Cavan ghost stories

By Brendan Murray

Like one, that on a lonesome road
Doth walk in fear and dread,
And having once turn’d round, walk on,
And turns no more his head;
Because he knows a frightful fiend
Doth close behind him tread.


Cavan had its share of haunted houses when we were youngsters. They were usually old dilapidated mansions; relics of the past; like the house at Shinning Wood in the Parish of Killann, where a room was permanently locked; never occupied; reputedly, because it was haunted by some frightful fiend and it was said that if you listened as you passed its huge black iron gates you could hear the dragging of big heavy chains across the room by this fiend. Needless to say, we children didn’t tarry as we passed and if the gates happened to rattle we ran like the clappers.

In the 1940’s long before the advent of TV and sophisticated multimedia entertainment, my mother often read to us a ghost story by “Kitty the Hare” from one of the weekly issues of “Ireland’s Own”. These stories were very scary, particularly during the long dark nights of winter when we huddled around the kitchen fire listening spellbound to detailed accounts of paranormal incidents. There was an air of authenticity about these stories, which usually commenced with the words “God Bless the Hearers”, the detailing of paranormal events were always prefixed by the exclamation “God between us and all harm but what next was”. This comment alarmed us so much that we would put our hands over our ears in anticipated panic. The stories ended with Kitty’s promise to have another equally true and frightening story for us in the following week’s issue.

Our mother, seeing our hypnotised state of near panic would always say, “now children that story is the Gospel truth that never happened.” We would all laugh, relieved that it was only a story, a figment of Kitty the Hare’s imagination and to our mother’s relief we would gladly escape to the comfort of our beds.

In those days Cavan people seldom spoke about ghosts. If anybody mentioned some local incident connected with the paranormal the conversation was discreetly changed, especially if children were within earshot. The reason for this was because such incidents were true and perhaps witnessed by one of the listeners or a near relative; in other words these incidents were serious matters of fact, which occurred not only during the hours of darkness but during daylight hours as well. Nobody wished to talk about them; they were not stories to be lightly told for the purpose of entertainment.

Cavan people, in those days regarded ghosts as the souls of the deer departed serving out their time on earth for some purpose or other; perhaps, they were souls of those who died during the famine from starvation or drowned in the coffin ships bound for America - some of the three and a half million people who made up the decline in Ireland’s population during the hundred years prior to 1946 when the population of our Ulster counties fell from 740,000 to 264,000 people. We should not forget that up to the early 1950s, a prayer in Latin known as the ‘de profundus,’ commencing with the words “De profundis clamati ad te, Domine” (“Out of the depths we cry to thee O’Lord”) was said in Ireland daily after mass for these poor souls.

The following are details of two ghostly incidences, which occurred in East Cavan in the last century and no doubt were manifestations of the dear departed.

During 1946 our family moved to a large rented house in east Cavan. Early one morning, my four-year old sister awoke in bed crying loudly and my mother immediately ran to pacify her. My sister was very frightened and she explained that she had seen a woman standing beside the front window of the bedroom, which faced the public roadway. Eventually, my mother convinced her that she had been dreaming.

About six months later my older sister, then 15, was one morning lying fully awake in bed in the same room; the door of the room was open and she saw a women enter from the dark corridor to the room and stand beside the bed looking across towards the room’s front window. My sister assumed the person was mother and looked up to speak to her. She was startled to see a strange woman. She immediately covered her head with the bed clothes and convinced herself she was imagining things. After a few minutes she looked again. The woman was now standing near the window; my sister screamed and again hid under the bedclothes. Our father who was downstairs at the time came running to see what was wrong; the lady had vanished; he pacified my sister; told her she would sleep in another room in future and he made her promise not to tell anybody about the incident, especially her younger sister.

Years later, both sisters compared their recollections of that ghostly lady. Their recollections were similar; the lady was 20 to 30 years of age, of average height, beautiful but had very tired features as if she was waiting a long, long time. She wore a purple tight-sleeved blouse and long dark skirt; her hair was swept upwards to a bun on top. She had a green scarf tied low around her head and her complexion was dark enough to be considered foreign, like a native of India. The question is “why was she there and so interested in the window.” Was she missing the children of the previous occupier whose ancestors owned the property? These children often passed by the house or was she waiting for a long lost lover? We can only speculate!

One evening in the year 1893 Mrs O’Reilly filled her bucket with water from the well a short distance up from the shore of Loch Sillan and as she turned she saw three men standing under one of the old nearby threes. They were dressed in old fashion clothes, which was not too uncommon at that time. She did not recognise them but she saluted them as she passed saying “Grand evening men; I didn’t see you in the shadows there on my way to the well.” Then surmising that they were waiting for someone she added “Ye look tired men; are ye waiting there long?” One of them replied “Yes, Mrs O’Reilly we’ve been waiting here a long time now.” Surprised that they knew her name and thinking that they might be friends of her husband she invited them up to the house for a cup of tea. “Thank you kindly Mrs”, one of them replied and he added “but we can’t leave this spot; we have to wait here until your son becomes a Bishop.” Thinking that they were joking she replied “sure myself and himself are not long married; we have no children yet, and anyway, we have only a small holding, and could never afford the education.” She knew from their solemn expressions that they were not joking. She suddenly realised that they were not of this world. She bid them “God Bless” and hurried home.

Years later, in the summer of 1944, our local curate, Rev. Father Connolly announced at Sunday mass that the 11am mass on the following Sunday would be said by the recently appointed Bishop of Saint George’s Newfoundland, Bishop Michael O’Reilly, a native of the parish. He said that it would be a great day of celebration for the parish.

As a small boy in my scout’s uniform I took part in the parade which marched up the Cootehill Road proudly led by a pipe band and included the local brigades of the LDF, the LSF and Red Cross followed by Bishop O’Reilly. The parade turned down the Cavan road to our church. In a welcoming speech Rev. Connolly said that he and the Bishop were old friends; in the scholarship examination for entry to St. Patrick’s College, Bishop O’Reilly had come first and he an “unworthy” second. He said that the bishop was among the youngest appointed to that high office and the very long wait for the parish to produce a Bishop was well worthwhile.

Yes, it was a long long wait for the three men standing under the tree near the well along the banks of Loch Sillan.

Taken from Breffni Blue
April 2003