In a way, you could say that I own a rug from a haunted house.
Of course, it’s not quite that simple. Rather than the bloodstained memento of a deranged slayer’s rampage, it’s a nifty little black number that was new when I bought it. And the house wasn’t really a house – in fact, in a way, it never was. But the haunting? Well, that one you can decide for yourself.
Ballyshannon is a town with its fair share of local legends. There is an island nearby, Inis Saimer, that is mythically supposed to be the place where the second group of people in Ireland (and the first to manage to permanently settle) arrived in 2700BC. They were led by a Scythian chieftain named Parthalon, who is supposed to have named the island after his wife Dealgnait’s dog, which he killed in a fit of jealousy.
Of course, the town has more reason than most to be haunted. Workmen doing some exploratory digging for a bypass of the town in 2003 were doubtless somewhat disturbed when they found a skeleton in one of their holes. Naturally they called the police, but they soon determined that this was a case where the trail had definitely gone cold. The skeleton was, in fact, of 13th century vintage – and he wasn’t alone. In total, over 1,000 sets of skeletal remains were found in what turned out to be a medieval church and graveyard, which was later determined from examining medieval texts to have been called Ballyhanna. Coins found in some of the graves bore the head of Edward I, who regined from 1272-1307. The find proved of immense value to archaeologists, who were able to learn a great deal about both the burial customs of the time, and even gain insight into rare genetic conditions that still plague us to this day. As to why the graveyard was lost, well the last record of the ruined medieval church in the area dates to the 17th century, and shortly after that the land was granted to a family called the Folliots, who landscaped the area and may have demolished the church to provide stone for their family house. The house is also gone, burned down in the 1920s. As for the Folliots? Well, they may have a tie to the most famous haunted building in Ballyshannon – which is where we get back to my rug.
The building in question is the old Army Barracks, which in the 19th century were the sight of a haunting that was reported, for some reason, by the Canadian newspapers. The story is that of the mysterious Green Lady seen in the building. Some stories have her as the wife of a British officer, murdered there, but the version that was printed in the papers say that she was a daughter of an old general named Folliard, which has been linked to the Folliots – especially as they were granted their land in Ballyshannon for their military service. The story has it that one day she spoke to a young soldier named Edward Finlay, asking him if he would abandon the military for her love. He agreed, and she said that she would see that he was delivered from service the next day. The unfortunate Finlay, however, was seized by a jealous superior who had him executed for planning desertion. As he was killed by the firing squad, the Green Lady appeared above his corpse, prompting her father the General (who was overseeing proceedings) to cry out in fright, as she had died the month before. The ghost bore the corpse over the nearby waterfall, where it was never seen again – except in the distance, by fishermen, dancing on the surface of the water with his green-clad bride.
The Green Lady was not the only ghost associated with the old barracks, however. In 1793, a young captain named Robert Stewart (who later became Lord Castlereagh) stayed in the old barracks in Ballyshannon. The story he later told to Sir Walter Scott, from whom we get the tale, is that he woke in the middle of the night, and lay watching the dying embers of the fire at the far end of the room. Suddenly the fire blazed up, and from it stepped the glowing figure of a small boy. As he walked slowly towards Captain Stewart, he gradually grew in size, until, in the words of Scott’s biographer John Gibson Lockhart “on coming within two or three paces of his bed, it had assumed the appearance of a ghastly giant, pale as death, with a bleeding wound on the brow, and eyes glaring with rage and despair”. The captain jumped out of bed to face the figure, at which point it withdrew back, diminishing in size, and eventually vanished back into the embers. Lord Castlereagh would go on to become a senior government minister, who helped to defeat Napoleon and was key in the Congress of Vienna, that led to peace in Europe for decades. He was blamed, however for the Peterloo Massacre where cavalry with drawn sabres charged a crowd who were demonstrating for universal suffrage. It was because of this that Shelley wrote, in his poem The Masque of Anarchy “I met Murder on the way. He had a face like Castlereagh.” Perhaps it was this weight of public criticism that led to his mental breakdown and death, though some, like Scott, remembered the tale he told of the Radiant Boy and wondered. The story inspired William Allingham, a poet who was born in the town, to write a poem called the Goblin Child of Ballyshannon.
But how, you ask, does this lead back to my rug? The answer is simple. The old barracks were well-constructed, and in fact they are still standing, and in use, today. Half of them consist of a restaurant and pub (where I’m told spirits have been sighted), and the other half into a carpet and furniture shop. And that’s where I bought my rug.
Proof, therefore, that everywhere from stories of times long gone is still a place in the world today. There are more tales of Ballyshannon to be told, but those are for another day.