Galway Ghosts

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Although I have picked "non-fiction" as my genre of preference for my short story, the truth is, is that it is a true story. It is about a series of bizarre occurrences at a beautiful thatched cottage on the west coast of Ireland, in Galway county in 1989. I have always wanted to tell the story, to any who would listen.

Submitted: March 17, 2012

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Submitted: March 17, 2012

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Galway Ghosts

A true story.

June, 1989 Wellan Garden City, England.

I was 20 years old and travelling Europe. I was not prepared for the events that followed in Galway, Ireland. Here is that true story:

Kay and I were enjoying a lovely sunny afternoon. We were attending a vegetarian luncheon at George Bernard Shaw's home in Wellan Garden City, England. Kay's aunt Val introduced us to her neighbor Anne White while we sat eating in the garden of the lovely estate. We were backpacking across Europe and England was our first stop.

Anne was a very interesting woman. I guess the best word to describe her would be “hippie”, or “free spirit”. Soon after our meeting she began to insist that if we go to Ireland we MUST stay at her cottage that she had just recently bought.

Apparently it was in Galway Co. right on the west coast of Ireland. For about an hour, Anne went on describing how magical the place was, “... three hundred years old, right on the ocean, stone walls and floors, a huge fireplace....” etc. Obviously we were excited. We were backpacking across Europe periodically punctuated by stays with relatives. For the most part this was going to be the only place that we were going to stay by ourselves, and it would be free of charge.

Anne was an incredibly nice woman. She had told us to stay as long as we wished. We were to visit her home the next day and she would provide us with all the necessary information, i.e. directions to the cottage and other vital bits of information for making our stay comfortable. Kay and I were so excited! We really did not expect such luck.

We arrived at Anne's home around 1pm the following day. Anne had lunch prepared and soon after our meal we retired to the garden to chat. She handed us a list of “MUSTS” to be done upon arrival at the cottage. The list included such things as : 1.See Tom Finn the builder, he will open the cottage and give you the keys, 2. light a fire every day and keep it going until bed time. "Irish weather is cold and damp so be sure keep the fire lit, 3. Coal and peat in the shed etc. The list included perhaps 10 things to remember.

We took a train and arrived at the Welsh west coast in no time. We then took a ferry across the rocky Irish Sea and landed safely on the eastern shore of Ireland. We ascertained the best possible route to Galway while still taking in some sights along the way. We decided to bus around the southern coast and come up the west coast to arrive in Galway Bay. Once in Galway Co. ( as far as the bus would go ) we found a gorgeous bed and breakfast in a lovely little town called Oranmore. After several days of continuous travel we desperately needed some rest. Our stay at the quaint little inn was perfect; rest, showers and a huge breakfast. It was just what we'd needed.

Shortly after the morning's feast, we began discussing how we were to make the final leg of our journey, when no bus service was available to where we wanted to go (Ballinaforte). We were told several times that hitchhiking in Ireland was quicker, cheaper, safer, and more interesting than in any other country in Europe. In fact in the traveler's bible; "Let's Go Europe" it actually recommended "…thumbing in Ireland". During our excited discussion, the proprietor of the establishment apparently overheard. Her name was Dorothy. She was a very pleasant lady, friendly and cordial. She immediately insisted on helping us try to find the cottage, after morning cleanup was completed.

Dorothy brought her elderly mother along for the trip. We drove up and down the west coast of Galway for about 2 hours before Dorothy spotted the specific water tower that was our intended landmark. We graciously thanked her for everything and bade her goodbye. We gathered our things and began to wander up the hill toward 7 cottages that were about 500 metres away from each other. We pulled out our handy instruction sheet that Anne had provided for us and set off on completing #1; see Tom Finn the builder.

Tom Finn “the builder” as even he referred to himself, was a burly middle aged man but had a warm and friendly face. He immediately took us to our cottage. Each of the cottages, except for one, had thatched roofing. Old white washed walls and stone fences surrounded this little forgotten Irish village. As we neared the top of the hill, the Atlantic Ocean came into panoramic view. Our cottage was the last one before the beach. It was magnificent! It was like something out of a postcard but far more beautiful in person. Tom let us in and handed us the keys. We spoke briefly and he welcomed us to come see him or his wife Mary if we were in need of anything. The last thing he mentioned was to light a fire!!!!!!!!

We unpacked our bags and I put them under the bed of the room we chose. We were rendered almost speechless by this place. We honestly could not believe that we were going to stay here, for free, as long as we pleased. The cottage and surroundings were so beautiful that we discussed staying a month or more depending on how we felt at that time, perhaps even the entire summer!

DAY 1

The cottage itself was truly something out of a painting or photograph. Stone floors, stone walls that were about three feet thick. Small clouded windows recessed into the walls. The fireplace, which commanded the room was huge! I estimate about 10 feet across. It was almost as wide as the main room itself. The front and back doors of the cottage were split, (top and bottom) large, old. They also had massive, slightly rusted iron slide locks on each of the four halves. There were two floors to the cottage; On the first floor were the main room, bookshelf, a circular wooden table and 4 chairs, a bathroom, a kitchen, and two bedrooms with two bunk beds in each. On the second floor there were three bedrooms with a double bed in each. We placed all of our stuff in the room directly at the top of the stairs and settled in.

Kay was in awe and proceeded to explore every nook and cranny, while I tried in vain to light the fire. I checked the trusty instructions and went to the shed to get some peat and coal. I have never used peat or coal to light a fire but I had guessed it couldn't be too much harder than lighting a fire with wood. Well I was wrong. Peat and coal are nothing like wood. I spent the better part of two hours trying to get so much as one ember lit. Resigned to the fact that I would just have to try again later, I left a small pile of coal in the middle of the huge hearth.

We decided to go for a walk along the beach to explore a bit of the area before nightfall. Galway Co., Ireland is literally God's country! There is simply no more beautiful place than this anywhere in the world! All the eye can see is green, blue, grey, farm, cottage, boats and ocean. The undulating landscape obscured any sign of the twentieth century.

There were no roads visible, nor power lines, nor street lamps. We instantly felt transported back hundreds of years. I felt a strange and deep connection to this place, the people and the land. We walked for a long time, awed by the beauty of the landscape, the ocean and of the old cottages, castles and churches. We realized that the sunlight was fading. We hurried back along the coast and tried to retrace our steps. It took an hour or so to follow the coast line back to the cottage. It was a good thing we had decided to return because we made it back just as it was getting dark. The cottage would have been a lot more difficult to find in total darkness.

We approached the back door of the cottage which faced the Atlantic Ocean. The cottage was a mere 50 meters to the ocean and sat directly on the beach. I fumbled a bit with the key but managed to open the top door. Kay and I were immediately astounded, as we peered into the dark interior, we could see as plain as day that the fire was lit and blazing. It was casting an eerie glow throughout the dark room. We looked at each other and felt unease creep in. We proceeded inside, both knowing that the fire was not lit when we had left for our walk. As we crossed the threshold, we could hear to our immediate left, the bathroom faucets were on full and splashing all four walls in the bathroom. It had completely soaked the floor and a small river of water was snaking its way along the stone floor into the main room. I noticed that the pile of coal that I had left unlit at the center of hearth, strangely had been moved up against the inside wall of the hearth nearest to the back door (moved about 3 or 4 feet). One piece of coal had actually fallen out and lay dying on the cold stone about 5 feet from the fireplace. Kay turned on all the lights and went about cleaning up the bathroom mess. I sat down, staring into the fireplace and tried to figure out what the hell just happened.

After some intense contemplation, there seemed no reasonable explanation. The obvious possibility of Tom Finn letting himself in and lighting the fire, seemed remote. Why then did he push the pile of coal dangerously against the wall of the fireplace and turn the faucets on full and then leave with no note or mention. All other conceivable possibilities seemed equally unreasonable at that time. We sat there a little shaken and perplexed, but tried not to make too much of it. It was almost impossible to ignore that something strange had happened, regardless of cause. We settled in and put our things away. We soon forgot, or perhaps simply chose to ignore the earlier strangeness. The sun was down completely and the quiet was almost deafening, save for the occasional sound of the waves rolling up the beach.

After dinner, Kay looking horrified, shrieked "...both front and back doors are open!...". Although this may not sound odd, it was very! The doors were locked and checked two or three times before dinner. We had not left the cottage after arriving back from our excursion. We had not even left eye sight of the doors since arriving back from our walk. Seated anywhere in the main room, the front and back doors were visible.

The cottage, as I have already mentioned, had massive iron slide locks on each half of both the front and rear doors. Whether we thought we were the victims of some prankster upon arriving back at the cottage, the situation now began to defy logical explanation. Slide locks do not open themselves, certainly not all four at once, and most certainly not while we were in the same room. We had only been at the old cottage for 8 hours. Kay suggested that maybe we should just go to sleep and things may be clearer the next day. I felt that that was a bit too optimistic. We climbed up the stairs and went to bed. The second floor was mostly open concept with only a couple of temporary walls differentiating the three rooms.

DAY 2

We woke somewhat rested, although I think both of our sleeps were intermittent, disturbed. As we descended the stairs, memories of the previous day were immediately on our tongues. We discussed the obvious possibility of pranks, although even in the fresh light and reason of morning we still felt that there weren't any reasonable or rational explanations. We sat in the only available seating, the round wooden table and chairs in the center of the main room.

Before we could get another word in, we noticed that all four doors were once again opened slightly. This of course meant that they would, for the second time, have had to have been opened from the inside! The notion that one of the nearby farmers or their children was perpetrating such pranks while we slept did not seem very realistic. The farmers were rural, traditional, and friendly.

Kay was instantly frightened. I said that I was not, but deep inside I had to wonder what was causing these bizarre occurrences. I closed and for the third time re-locked all 4 of the doors. We talked at length about the situation. Due to the unsettled feeling we had arriving back after the previous days walk, ie to a lit fire that was moved to the side and faucets that were splashing everywhere made our senses heightened, on edge. We checked the doors several times before going to bed later that first night and decided something, albeit unknown to us, was definitely happening.

We thought that perhaps a meeting with one of the old farmers in the village would shed some light on the situation that we ourselves could not grasp. That morning, and every morning thereafter Martin Killaleigh strolled his herd of cows directly in front of our cottage’s front door and out to nearby grazing pastures. We bade him hello as he strode past. We invited him for dinner later. We were elated that he immediately agreed. We were still holding onto a shred of the excitement we felt when first arriving.

We had so much we wanted to explore. We barely knew where to begin. We were so excited about being here that we even managed to forget the strange feeling we were getting from inside the cottage. We walked through the beautiful green countryside stopping at every farm and cottage. We came across an old cemetery that had been forgotten ages ago. Yellow, coarse grass rose high above the graves and almost totally obscured their presence. We decided to check it out. When do you ever have the chance to check out marked 500 - 1000 year old graves without being roped off or charged for entry? The graves were very old, some so old that no dates could be read. There was a grave that I noticed immediately. It was a huge slab ( 5ft by 8 ft ). It had been moved slightly, allowing a corner of the tomb beneath to be visible.

We bent down to get a closer look. It was creepy witnessing the eternal, frozen death pose of a skeleton. We came across ruins of even older buildings that had been forgotten so long ago. Irish countryside is absolutely gorgeous, green and magical! We continued about two or three miles down the road to the nearest store. We picked up the days rations and proceeded home. As we passed the Finn's cottage, Mary came running out and offered us some freshly baked Irish bread, Bahn Bra'ch (barn-brack). We chatted idly with Tom and Mary for about an hour and then thanked them profusely.

Tom suggested that if we were interested in exploring, that there was a very old island about two miles off shore that had the ruins of an even older village. He said that his 14 year old son Damian would happily take us across on the boat. We were elated to have the opportunity to see some archeological sites without being told where or where not to stand or what not to touch. We planned for noon the next day and set off home.

The cottage looked so beautiful from the outside but still seemed to portend some kind of doom at the same time. We settled in and planned for a nice dinner. The hours slipped by quickly as we prepared for Martin's arrival.

At around 7pm Martin showed up and came in with a smile. We casually spoke throughout dinner and finally got down to the real questions we had wanted to ask. Martin listened attentively. He said as calmly as hello... " ah it's just the fairies "..... . He said that that was the Irish equivalent term for ghosts. He betrayed no sign of dishonesty or humor. He continued to say that his family had owned this cottage and had lived here for a little over three hundred years and for even longer at this site before this cottage was built. About 2 years prior to this his wife had wanted a new home, so Martin built one a mere few hundred yards away. He said that she was growing tired of the constant shenanigans.

After the initial shock of his answers I regained enough sense of rationality to ask him why they open the doors so often. He said that they are merely letting us know that they are here and still want to be acknowledged. He continued to say that they will open the doors turn on and off lights but generally do nothing more than that. We could honestly say that we did not feel comforted by his casual interpretation of the strange things that had been happening. We said goodbye to Martin, cleaned up and readied ourselves for bed. We now knew that we weren't fooling ourselves and that something was definitely here with us. The huge fireplace commanded the entire room. We sat in front of it for some time and finally ascended the stairs. We held onto each other all night as we were admittedly unsettled.

DAY 3

We woke up to a beautiful day and got ready for our trip to the nearby island Tom had mentioned. Damian showed up right at noon and took us straight down to the beach. We climbed into the little 12 foot boat and in no time we were off. The sea can be deceiving; it has swells that aren't visible from shore. A calm sea does not always join a calm day. As we approached the island a small storm was visible miles away. A few hundred yards from shore we noticed a rainbow, front to back. It was so clear we could actually see where it came in contact with the water. Where it touched it actually lit the water to a glow. We were amazed by this, so was Damian. When have you ever seen both the beginning and end of a rainbow? As we gazed at this natural wonder another even bigger rainbow appeared over the first one and just like the first one we could see both sides. This was definitely a once in a lifetime experience.

We stared at the rainbows and I couldn't help be reminded of one of the oldest of Ireland's lore, the end of a rainbow...leprechauns? Well it was certainly funny at that point and time. A moment later I noticed a large sail boat slowly slipping by right beneath the rainbows on the far side of the island. The strangest thing though, the boat was black hulled, it had double black masts and black sails. There were no discernable markings of any kind.

Damian was equally amazed and confused by the appearance of this never before seen ship. We snapped a photo that actually turned out. Although it appeared farther in the photo than in real life, the featureless boat could clearly be made out along with the double rainbows and the island. We watched the boat drift slowly past and out of sight and finally we reached the island. Immediately we were standing amongst the ruins of an entire ancient Irish village. Stone thatched cottages with little remaining thatch were scattered across the island. Damian and his friend wandered off and Kay and I set about to explore the village. We walked through each one and left no stone unturned. We found some newspapers from the turn of the century, but Damian had said later that it was probably left by visitors just like us.

Kay and I had been exploring for several hours and had retired to lying down in the grass behind the cottage that looked to be the oldest. Directly behind this cottage we actually came across a small ring of stones. None of the other cottages had this feature. The stones were about 18 inches tall and were unmarked. We imagined that this was very old, much, much older than even this village, let alone the village we were staying in on the mainland.

We daydreamed for what seemed like hours and ate a lunch Kay had prepared when suddenly Damian came running up and shouted that “we must leave immediately”! The storm had taken an unexpected turn and was heading straight for us. If we were to make it back tonight we'd have to race the storm back to shore. We set off in a flash and Damian confidently navigated the small craft, with a small outboard motor through gigantic ocean swells. The wind had picked up and the storm was definitely upon us. I began to worry, the small boat we were in seemed so tiny next to the twenty and thirty foot swells we were in. Just as my worry became dire, a large black eyed seal popped its head up and swam backwards facing us directly. A mere foot or two in front of the boat, the seal continued to watch us, almost as if it was trying to convey sympathy with those big black eyes. I somehow felt confident that we would arrive safely ashore.

The wind was horrendous but we finally made it. Damian guessed about two miles farther down shore than expected. We dragged the boat high up on the beach and set off along the coast in the darkening dusk for home. There was little conversation on the way back, I think even Damian was afraid, although he never showed it.

When we got back to the village beach it was completely dark and the entire village (about 12 people) was congregated on the beach and looking out towards the island we had been visiting. They spotted us and, well all I can say is that Damian got his ears boxed, and boxed good. We skulked along behind and slid unnoticed into our cottage. We were so glad to be warm and safe, although the cottage was not nearly as comforting inside as it appeared from the exterior. We hurriedly ate some leftovers from the night before and went straight to bed. That night I had very restless sleep.

I had a terrifying nightmare that I was trapped inside a small room in a house and the house was burning. Kay and her father were on the other side of the door and were desperately trying to free me. The sense of urgency I felt I can still recall. I woke up silently to pitch dark and utter silence. Kay spoke immediately, before I even moved..."are you up..." she said. It frightened me that she was up and spoke to me the second my eyes opened. She could definitely not see any more than I could. I said "yes" in a shaky voice. She said that she had just had a nightmare and had woken up at that very same moment. I asked her what the dream was and to this very day it unsettles me. Kay began to tell me that her father and she were pounding on the bathroom door because there was a fire and I was trapped inside.... It still frightens me. We held on to each other and waited for daylight.

DAY 4

When we descended that day all four doors were once again open about an inch. The front and back doors were visible from the bottom of the stairs. The doors flanked the main room. I closed the doors and we sat close together at the little round table and reluctantly discussed perhaps leaving in a couple of days. The thought of leaving also broke our hearts. This was to be a dream vacation. We decided to decide later. Maybe we were making more of this than need be, (except for the periodic doors being opened FROM THE INSIDE) but then again maybe not.

This day we had made plans with Damian to go down to the shore at low tide and pick cockles and mussels that he gathered for sale to a Parisian restaurateur. We wondered if he'd survived the thrashing he must have gotten the night before. Well he apparently did as he was already down at the beach and hard at work. After some brief instructions from Damian we set off collecting mollusks. When noon arrived Damian showed us how to open one shell with the back of another, and then eat it fresh. It seemed a bit odd but we actually tried a few. When we had collected all the shells we could find we excused ourselves and returned to the cottage for some rest.

Kay had complained of a headache that soon turned to nausea and fever. She was allergic to the seafood. We were worried but she said she'd be alright. An hour after arriving home she was permanently stationed on the toilet with a bucket beside her. She felt horrible! I attended to her constantly but offered only little respite. Hours passed and she drifted in and out of consciousness periodically talking to people who weren't visible to me. When she had settled a bit I took her up to bed and tucked her in. I felt alone and somewhat scared not to have her to talk to. We thankfully slept the night away and awoke famished.

DAY 5

Kay was feeling much better and did not remember much of the night before. She certainly did not remember speaking to anyone else besides me. We ate a light breakfast and made plans to leave perhaps on the next open bank day. We had only traveler’s cheques left and had no Irish money on hand at all. The next day was a bank holiday so the departure would have to wait two more days at the very least. Kay said she felt like we were being watched so we spent the entire day out.

We did a little more exploring this day, a lot of walking and discussion of France, our next destination. We were a bit disappointed though. We had wanted to stay at the cottage a lot longer but something was clearly telling us not to. When we arrived back again the doors were locked. Every time we came to the cottage, the doors were locked. Once inside, the doors were often open, which implied a clear message, at least to us. Thankfully this day went without strange event. We began to talk about the possibility of staying a little longer. The day of relative calm lulled us into a false sense of security.

Everything was fine until we went to bed. We fell asleep easy enough, although I can't say that our awakening was all that smooth. At around 3 a.m. we were rudely awoken to banging downstairs. Banging is the wrong word to use here but it will have to suffice. The noise was deafening. It was coming from downstairs but we couldn't imagine in our terror what could be causing the disgusting loudness of the noise. It was so loud that although we sat there desperately clutching each other in the darkness, we had to yell to hear one another.

We hoped beyond hope that the sound would just stop. Stopping was the last thing that was going to happen. After 20 minutes to a half of an hour of uninterrupted banging, I found some courage that must have been on reserve. I told Kay that I was going downstairs, ghost or no ghost I wasn't going to let whatever had been trying to scare us, scare us any longer. She begged me not to go downstairs.

Still shouting just to hear one another I gathered all my newly acquired bravado and began down the stairs. I got half way down, just enough to expose my lower torso to the room below and there was instant silence. So quiet, it seemed as loud as the noise. I looked back up the stairs at Kay and she was waving frantically at me to come back upstairs. I thought NO, I will go down and confront whatever wanted our attention so badly.

I descended the remainder of the stairs cautiously and peered around the dark room expecting to see some horrible apparition. There was a glow from the fireplace but everything seemed in order. I knew something had to of been disturbed with the sheer racket that was created. I then noticed that all four doors were once again open, but this time opened wide. The doors opened inwards. They were opened wide this time. This to me was as clear a message as there could be. You think you're all comfortable, tucked away in bed... think again... GET OUT!!!! I rushed like the wind to close and lock all four doors and quickly ran upstairs.

We were so frightened that we couldn't possibly sleep. The echoes of the pounding still rang in our ears. We knew without having to mention it that bank holiday or no, we were leaving as soon as the sun came up. There were no phones nor radios nor TV’s nor busses nor cabs. We were going to be left to our own devices. That is if we were to survive the night. We were horrified; we couldn't speak, except to whisper for fear that who ever was here would hear our conversation.

DAY6

Kay felt uneasy and that only increased as the sun finally began its slow ascent. It seemed like we sat there for hours and hours awaiting the sun light. Suddenly she began to get quite agitated. She was shouting at me by the time the sun was fully up. She said "MOVE THE BED.... " I said "what?" She grabbed me and threw me off the bed and said "MOVE THE BED... ". Kay knelt on the bed with her head pressed to the same wall that the bed was up against, looking downward.

As I pulled the bed away she let out the most blood curdling scream I will ever again have the tremendous displeasure of hearing! My heart stopped and I took a breath and looked. There right under where we had slept for a week was a dead, big black crow, fresh. Its eyes still open. Lying on its back, wings spread eagle, looking up. It was not there six days ago. We had placed some of our bags under the bed when we had arrived and there certainly was no dead huge bird.

We obviously took this for the final sign. We were leaving. No breakfast, no bathing, just leaving. I picked the bird up by the wing tip and ran it downstairs. Of course this time the doors were closed and locked. We packed our bags without speaking to each other and left in a hurry.

It was raining but that didn't deter us even slightly. We ran to Tom Finn's cottage and placed the key to the cottage in the door slot and ran down to the country road. Ireland is a country of extremes.

The first car that drove by picked us up and drove us into Galway city. The very next car drove us straight across Ireland into Dublin, typical. Almost nothing could convince me to go back to that place…although with the time that has passed it would be tempting...with more people than just two.

Charles Robert McGowan

A True Story


© Copyright 2017 Charles Robert McGowan. All rights reserved.

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