless with a sad look on his face
his clothing is said to be like that of the 1920’s ... and history tells us that the area there was infamous for the dumping of Catholic murder victims of the ‘B’ Specials and R.I.C. murder gangs of that time, so perhaps here is the link to the ghost?
There are many Doubtful Thomas’ on the subject of ghosts ... you can’t prove or disprove ghost stories ... real or imaginary is irrelevant ... the fact is they are very much part of our folklore and we all like to hear a good ghost story.
Most hauntings refer to haunted places Poltergeists have been described as haunted people. The violent and often destructive actions of the poltergeists usually centre around a young person whom it would‘lock onto” or focus on, the person may be an innocent child or a feeble old lady through whom it would act.
The poltergeist is a worldwide phenomenon yet is quite rare in Ireland. In the main a poltergeist is a very angry ghost, usually protesting about human presence in its domain, as it would see it, so to scare off or to voice its disapproval it will use many frightening antics, such as:
A mattress being thrown off a bed while a witness is still on it. A strong smell of beautiful heavy perfume.
Bedclothes being pulled off a bed. Drawers moving in and out of furniture. Deafening drumming and other deafening noises. Loud breathing noises at various times. Heavy pieces of furniture flung across a room. Wallpaper just falling off the wall in strips. Doors and windows opening and closing at will. Doors and windows violently banging. Yes, maybe it is as well we don’t have too many poltergeists in Ireland!
THE GHOST OF MOLLY’S WELL
The old Mountain Loney, now called Whiterock Road, has a ghost story with a difference, for those who some years ago claim to have seen the ghost say they were not frightened but were left with a deep sorrow.
Let’s start from the beginning. About 200 years ago a family named Beggs lived in the area and they had a very beautiful daughter, named Molly. Molly fell in love with the son of a rich landowner and the young man’s family worked hard at forbidding any relationship between their rich and privileged son and the peasant girl, Molly. Hence the young couple used to meet secretly at a well at the top of the Loney and often if the young mans family were suspicious of his journey at night, he would leave a note for Molly under a stone by the well. More often Molly had to content herself with the love notes of her young lover for he kept finding it harder to meet her without bringing the wrath of his family unto him. Often Molly would turn up at the well only to find her boy not there but would soon find the secret note and sit and fondle it hoping some day their love would break down the barriers that kept them apart.
One night Molly turned up and found another note, this one was in answer to one that she had left a day before, in which she had told the young man that she was going to have his child. Full of fear and insecurity, Molly unfolded the note and with the help of a tiny candle she read with a broken heart that the young man’s family on being told of her situation had forced him, that very night, to go to Scotland to take up a position in a business they had there. Full of hurt and pain, Molly drowned herself in the well and for years after people spoke of seeing the ghostly figure of a beautiful girl sitting by candle-light reading a note and crying hurtfully, they spoke of sadness, not fearfully., The well to this day is called “Molly’s Well”. The young man never did return to Ireland and his family left for Scotland after Molly’s death.TIME SLIP GHOSTS AND PLACES
A Time Slip phenomenon is when a person comes upon a building that belonged to an early age and in fact is long gone but would suddenly appear and just as suddenly disappear.
The old Witch Cottage at Islandmagee is a perfect example, strangers to the area spoke of having seen a little whitewashed cottage at the turn of the road near Whitehead and to their disbelief when they passed the same spot only hours later nothing stood there but the hedgerow. Apparently in local folklore the cottage had been the home of a famous witch who had been burned at the stake there ... one of the last witches to die in such a way in Ireland. The locals then in their fear and anger burned her cottage to wipe out all memories of her but for many years she taunted them by a spell she had cast making her cottage appear and re-appear through the centuries.
At Glenwherry, Co Antrim, a fierce battle took place many centuries ago on the hillside overlooking the river and people holidaying there claimed they saw the battle replay itself and at first they thought it was just a local pageant they were watching but stood in amazement when the soldiers just disappeared into thin air.
Where the College of is in York Street, Belfast, a terrific battle took place on that site many years ago in the Royalists days, and for many, many years locals described hearing the battle noises of clashing swords and thundering horse hooves all mingled with cannon fire and pitiful screams and shouted military commands.
THE GHOST OF HABIT
There are many stories of the ghost of habit, for instance, the old gas street lamplighter who for many years dutifully patrolled the streets of the old Pound Loney area lighting and turning off the street lights at the appropriate times. He was such a familiar sight that most people just took him for granted ... that is, until he died and his ghost took to trudging round the lamp posts of the area and the lamps began lighting and switching off on their own, it seems the spirit of the poor old man just wasn’t ready to quit the thing he obviously enjoyed doing for so many years and it wasn’t until the new electric street lights were installed that the sightings of the Lamplighter ceased.
Old John Savage was a rich mill owner and behind his mill at Flax Street he built little“Half Houses”, a family lived upstairs and another lived downstairs. Behind his mill and the little street was known as “Savages Row”, later these were demolished and the wee street took on the grander name of “Ardilea Street”, named after his fine house near Greenisland, Co Antrim. Anyway, the bold John was a very busy man, town councillor, Magistrate and up to his eyes in municipal matters and it all got too much for him, so one night he took an open razor and cut his own throat and died. Witnesses claimed he had been heard in the days before his death muttering non stop, “I can’t take much more of this”
However, for many years locals in the Bone area at the time well recalled that John would walk round his mill and little street every day and then after his untimely death many reported having seen him taking his regular walk ... but now they said he was bent over and muttering to himself,“I can’t take much more of this ... it has to end “ Needless to say, that other mill owner the famous Galloper Thompson was a ghost of habit, being seen riding on horseback in different parts of North Belfast, sometimes headless and as often with his head on.
THE“MARTYR” GHOST OF SANDY ROW
Right up to the early part of 1900’s , at the Boyne Bridge at Sandy Row local people claimed they saw the ghostly figure of a man holding his head and with a total look of bewilderment on his face and a gaping wound in his forehead. They spoke almost us one would speak of the apparition of Our Lady at Lourdes ... almost in religious tones ... and they had no doubt who the ghost belonged to!
John McConnell, a local married man and father of live children, had died after being shot through ho head by a police marksman away back in 1864. At the time there were repeated confrontations between local Protestants and Catholics from the nearby Pound Loney and this particular day, according to police reports and other information Served to a later inquiry, an Orange mob had gathered on the Boyne Bridge and tried to break through police ranks to attack the homes of the Pound Loney Catholics, The police claimed that John McConnell was at the head of the mob that was jeering and stoning them. Other witnesses argued that John McConnell was a totally innocent and inoffensive bystander who had in fact tried to reason with some of the police about, as they saw it, their heavy handed tactics.
The court ruled that John McConnell was rightly and legally shot ... well all hell broke loose, the shipyard men walked out in strike and wrecked city centre shops and looted guns from some gun shops. They paraded around the fringes of old Carrick Hill and the Falls threatening the Catholic residents and chanting the name of John McConnell, their new martyr and hero. For oven a week there were some of the most violent and wicked riots that Belfast had ever witnessed.
GHOSTS APPEARING AT TIME OF DEATH
Here in Ireland by far and large Ghosts and hauntings are frequently associated with messages from the dead and often as forewarnings of death as is the well known phenomenon, the Banshee.
And often spoke of is the old Irish“GHOSTLJGHT” or “CORPSE CANDLE” which is well recorded in the folklore not just of Ireland but all other Celtic countries.
In Pagan days fires’ were to be seen in any part of Ireland as offerings to the Pagan Gods, hut every now and then a light would appear and when investigated people could find no evidence yet were able to pinpoint the source ot’ li to an exact spot. Later, sometimes hours or days, a tragedy would occur leaving someone or maybe even many people dead at the exact spot from which the Ghostlight had generated. Fishermen often saw the light over the sea only to learn later that a boat would sink at that exact spot where they had seen the Ghostlight.
As I’ve said, Ghosts in the main are carriers of messages often carrying word of their own deaths to those nearest and dearest to them. There are many recorded stories, perhaps every family in Ireland could relate one, of someone seeing a close friend or relative when that friend should be miles away or maybe in hospital, only to learn later that at the precise time they saw the figure that friend had died, be it in America, the other side of town or simply in a room upstairs.
One such incident happened to a woman in Baker Street, in the Belfast Old Pound Loney in the 1950’s as she sat knitting in the kitchen of her home.
She just glanced at the foot of the stairs and there stood her favourite brother, Tom, who lived in Coventry, England, he looked well and happy and smiled in a most pleasant way at her. The woman rubbed her eyes and looked at the clock on the mantelpiece and saw it read 4.45 pm, looking back at the stairs the figure had gone disappeared,“I’m seeing. things, I’ve been knitting too long’. She got up and made herself a cup of tea and soon forgot about the appearance.
The following morning a Telegram boy arrived at her door on his red motorcycle, a familiar sight in Belfast in those days, and handed her a Telegram her brother Tom’s wife had sent in which she as informed that Tom had been killed in an accident at work the previous day. Later, when she arrived in Coventry for the funeral, she learned to her amazement that Tom had died at 4.45 pm ... the exact time that she had seen his Ghost in the kitchen of her home ... he had come to say his good to his favourite sister!