Haunted Halloween history tour
The rectory and the old church of St Lurachs
Ladies and gentlemen I would like to welcome you to the Haunted Halloween history tour; we will be walking around some of the town’s haunted sites. And we ask ourselves what are ghost stories, I’ve always told myself they are a combination of three things, firstly they are a automatic memory reflex of the past generations they are also nostalgic and thirdly a very old method of keeping people away from a site or property.
They quicken the pulse and speed up ones reactions, they make you believe that there are things there that do not really exist, (or do they)
Here at the old church of St Lurach you will notice which is in walking distance from the old rectory. Both in history have been subject to many ghost stories and grisly tales.
The rectory has I’d say about four of five old ghost stories attached to it, so firstly here is the story about a mysterious man on horse back.
A few years ago while walking down main st, to collect his car from the rectory the curate John Watson, noticed a man on horseback riding down the main st he kept on going not speaking a word. Until eventually he passed the church of Ireland and turned into the rectory gates, but fog and the late vale of night prevented him from seeing any more of the horseman, the odd thing he did notice was that he had his hands behind his back and never took then towards the Mane to control the horse at any time.
And passing no remarks he headed to the hotel and spoke to Mrs. Murphy, who was one of the Walsh’s, Mrs. Murphy told john “I know what you have seen, it’s the ghost of Watty Graham, you see he was taken down main street on horseback with his hands tied behind his back and in through the rectory gates where he was hanged from a tree. Now legend has it that this was a sign that someone had died within the old town land of Maghera.
The next day he met the rector and asked him about his late caller who was on horseback, to which the rector replied “I didn’t have any but there was a bit of trouble an old lady took ill and a ambulance had to be called, the lady became so ill the ambulance had to stop where unfortunately the old lady died. He asked the rector where the ambulance had stopped out of interest, to which the rector replied, “just before the old mullagh bridge, on the road out of maghera”.
Thinking to himself just within the old boundary of the townland of Maghera.
The other story connected to the old rectory is about the rev. Spencer Knox, who was rector of Maghera from around 1816 to the 1830s.
Legend has it that the rev Knox still haunts the grounds of the old rectory, and on a moonlit night you can see his spirit, some have witnessed the bizarre sight, which has been described as a black cloak and boots with red leather trim one of the distinctive marks that you will probably know that its him. Also the fact that he’s looking for his head will draw one to this conclusion.
The Bloodied woman, it is believed that in around the years 1825-1830 a terrible murder occurred.
A widow named Porter was on her path home when she was attacked and murdered in a shrubbery adjoining the old churchyard; unfortunately her young child of eight witnessed the whole ordeal.
And it is said that she is the woman in white that can be seen and is often spoken off among the older generation.
As light hearted as this may seem, there has been dozens of sightings of this apparition dating from the 1880’s right through to the 70’s and 80’s , taking aside from this many people who seen the ghost were in good health did not take a drink and were intelligent well educated people.
The old church as we know has a exciting and varied history which sends the imagination spiraling with old tails, as in reality this old monastic centers is one of the oldest early Christian sites in Ireland.
You see you have to keep this fact in mind before we start. If you scan the ruins of the old church, the weathered stones that softly lie and moss and old cement hold together, the church yard, gothic in its appearance stand looking forward confidently, knowing a turn of head is all it has to do to look back over the years. The structure of the old church itself out of shape, conclave and in parts off side and offset to the other parts of the old church. The different building methods employed over the years, from medieval to Elizabethan right up to 18 century building techniques, which can be noticed if you look closely at the structure. Finally the old tower built from a earlier smaller structure. One of the oldest associated ghost stories is about a figure only seen during the early morning, from what I have been told he wore a monk’s habit and was hurrying quickly to an unknown location, always seen in the one place hurrying into the graveyard then disappearing. You see in 831 AD. Rath Luraigh fell to the Norsemen from what we know all were killed by the Vikings, an old theory is that the tunnels in the graveyard were built as an escape route for the monks, and this poor individual was cut down before he made it to the entrance of the tunnel.
So children he runs once a year to make it to safety but in a vicious circle relives his tragedy over and over and over.
The white woman, as she is known I believe is associated with the old rath upon which lurachs first church was built and out of coincidence this town is named, seen very rarely but when she is, she’s noticed, white hair running to her waist and a deathly completion whiter that the newest linen, eyes electric blue even her description runs cold shivers down my back. I first heard this story from a old man on the street where I grew up, this tale in my own opinion is the scariest I have ever heard, you see most of the old tales that you will hear have a western essence to them, this particular one runs straight from the core of an ancient Celtic myth, seen mostly in or around the plantation, though according to the story she is not locked to this one location and can be found relatively anywhere in the locality. The banshee or wailing spirit though to be the spirit of a wife of soldier who never returns, thus keeping her in a constant state of turmoil. Weather with the pointing of the comb or the other variant of being able to turn into an animal at will, letting those with the last name of Mc or o’ aware that a love one is about to die.
the plantation and fairhill and dead lane.
As we look out of the old church we see the old dead lane where on a foggy night a single pallbearer can be seen walking towards the church with hat respectfully held under his arm, all things fine and well, one hast to ask the question? Why at night, until you relies that the last burial was carried out over 38 years ago, and what you are seeing is the ghost of the long dead undertaker leading a funeral into the old church of st. lurachs on a cold foggy night, where only a glimpse of the moon can be seen.
The coach road that runs through the plantation, believe it or not is where most of the old tails originate, the one that holds most frightening to me is the tail that my mother told me when I was very young was about the headless coachman, like the story of rev Knox, the coachman bears many similarities. It is said that he can be mounted on a horse or dismounted on foot a great many people have heard of this tale and have seen the coachman themselves, while out one night I myself sneaked out of the house to go camping with my friends they were camped on the other side of the forest on the old Milltown road heading out of maghera, wanting to get to them quickly I knew the fastest way there would be through the plantation, the only problem with this was it was 2 o’clock in the morning so I took the bit in my mouth and walked into the plantation. Three minutes I told myself, that’s all it would take, there was a full moon that night and the path would be partly lit. I walked through the first part of the trail where it bends then heads for the old bridge my nerves were on edge and the environment seemed to be closing in on me, when I got to the bridge I heard a crack behind me, turning I saw in the tree line a figure with a coachman’s jacket boots and no head, strangely I stood for what seemed a few minutes but in fact was probably ten seconds , something went off in my head and I ran fast-faster than any other time in my life, the campsite I recon was three quarters of a mile and I made it I’d say in under a minute, I spent the rest of the night hunkered up at the back of the tent until daylight broke surrounded by all my friends.
And I’d like to say that I’ve never experienced fear like that, since that moment.
During my research I discovered that in the 1740s a clerk working for the vintner’s co. went missing while going through a plantation close to the town of maghera.
So ladies and gentlemen there are many possibilities for this story. As we walk out onto the tobermore road we will head back into the town, first stopping at the junction hinged between Hall Street and fairhill.
Fairhill is steeped in old ghost stories, one that comes to mind is the old tale about the redcoat sentry, during the year of 1823 the old mill on the hill formally jonnie tailors was converted into a military barracks for one hundred foot soldiers, the dragons were called to maghera after a disturbance in the town which left four people dead and many others injured.
One of the soldiers was an aged man and while on sentry duty dropped dead, now the details on this one are sketchy and a lot has been lost to history and time but the story of many a one coming home from a night out has been disturbed by the steps of the redcoat can still be heard along with the challenge “ who goes there” the voice has been heard many time’s but the ghost of the Scotsman has only been seen twice in the last hundred years in the 20s and the 50s , the old man who conveyed the banshee story told me what happened, it was about 1100 o’clock at night and the mist heavy on the ground the day had been a long hot one so that in turn could account for the heavy mist. old jimmy walked through the mist on his way home and tattling along slowly when all of a sudden he heard heavy footsteps and in a short distance he could make out what seemed to be someone dressed in 1800s military redcoat uniform with gun sloped, when he got closer jimmy panicked, shouting his challenge “halt, friend or foe” the soldier took his rifle down and started to run towards jimmy. Attaching his bayonet as he went jimmy went back into the mist and could hear the soldier advance, the noise got louder and louder until poor jimmy backed out of the fog looking back the only thing that he could see was the mist was clearing, and the soldier kept coming only to be blown away with a gust of wind that had come along, distorting and disembodying his form until all their was. Was the deadly silence of the fog?
So ladies and gentlemen a walk up fairhill for one man was never the same.
the thirteen step courthouse
Not far from the fairhill there lies the old thirteen step courthouse, more stories from this part of town include the faces on the wall.
The older generation believed that if you walked down the old courthouse lane, there were two things that you were certain to see one was the prison cart late at night and the image of a beautiful young woman on the wall. The prison cart was black with bars as windows, with a driver who never stopped or talked, he always wore a heavy black coat that covered his head and neck. Meaning that the only thing that could be seen where his eyes that shone dull red, the lady on the wall was the good part of the story because she always smiled as you passed and when you looked back she was gone.
The main street of maghera is one of the oldest in Ireland and has a great deal of spirits and ghouls, the main street was at one time linked to the old Derry road and many stories come from it especially the old tail of the carriage of death, seen by many. black and red were its colours and the lanterns burned red, steam came from the team of horses that drove it. Legend has it that this particular form of transport was for the old Irish Gaelic family’s who were on the brink of passing away. The coach would reach it’s destination and leave with the spirit of the man or woman. Many people have passed this rare sight only to find it gone in their rear view mirror.
Main Street has its fair share of ghost stories, one building has always been a hub of supernatural occurrences, (Victoria House)
Victoria House, or Maghera House as it was formally known was built I believe sometime in the 1650s, being brought up in this splendid house I am in the perfect position to convey just how scary it could be at night, from voices to chains and from the pacing of the man walled up in his room here is a story from the twenties.
This incident was recorded in court documents.
In the twenties when the state was just being established, the A specials were stationed in Victoria house.
Sam little ran a business that did very well, such as grain and furniture his other outlet was I believe was a grocery shop. He retired early and went to live in Dublin, at this point Victoria house was occupied by the A specials.
One night in the yard a sentry by the name of Jimmy pepper who was a sergeant, was making his rounds when suddenly he came across a shadowy figure which was walking across the yard. Jimmy challenged him, “stop or I fire.” But the figure kept advancing, jimmy raised his rifle but suddenly the gun was thrown from his hands, as his weapon hit the ground it discharged and the rest of the men came out to see what the commotion was about.
His commanding officer seeing that Jimmy was lying beside his rifle made his own mind up about the array and placed Jimmy on a charge for dereliction of duty.
He quickly relayed his story about what had happened and the yard and property were thoroughly searched resulting in no person being found as well as the fact that all the gates and doors were bolted and locked.
Following this jimmy was given the news that he was to be court marshaled for dereliction of duty.
At his courts marshal he read his defense. And explained to everyone gathered about what he had seen, he was wearing a smoking jacket and it was accompanied by a smoking hat.
Also his height and build, as the panel were discussing what penalty jimmy was to receive. The doctor marshal the Presbyterian minister in Maghera at that time approached the bar and told them that what he had seen was the double of Sam Little the merchant who had formally owned Victoria house. On hearing this they suspected foul play and sent to Dublin for news of Sam Little. The next day they were given the news that Sam little had dropped dead at the exact time that Jimmy had seen the dark figure.
Believe it or not the disciplinary panel exonerated jimmy, because of the lack of material evidence and the possibility that he may have seen an apparition Jimmy was set free.
Sam little still walks the courtyard of Victoria house to this day.
I got this extract from a radio talk show which was given to me; it was possibly made in the late 80s or early 90s.
An other ghost was the young boy who was run over by a cart who was said to walk the yard, back and forth at night.
And so ladies and gentlemen this concludes the scary tales of the town of maghera.