Sunday, March 4, 2018

Dublin: A Darker Shade of Green

Baile Átha Cliath, or Dublin, as it is more commonly known, is the capital and largest city in Ireland. The earliest habitation dates to prehistoric times, but Ptolemy wrote about a settlement at Dublin Bay as far back as 140 CE. A permanent settlement has existed here in one form or another since the 600s and has been home to Celts, Norse, and Anglo-Normans.

Originally, Dublin Castle was the site of a Danish Viking fortress (portions of which still exist as the castle's under croft) built around 930 CE in the settlement known as Dyflinn. When King Brian Boru overthrew the Viking occupation in 1014, the site was ruled by the Irish until 1169 when the Norman Invasion reached the shores of Ireland. In 1171, England's King Henry II invaded in support of the Norman Earl, Strongbow. In 1204, King John of England had a larger, more imposing castle erected on the site. From here, English rule was imposed and the heads of those who dared conquer its walls were frequently displayed to discourage any further incursions. According to witnesses, some of those deceased invaders do not rest quietly. A fire in 1684 gutted much of the castle and the resultant rebuild is largely what we see today.

Around the mid-1800s, a member of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland's staff witnessed two ghosts walking through his office, chatting with each other, but seemingly oblivious to him. The pair then walked right through a door that had long ago been sealed off. Other workers in the Castle have reported similar over the years. In 1955, it was reported that guards were harassed by a mischievous spirit that turned lights on and off. One guard in particular was awakened by the flickering lights to hear the sound of someone shoveling coal in the kitchen. However, when he went to investigate, the coal shovel was unmoved, there was no coal in stock, and the fire had nearly died. An elderly woman who refused to renounce her faith was imprisoned in the castle dungeon and left to starve. It is said she still haunts the ancient pile, her mournful wails echoing across time. Another prisoner starved to death was Roger de Fynglas who was imprisoned in 1316 and, as some will attest, remains there still. Hero of the Irish Rebellion, James Connolly may have been executed at the equally haunted Kilmainham Gaol, but his spirit is also tied to the castle where he was imprisoned prior to his sentencing.

A church has, in various incarnations, existed at the site of St. Michan's in Dublin since 1095 when it served the Viking community. Its current form dates to 1686. While possessing a modest, almost negligible façade (in fact, many visitors pass it up to see the more popular St. Patrick's and Christ Church cathedrals), it is the ancient Viking undercroft that makes St. Michan's a Dublin must-see. These vaults, used as crypts for centuries, are not a big budget tourist attraction with fancy light shows and paved floors. It's quite nearly something straight out of a horror movie: Sickly bulbs make desperate attempts to reach into the darkness of the centuries to illuminate rough hewn limestone masonry, fringed in cobwebs, that slowly crumbles with the weight of age. A mantle of dust clings thickly over every surface, kicked up from the bare earthen floor or a long narrow passageway. All along this hall, on either side, the openings to small low crypts can be found. Some are gated with ancient wrought iron, others were bricked up, but almost all of them have over time crumbled open to reveal the many coffins stacked inside like cordwood. More than a few of these have rotted apart to reveal the desiccated husks of what makes these vaults so famous. The mummies of St. Michan's. The cave-like conditions of the limestone crypt have created an ideal situation for the preservation of the dead. In these vaults, you'll find some interesting characters. While some residents--like the Earls of Leitrim or the Sheares brothers, famous for their role in the 1798 rebellion--have well known stories, others are complete enigmas. There is a woman dubbed The Nun, a 6.5' fellow believed to be a crusader who was so tall he had to forced to fit into the tiny coffin, another gentleman missing some appendages thought to be a thief, and many more who are simply unknown. And the crypts go back even further than one can walk. The corridor becomes bisected by debris halfway down and many more mysteries likely linger beyond in the dark and the death. Myriad ancient gravestones litter the churchyard above, seemingly laid out haphazardly and listing with age. Among these can be found the grave of Bram Stoker's mother. Many believe that the Irish-born author of Dracula was inspired by the church and its haunting crypt when writing that famous novel of Gothic horror. The church is also home to the death mask of famous Irish revolutionary, Theobald Wolfe Tone. It was also at St. Michan's that Handel practiced his most famous work, "Messiah." One woman and her mother visited in the Summer of 2010 and heard a whispering coming from the unexcavated end of the crypts. She wasn't the first to report these phantom murmurs. Others have experienced this as well as the touch of unseen hands.

Speaking of Dracula, you can visit author Bram Stoker's home at 30 Kildare Street. I couldn't find anything about it, but I just bet it's got to have a ghost or two.

Kilmainham Gaol Prison was, like so many prisons, a place of death and despair. Several famous Irish rebels were executed here, including James Connolly. The prison was built in 1796 and shut down in 1924. It's now a museum. During renovations in the 1960s, workers claimed to hear the sound of phantom footsteps. There have also been reports of unexplained knockings on doors. Glowing lights have been seen in windows at night, long after the building has closed.

The first church on this site of Christ Church Cathedral was a wooden one built in 1038 CE by the Hiberno-Norse King Sitriuc Silkenbeard and Dúnán, first Bishop of Dublin. Later, the larger stone structure we are now more familiar with began to take shape. In 1890 the Ipswich Journal reported the sighting of "grey monks in vaporous gowns and cowls" near the ruins of the old Chapter House. According to the report, the spectacle reoccurred for several nights and was witnessesed by many. Sir Samuel Auchmuty reportedly died after a swarm of rats attacked him in the cathedral's crypt in 1822. A similar version of this tale involves an 18th century British officer who had attended a funeral at the church when he was accidentally locked in the crypt where he died. His body wasn't found for weeks, but over the years some claimed to have heard the ghostly sound of someone bangng on the crypt doors and crying out for help. 
An eternal game of cat and mouse

Tomb of Strongbow
It is the final resting place of Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke (aka "Strongbow") who died in 1176. In its crypt, you can see an array of tombs, relics, and an odd pair of mummified remains: a cat and a rat. The story goes that the cat chased the rat into the church organ where they both became trapped, died, and eventually desiccated. Author James Joyce used the pair as a simile in his famed work "Finnegan's Wake." There are also wooden stocks dating to the 1600s that were used to punish criminals. It was also home to a unique reliquary: The heart of Lorcán Ua Tuathail (Saint Laurence O'Toole, Archbishop of Dublin who died in 1180 CE). However, it was stolen from the cathedral on 3 March 2012, which seems odd given all the far more valuable items that could have been pilfered with less effort. So, why a the heart of a Catholic Saint? 

Dublin's oldest pub, The Brazen Head, dates to 1198 and  is reputedly the everlasting home of Irish revolutionary, Robert Emmet, who kept rooms in this public house as a base for his resistance movement. He was hanged and behedaded just up the hill from the pub where he famously requested that his grave be left unmarked until such time as Ireland was independent.

St. Patrick's Cathedral--The ghost of Narcissus Marsh (1638-1713), Protestant Archbishop of Dublin, still haunts his library in the Cathedral close, according to legend. There's an attendant--and tissue thin--explanation for his apperance, involving the heartbreak of a niece that eloped. It doesn't sound plausible. While Marsh may not have his niece, he is not alone in the vicinty of St. Patrick's Cathedral. Here, if you're lucky, you can catch a fleeting glimpse of famed Anglo-Irish author Jonathan Swift and his wife, Stella. Swift served as Cleric at St. Patrick's. You might catch sight of balladeer Michael Moran who went by the name of Zozimus in singing his folk ballads. Some say he still does, 172 years later. The most famous spirit haunting St. Patrick's Cathedral, however, is a specrtal black dog. Legend tells that after a ship wrecked along the coast, the captain's dog joined the men searching for survivors. When the captain's body was found, the dog followed the funeral procession to St. Patrick's where he remained until he perished himself from grief. Since then the black dog's ghost remains bound to the grave of his master.

Trinity College Library, home to the
Book of Kells and the Brian Boru Harp
Bell Tower in Front Square
Trinity College has a storied tradition of excellence and houses several national treasures. In 1999, during construction of an addition to the Berkely Library at Trinity College, a mass grave of dismembered (mostly*) human remains were found dating to the 18th century. It is believed these were the remnants of cadavers dissected by medical students. Until the 1830 Anatomy Act, it was problematic to procure cadavers for study. There were men, however, known as "Sack-em-ups" who could find you bodies for a fee. Darkly, many of these cadavers came from men, women, and children who were murdered for the sole purpose of selling their bodies. It is also claimed that Dr. Samuel Crossey, head of the Medical School, was known for personally obtaining such specimens. It is claimed that two students disappeared under mysterious circumstances during his nocturnal hunts for specimens. Reports of Dr. Crossey's ghost being spotted walking the campus late at night surface from time to time. Ghosts also haunt the University's Long Room library (home to two national treasures: The Brian Boru harp and the Book of Kells), the Rubrics building, and the New Sports Hall, according to campus gossip. One notable tale is that of Edward Ford whose ghost stalks The Rubrics building. It is said that after a group of pranking students threw rocks at his window late on the night of March 7, 1734, he grabbed his gun and fired at the assembly. No one was hurt, but the angered students gathered guns themselves and later returned for revenge. Ford was killed in the hail of gunfire. His final words were in response to the question of who shot him: "I do not know, but God forgive them. I do." Even today, reports surface of those who have witnessed a man in 18th century attire wandering about the Rubrics at night. It's said that any student hapless enough to wander beneath the iconic bell tower in Trinity College's Front Square as it chimes will fail his or her exams. At a side entrance to the College, the Nassau Street sign has an Irish translation of “Sráid Thobar Phádraig," or Street of St. Patrick's Well. According to the tales, just beneath the left hand pillar of this entrance is where St. Patrick first baptized his early converts.
*There were, oddly, camel bones found as well.

Shelbourne Hotel--Founded in 1824 when a group of townhouses was consolidated, the five-star Shelbourne Hotel sits adjacent to the lovely expanse of St. Stephen's Green. Famed ghost hunter, Hanz Holzer, and his psychic wife, Sybil Leek, encountered the ghost of a little girl named Mary Masters when they stayed in a room on the top floor of the hotel in 1965. Holzer's investgation revealed that the girl died around 1846.

Across the street, St. Stephen's Green was once home to a leper colony as well as public hangings. Spirits of both wander its verdant expanse to this day.

Collins Barracks, known as Dún Uí Choileáin in the Irish, is a former military barracks in the Arbour Hill area of Dublin, Ireland.The buildings are now the National Museum of Ireland – Decorative Arts and History. According to some museum staff, it is also haunted. The WWI soldier, known only as "the Quartermaster" silently wanders the halls of the east wing.

Glasnevin Cemetery, which makes an appearance in the famous novel Ulysses is home to approximately a million graves that were often a target of Trinity College's efforts to gain cadavers for study. In fact, the cemetery has an unusual feature: a watchtower to keep a vigilant eye on the rest of the departed interred here. But not all is quiet in the ancient cemetery, and ghost tales abound. Nearby, a pub known as The Gravediggers is said to be haunted as well.

Also see: The Hellfire Club

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