Discover the darker side of Cork with this collection of spine-chilling tales from Darren Mann’s book Haunted Cork.
County Cork’s paranormal occupants first caught my eye after reading a survey carried out by AA Ireland. The report stated that 15.5 per cent of people from Cork claimed to have seen a ghost, more than any other county in Ireland. The more I researched County Cork, the more paranormal occurrences I discovered. There were sea and lake monsters, road ghosts, haunted houses, witchcraft and demonic hounds of hell.
County Cork’s diversity of supernatural entities should not be underestimated. So do I believe all the stories in this book? Of course not. Even for tales of the paranormal, some of the anecdotes in these pages are pretty strange. Some of these stories are popular and are still shared over a pint of local brew. A few are old and have been almost forgotten. Others are published here for the first time. Regardless of whether you or I believe the tales, just remember that reality is subjective, and someone, somewhere, at some point in time took these stories as canon.
No matter where I wandered in Cork, I was never far from a site of historical or cultural significance. Any concerns I had about being an outsider quickly vanished. I never felt more at home as I wandered the streets of Cork armed with a camera and dictaphone. With a little digging and guidance from new-found friends, some of Cork’s many ghost stories came to light.
The Franciscan Well
Most people whom I spoke to in the city could name three or four places reputed to be haunted. The Franciscan Well pub and brewery was probably the most common which cropped up in conversation.
The Franciscan Well made the local press in the late 1990s when the landlord reported experiencing several strange events. These included intense cold spots, the sound of disembodied footsteps, doors which were opened and closed by an unseen hand, and inanimate objects which became capable of self-propulsion.
As the site of the public house was once the location of a thirteenth-century monastery, the ghostly presence was assumed to be a monk. A priest was called in to bless the pub when the haunting became too tiresome for the owner to bear. Normality soon returned… or did it?
Shane of the Franciscan Well said that he had encountered nothing out of the ordinary over the past twelve years. However some of the staff still believed something strange frequented the pub. As well as those doors which continued to be pushed by unseen hands, chains have been heard rattling as staff lock up for the night. Perhaps these are echoes from 700 years ago when the monks drew water from their well?
Cork City Gaol
The city gaol at Sunday’s Well opened in 1824 and was active for ninety-nine years. The building was originally a mixed-sex prison, although it later became used for women only. It is now a heritage centre. The friendliness and approachability of the staff contrasts sharply with the awful conditions which the building once concealed.
Walking around the gaol, one can almost feel the suffering which occurred here. Some believe that former occupants have found it difficult to leave. People living around Sunday’s Well have always maintained that the gaol was ‘haunted’, although I’ve found this term liberally applied to any old building which has fallen into disuse.
In this instance, however, the rumours appear to be correct. Even during the initial restoration of the site, project staff became aware that something a little weird was present. Men’s voices were heard coming from the room next door, but if investigated no one could be found. Electrical items would be turned off and on or even moved from place to place, as if a curious child wanted to play with the equipment. The phantom child hypothesis also accounts for a brief encounter when someone felt a tug on their jacket, similar to the actions of a youngster trying to attract attention. There have also been manifestations of phantom women.
The apparitions don’t seem overly choosy as to when they appear, as they are seen both day and night. The women are tall and thin, dressed in smart eighteenth-century attire. They always avoid eye-contact with the living, perhaps oblivious to their presence. The figures normally disappear into the walls.
I talked with one female member of staff who may have experienced the passing of one of these ghostly ladies. While alone in the AV room of the gaol, the witness heard a gentle swoosh similar to the sound of a long dress just behind her and felt the material brush the back of her leg. Elizabeth Kearns, manager of the gaol, is very straightforward and honest about the haunting. She does not promote or exploit the presences that she and the staff have come to coexist with. ‘These spirits were in here before we were,’ Elizabeth says, ‘therefore we give due respect to them and do not interfere. Similarly, they do not interfere with us – we have not experienced anything sinister.’
The Flooded Kingdom
The lake in Cork Lough Park takes centre-stage in a short tale that’s part legend and part haunting. It begins hundreds of years ago when the area was ruled by a king who had but a single daughter. The king’s lands stretched all around the area, but his glorious keep stood in the middle of what is now the park. Next to his keep, a single well had been dug. The contents were said to be so refreshing that people came from miles around to partake of its water. The king was happy for his people to drink from the well, and everyone loved their leader for it.
Unfortunately the king’s generosity was not to last. At his daughter’s eighteenth birthday party, the king announced that he had constructed a hut over the well, preventing access to anyone but the princess. The king claimed that the water was so special that only children of royal blood could drink it.
The selfishness of the act upset a powerful supernatural entity, for when the princess first visited the well to draw water for a few of her party guests, the water flooded out with the force of a tsunami. The torrent drowned all the partygoers and completely submerged the kingdom. When the water receded several days later the keep had vanished, replaced by the small lake that exists today.
It has been claimed that on some evenings the sounds of the final birthday party can be heard emerging from the lough, the guests unaware that they died centuries ago.
The River Lee Maid
The River Lee is some fifty-six miles long, passing through the centre of Cork where it splits in two for a short distance, the island forming the city’s centre. The river is the setting for a story documented by Peter Underwood, the man who was called ‘The Sherlock Holmes of Psychic Research’ by the daughter of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Underwood had heard the story from another paranormal author, Elliot O’Donnell, who claimed his grandmother had personally known a witness. Recently, the reliability of O’Donnell’s work has been questioned, but for the sake of completeness we will include the story.
Mrs Bishop was a well-to-do widow who lived in a large house in Cork. She had in her employ two young people, an orphaned maid called Amelia and a handyman called Andy. Mrs Bishop spent long hours socialising in the city, allowing much time for her employees to talk and become friends.
The pair would speculate about what happened to the late Mr Bishop whose name was never mentioned within the house. Their chatter would also sway towards discussing a locked room in the building, to which they never had access. Amelia believed that the source of Mrs Bishop’s wealth was contained within. Amelia may have been mildly psychic, as she had a dream in which she observed Mrs Bishop open a secret compartment within the drawing room fireplace, removing a key that she then used to open the door to the forbidden room.
Andy listened as Amelia shared the contents of the dream. Several weeks later, after Mrs Bishop left the house, the pair felt brave enough to investigate. They searched for a while, eventually finding the key within a secret compartment as the dream had foretold. Amelia and Andy then quietly entered the area previously denied to them.
The room was large and contained a four-poster bed, several mirrors on the walls and a safe in the corner. The bed appeared empty, but reflected in a mirror Amelia and Andy could see an elderly man lying partly covered by sheets. Both employees knew they were looking at a ghost. Before they could say anything, the mirror revealed a slightly younger looking Mrs Bishop walking over to the sleeping man. She picked up a pillow, and placed it over his face. Amelia screamed and both phantom figures vanished. She and Andy had no doubts that they had just watched the murder of Mr Bishop and they quickly decided to take as much money as they could find and run away together.
Regrettably their fairy-tale ending was not to be. Amelia had managed to open the safe and grab a handful of jewellery when the real Mrs Bishop walked in. Sacrificing chivalry for self-preservation, Andy managed to hide behind the door before being seen, but Amelia’s reflexes were not so sharp. Mrs Bishop grabbed the girl, dragged her from the house and into the night. The moon was full and bright, enabling Andy to follow a short distance behind. However, the boy was too afraid to intervene, fearful about invoking the anger of his employer.
The streets of Cork were empty; mistress and maid were unseen by anyone other than Andy. As they reached the banks of the Lee, Andy watched Mrs Bishop strangle Amelia, flinging her body into the water. Having nowhere else to go, Andy returned to his employer’s house. He hid behind fake surprise when Mrs Bishop informed him that Amelia had run away.
Not knowing what else to do, Andy confided in Elliot O’Donnell’s grandmother who then informed the police. The authorities half-heartedly investigated the allegations. They believed Mrs Bishop’s version of events, even after Amelia’s body was discovered in the river some weeks later. Amelia was buried and her story would have been pretty much forgotten if her ghost had not appeared at the riverside the following month when the moon was full.
The phantom is said to have donned black clothing, a stark contrast to the paleness of her face which wore an expression of terror and confusion. The following month the spook returned and it would continue to return again and again. It is unlikely that the phantom forced a confession from Mrs Bishop, but its presence ensured that the tragic story remained in the Cork psyche for many years after the heinous crime.
A large number of hospitals the world over are reputed to be haunted and those of Cork are no exception. Hospital ghosts tend to be benign. Some of these phantoms even help by raising the alarm when a patient’s condition unexpectedly becomes critical. The ghosts tend to be former nurses or staff members rather than patients, and their uniforms are always old fashioned.
If the stories are to be believed, the ghost of St Finbarr’s Hospital is a nun who wears an outfit from the 1940s. She quickly walks the corridors, checking on her patients to ensure all is right. The Cork North Infirmary, now closed, was another place haunted by a phantom nun. This woman was said to have accidently killed a patient during her rounds, the regret of failure ensuring her return post-mortem.
Cork’s third apparently haunted hospital is St Kevin’s Asylum, Shanakiel, abandoned since March 2002. The former hospital is impossible to miss, looming high on a hill overlooking the River Lee. One nearby resident spoke passionately about the heinous events which were said to have taken place there while the site was operational, such as ‘mentally unstable’ women incarcerated for being single mothers and the number of people who escaped only to drown in the nearby river.
On his visually stunning abandonedireland.com website, photographer Tarquin Blake features several extracts from reports of the Inspector of Mental Hospitals, one of which states:
1934: The Inspector of Mental Hospitals visited that hospital in February of this year. St. Kevin’s 5, a female ward with 28 patients, there was one toilet off the dormitory and five toilets off the dayroom which were dirty. St. Kevin’s 6, a male ward with 18 patients. Some renovation work was going on in this ward. The dormitory was locked off during the day. Each patient had a wardrobe. There was no soap and no towels were available. The toilet area off the dormitory was dirty and there were no curtains on the windows. St. Kevin’s 8, female with 21 patients – a washing machine to wash the clothes of the patients was bought from patients’ money. The toilet had no seat and there were no curtains.
We are not talking about prisons or shelters for the homeless; we are talking about a hospital. With such history, stories of ghosts were pretty much destined to emerge, although many of the people I spoke to about the site just knew it as ‘haunted’.
A couple of explorers had previously ventured up to the building but left after an oppressive feeling washed over them – one of the pair was physically sick at the site. Another team of visitors fled after being terrified by ‘something’. One member of the group later returned and stuck his head through a broken window in time to hear whispering voices faintly citing names and places.
The ghost hunting team Cork Paranormal Investigators reported that when checking the site out that they had heard a toilet flush – when the area was explored, the team realised that there was no one else about and later discovered the water to the facility had been cut off.
Blackamoor Lane Friary
Padraic O’Farrell’s Irish Ghost Stories documents the phantom friar of Blackamoor Lane, although a very similar story is told in the village of Ahiohill. I suspect that one story is based upon the other, but cannot tell which came first. Blackamoor Lane Friary was built in 1771 and stood for over 200 years, the ruins finally demolished in 2004.
In 1838, the chapel was highly popular. Construction of a new church had begun nearby to cope with the numbers. On the 8 April of that year, an old woman who had arrived at the chapel late in the evening had the misfortune of falling asleep at her pew. She was unseen as the doors were locked for the night and awoke to find herself trapped inside.
As if this was not frightening enough, around midnight the chapel became bathed in an eerie light and the woman watched as a phantom friar manifested by the altar. The friar called out if anyone present would serve mass. The woman hid and remained silent, listening as the ghost asked the same question two more times before fading away. Terrified by her encounter, the witness spent the rest of the night cowering behind a pew.
When the doors were unlocked at six in the morning, the woman ran straight to her local priest. Father Theobald Mathew was highly sympathetic to any plight. He listened to the woman’s story, assuring her that the matter would be investigated.
After completing his daily tasks, Father Mathew waited until the chapel had emptied before locking himself into the building. At midnight, the building was once again awash in the strange light and the ghostly friar manifested. When the entity asked if anyone would take Mass, Father Mathew stepped forward and joined the friar by the altar. Together they celebrated the rites of the church and once complete the monk vanished, never to return.
If this legend is to be believed, the ghostly encounter had a profound effect on Father Mathew. On 10 April 1838 the priest signed The Pledge and led the Cork Total Abstinence Society. Within seven years, many had followed his example. Around three million Irish people vowed never to touch alcohol again.
Glanmire is now a suburb of Cork, but was a village in its own right when this tale originated. The local graveyard was the haunt of a ghostly white woman who would stand by the gate at night. Most people would refuse to walk by the area once darkness had descended, but one man unaware of the ghost story passed by the church in the early hours of the morning and encountered the spectre.
Mistaking her for a real person, the man bid her a good evening. The ghost replied ‘It is a fine night for the dead, but the living should be in bed’. The man fled back to his house, and if the story is to be believed, he remained in bed for the rest of his days.
The Hollywood Estate Haunting
The story of the alleged haunted house in Cork’s Hollywood Estate was catapulted into the paranormal spotlight in March 2010. Originally carried by the local media, the story quickly spread around the world on the web. Number 18 Hollywood Estate is a council house, typical of the properties on Cork’s Northside. It had lain empty for two years before it became the home of Laura Burke, her son Kyle and Laura’s fiancé Richie Hewitt. The family reported that nothing untoward occurred in the house until early in 2010, when Laura fell pregnant.
As is the case with many documented poltergeist stories, the family started to notice slightly out of the ordinary events; keys and other small items would disappear and turn up somewhere else, clothing would be moved and taps would be turned on and left to fill up the sink.
As time progressed, the activity became more frequent and increased in intensity. Religious pictures were knocked off the wall and screams would wake the family at night. Glowing balls of light manifested in a few of the rooms, and furniture would levitate before dropping back to the floor. Visitors to the home also witnessed strange occurrences.
It was reported that previous occupant Adrian Payton, who formerly lived at the house for twenty-six years without incident, watched a kitchen drawer open and a table lift slowly off the ground. During a television interview, Laura described some of the events, ‘Chairs lifting, moving … black shadows … horrible smells … I wouldn’t wish this place on nobody, nobody at all, not even on my worst enemy …’ Richie added that one night after Kyle went to bed he had glimpsed eyes staring at him through his bedroom window. He was left terrified.
After Kyle was thrown out of bed by an unseen force, the events became too much for the family to bear. Cork City Council refused Laura and Richie a housing transfer saying ‘it is not council policy to deal with alleged paranormal activities,’ and so the family moved out to stay with Laura’s mother.
Eoin English covered the story for the Irish Examiner, the paper carrying one of the more objective versions of events. Eoin was later happy to share his thoughts concerning the haunting. He reported that although initially very sceptical, he tried to approach the story with an open mind. And the more he spoke to the couple, the more he began to wonder why they would make it up.
As a result of their claim, they had refused to stay in the house, opting instead to sleep on the floor in a relation’s home – surely an arrangement that was far from ideal – Laura was pregnant at the time. There were independent witnesses too. One of these was the former owner of the house who never experienced anything like this when he lived there, but only when he returned to visit the young couple and offer help. However, Eoin saw no evidence of anything unusual, apart from a grainy photograph of a ball of light hovering above their kitchen table. He certainly saw no direct evidence himself of anything unusual or paranormal occurring in the house.
According to Eoin, one of the most disturbing aspects of this case was the arrival at the house, unannounced and uninvited, of two gentlemen claiming to be clairvoyants who offered to cleanse the house of ‘evil spirits’. They proceeded around various rooms, waving their hands, rolling their eyes, and making ridiculous claims about sensing this and that. Their performance culminated in a farcical scene whereby one guy tried to distract the people in the room, while the other bent over and tried to untie his shoe lace unnoticed before standing up straight again and suggesting that it was a spirit who had opened the lace. They were kicked out fairly quickly after that.
Eoin also spoke of Laura, saying that while her claims seemed completely fantastical, ‘she came across as a very calm, sensible person who had been through a very traumatic experience. She seemed utterly convinced and genuinely terrified that something unusual was occurring in her home.’
Cork 96 FM also had a strong interest in the case, and invited paranormal veteran Paul O’Halloran to the house. Paul is a seasoned spiritualist, having over twenty years’ experience of shamanic healing, house clearing and land healing. After visiting the site, Paul said, ‘I discovered that there was spirits of children from unmarked graves, around twenty to twenty-five children. There was a highwayman from the sixteenth century and there were also people from the famine who were around the area. There was also very heavy, dark energy like a curse on the place.’
Paul was unsure why the activity started when it did. However, he observed that Laura was pregnant, saying that sometimes ‘mother energy can attract child spirits who are trapped.’ Paul reported that he had seen this level of activity before in other properties, but the fear displayed by Laura and Richie was particularly memorable.
After identifying the problem, Paul used his skills to engage the spirits. ‘I dealt with [the situation]through opening the sacred space and working through the shamanic medicine wheel, drumming and prayers and mantras for releasing the trapped spirits’ Paul said. Although Paul had claimed success, the family refused to move back to their home. The story divided the local estate. Eoin reported that most of the neighbours believed the family were telling the truth, having experienced paranormal events first hand.
Other local families were more suspicious of Laura and Richie’s motivation, saying that they just wanted the local authorities to give them a new house. Neighbours were also upset at the amount of attention the road attracted. Hundreds of visitors flocked to view the haunted house and Gardaí were called in to control the traffic. Groups of teenagers took to sitting and drinking outside the house late at night waiting to see ‘something’.
After the family moved out, stones were thrown at the house and windows were smashed; the house was finally boarded up and left empty. Unless outright fraud is admitted, what really happened to the family and their home will always be subject of intense debate. As I write 18 Hollywood Estate remains locked up and empty.
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