Ireland is a country of jaw-dropping landscapes, a violent history and vivid folklore, inspiring many tales and legends as well as works of art and literature. Perhaps then, it will come as no surprise that the Irish capital is known for its ghost sightings? Meet some of the most infamous characters in Dublin myth.
1. The Devil
Ireland is a Catholic country, which might explain why the Devil is a recurring figure in both folklore and ghost sightings. One of the more well known myths concern St Mary’s Chapel in north Dublin, also known as The Black Church due to the darkness of the stone walls. For example, it is said that if you run around the building three times, then enter and walk up to the altar, you would see the devil. Another story says you have to recite ‘Our Father’ backwards or walk around the Church in reverse thirteen times. Dare try it?
Another famous myth takes place at The Hellfire Club in the Wicklow Mountains. The Devil is said to have appeared at a card game there, disappearing when one of the players caught a glimpse of his hooves.
Place of visit: St Mary's Chapel and The Hellfire Club.
2. Dorcas "Darkey" Kelly
Dorcas “Darkey" Kelly was a brothel keeper who is said to have been burnt at the stake in 1746 for alleging that the Sheriff of Dublin, Simon Luttrell, was the father of her child. She had threatened to expose the Sheriff as part of the infamous Hellfire Club, a group known for debauchery and occult practices, and was sentenced to death for witchcraft in order to be silenced. However, later research shows that Kelly was in fact a serial killer, accused of killing shoemaker John Dowling on St Patrick’s Day in 1760. When the police searched the premises of her brothel, they found another five male corpses in the vaults. Her brutal execution, where she was part-hanged and part-burned, became a legend that gave birth to stories of witchcraft and ghost sightings. Kelly is thought to have appeared on the grounds of the nearby St. Audeon’s Church, off High Street, clad all in green, a colour that is associated with fairies and witchcraft in Irish folklore.
Place of visit: St. Audeon’s Church
3. Robert Emmet
There are many stories about the Irish Nationalist and Republican Robert Emmett. After leading a failed rebellion against British rule in 1803, he was captured and executed for high treason, becoming a national hero that inspired others to join the fight for Irish independence. In a famous speech during his trial, Emmett asked that his grave should not be marked until Ireland became a sovereign nation - to this day the place of his remains is unknown. He is still thought to frequent one of the oldest pubs in Dublin, though: The Brazen Head. If you happen to stop by, look for a dark-clad man with a long nose and crumpled brow on the hunt for his enemies, including his executioner who also used to visit the pub.
Place of visit: The Brazen Head
4. Prisoners of Kilmainham Gaol
Kilmainham Gaol is a former prison that now operates as a museum. The opening and closing of the prison, as Pat Cooke writes in A History of Kilmainham Gaol, coincides with the making and breaking of the union between Great Britain and Ireland. Many Irish revolutionaries, including those of the Easter Uprising in 1916, were held and executed here by the British. As you might suspect, Kilmainham Gaol features in many ghost sightings and tales of strange occurrences. For example, during a historical restoration in the 1960s, governor Dan McGill who lived at the premises at the time and whose quarters overlooked the courtyard where executions were once carried out, saw lights shining in the chapel opposite. He ventured down to the chapel, looked around, and turned the lights out. When he was walking back, he saw that the lights were on again. This happened another three times, McGill says. Another story concerns a painter who was supposedly blown off his feet and held against a wall . As you can imagine, he refused to go back to work after that. If you care to have a nose around yourself, the prison is open for tours and visits and there are tickets available for €4 for students and €8 for adults.
Place of visit: Kilmainham Gaol
4. Elderly gent in tweed
John Kavanagh’s pub, or the Gravediggers as it is also known, used to be frequented by - you guessed it - gravediggers working at the next-door Glasnevin Cemetery. There are several stories about how these men drank on the job by an unusual system of secret knocks that alerted the barman to fill up a few pints and pass them through the railings of the churchyard. Nowadays, people report seeing an elderly man in old-fashioned tweed drink a pint at the bar and then disappear. Care to join him? You can find the Gravediggers on Prospect Square in the north part of Dublin.
Place of visit: John Kavanagh’s pub
5. The dog of John McNeill Boyd
When we are on the topic of Glasnevin Cemetery, there is another quite peculiar story of a bereft Newfoundland dog appearing at the grave of his master, John McNeill Boyd, a Captain in the Royal Navy. Boyd died in 1861 while attempting to save his fellow sailors during a terrible storm and, according to legend, his dog accompanied the rescue boat that recovered him. It is said that the dog then refused to leave Boyd’s grave after his burial and starved to death. He now haunts the premises and has also been seen at the base of Boyd's statue in St Patrick's Cathedral, where his funeral took place.
Place of visit: Glasnevin Cemetery and St Patrick's Cathedral
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