An urban legend is, at its heart, a kind of local pop culture. Sometimes referred to as “contemporary legends,” these stories bringing flavor, entertainment, and their own particular kind of logic into our collective consciousness. For decades in the United States, thrill-seekers have gotten their fill with stories about Bloody Mary appearing in mirrors, hook-handed men, and hitchhikers who mysteriously vanish from inside moving vehicles — and those who take heed of the warnings that come with them are wiser, more cautious, yet more at home in the unknown than they ever would have been otherwise.
The urban legends of Ireland, while different from those told by our Stateside cousins, are every bit as bewildering — and some of them might just send a chill of terror down your spine, too! So take a deep breath, and read on. The world is stranger than you ever imagined.
The Jervis Ghosts
To those who think that the specters of Ireland limit their territories to country roads at dusk, think again! Jervis Street, located in the middle of Dublin’s city center, has served as the backdrop for many an encounter with the unknown down through the years — proving that in actuality, ghosts can make their presence felt just about anywhere.
The Jervis Shopping Center, which opened in 1996, is home to over 70 retailers, and is a popular destination for many city-goers. However, not everyone knows that this center is build on the grounds of Jervis Street Hospital, which closed in the 1980s after attending the needs of the sick and dying for over 300 years. Many locals claim that suspicious activities in the area can be attributed to the restless spirits of those who died on its wards.
In 2008, a newsreader from popular Irish radio station Today FM was walking along the bustling street outside Jervis Shopping Center, only to be stopped in her tracks by a female voice singing a lullaby nearby. Presuming she was hearing things, the newsreader continued to walk, and the voice faded out — only to become louder again as she moved further away from her original stopping point. Perplexed and understandably shaken, the newsreader mentioned the occurrence on her radio show. Within minutes, the lines were flooded with callers with similar stories to tell.
Many workers from the Jervis Center claimed to have seen the figure of a woman in an old nurse’s uniform wandering between the stores, while others reported instances of fruit being tossed through the air by an unseen force. Some of these people had even interacted directly with the spirits: while approaching the center’s bathrooms (beside Burger King, just in case you ever visit) one was eyed by a woman who whispered inaudibly at him before vanishing into thin air, and several more men mentioned having met another female spirit, who blew flirtatiously into their ears before likewise disappearing.
Drunken Thady and the Bishop’s Lady
In Limerick City, there stands impressive piece of stonework by the name of Thomond Bridge. Spanning the dark waters of the River Shannon, it was built in 1836 by a pair of designers named James and George Pain — and, if the rumors surrounding its dark mass are to be believed, their last name would set the tone of future happenings there for years to come.
The main story surrounding Thomond Bridge is that of Drunken Thady and the Bishop’s Lady — Thady being the local trouble-monger and sloven, and the Lady being the wife of the Bishop of Limerick, who, unbeknownst to her husband, enjoyed a life of vice after the sun went down each night. One night, while both of these rough-and-tumble individuals were traversing the bridge, they crossed paths and began to fight. The Bishop’s Lady tried to push Thady into the river below; but, when he prayed to God to forgive his wicked ways and spare him his life, she was unsuccessful. The struggle ended when the Bishop’s Lady fell into the water instead, and drowned thereafter.
Today, there are many who say that the furious spirit of the Bishop’s Lady haunts Thomond Bridge, ready to pull late-night walkers over the side and into a watery grave. Local legend has it that before this happens, the Lady’s fingerprints will appear on the stone side of the bridge, forever marking the spot where she desperately clung in her last moments of life.
The story of Drunken Thady and the Bishop’s Lady is most famously told in the work of the poet Michael Hogan (1828 – 1899), who released an epic poem on the dark events and aftermath of that night. Check it out here!
Direwolves in Fermanagh
Any fans of HBO’s hit series Game of Thrones are sure to have a special place in their hearts for the direwolves: a litter of canine companions rescued by the show’s leading players, the Stark children. Depicted as an incredibly large and intelligent species of wolf, the direwolves are considered to be the products of legend before the Starks happen upon them. Similarly, there are plenty of Game of Thrones lovers who assume that these creatures were dreamed up by creator George R.R. Martin — but this couldn’t be further from the truth.
In reality, direwolves were an actual species that existed some 12,000 years ago. They had thick, heavy bones that brought their weight to anywhere from 150 – 240 pounds — and that went for their teeth, too, with a bite more than 30% more powerful than the gray wolves we know today! For 300,000 years, these creatures were fearsome predators that established their territory from Canada to Bolivia.
There is much evidence supporting the argument that prehistoric direwolves are fully extinct today. However, sightings in Co. Fermanagh, Northern Ireland could suggest otherwise. In 2012, several hikers claimed to witness a pack of these fearsome creatures on the hunt, describing them as wolves with stockier legs, a wider head, and shorter ears, which matches the description of these ancient beasts exactly. While nothing has been reported since then, it certainly got the county’s residents on high alert!
The Moving Mother of Ballinspittle
In late July, 1985, something bizarre was happening in the village of Ballinspittle, Co. Cork. Traveling home one evening, a local claimed to have seen a roadside statue of the Virgin Mary move of its own accord; and while this on its own, this story would have been easy to disregard as a trick of the light, countless other Ballinspittle inhabitants, as well as people all over Ireland, began to come forward with similar stories over the following weeks.
People from home and abroad flocked to the 30 sites where divine activity seemed to be occurring, with up to 100,000 said to have visited Ballinspittle alone. The Catholic Church was uncertain of the legitimacy of these cases, with one bishop outright calling the phenomenon an illusion. But who could say for certain what was happening?
According to a team of psychologists from University College Cork, the vision was the result of staring at stationary objects during the transient light of dusk. Anthropologist Peter Mulholland has said that that visions of the Virgin Mary in Irish culture is the result of the population’s relationship with religion in childhood. However, the truth is anyone’s best guess — and there are plenty who believe that the Mother of God truly did appear all over Ireland between July and August in 1985. In fact, the phenomenon spurred on the creation of several so-called “cults” dedicated to remembering this happening, with one gaining members as far out as Russia, many of whom are reportedly still active today.
The Patron of Gravedigger’s Pub
Casting aside for a moment all of the strange and (oftentimes harrowing) rumors on this list, there’s one that’s simply music to our ears — and that’s that the best pint of Guinness in Dublin is poured at Kavanagh’s Pub, a.k.a. “The Gravediggers’,” in Glasnevin. This local favorite has been standing since 1833, and is named for its original owner, John Kavanagh, who fathered 25 children and has many descendants still alive today.
Of course, Glasnevin is primarily known for its cemeteries: both Glasnevin Cemetery and Prospect Cemetery, which lies directly beside this pub and gives it its nickname! Due to this, one long-standing tradition is for patrons to order a pint by shoveling a scoop of graveyard dirt against the outside wall of the pub.
With the pub’s close proximity to Prospect Cemetery, it’s only natural that a couple of its occupants might occasionally swing by for a helping of the Black Stuff. One of the this institution’s most well-known customers is regarded very fondly by the other (living) regulars. This spirit takes the form of an older gentleman in vintage tweed, and has been known to appear in the corner of the bar, quietly enjoying a Guinness until he finishes his pint and vanishes from sight. The staff encourage any customer who sees him to buy him one for the road, too!
The Black Cat of Killakee
When Margaret O’Brien and her husband purchased an abandoned house on the outskirts of Dublin City in 1968, they could never have foretold the events that were soon to unfold. Margaret’s intention was to restore the property to its former beauty and reopen it as a public arts center, and, as she was busy with other projects at the time of the renovation, she allowed several workmen to live on-site to maintain pace.
Soon, the workmen began to report back to the O’Briens with some disturbing stories: after dark each night, they would hear animal sounds from within the walls of the house, though could find no evidence of infestation. At first, Margaret disregarded their concerns — but soon, she would learn for herself the strange condition of the building.
Arriving at the house one evening to speak with the project’s lead painter, Margaret was met with yet more claims of wild animals loose on the property, present in sound but never sight. Eventually, Margaret agreed to stay the night in order to observe the situation for herself. Walking to her room, she saw it for the first time: a gargantuan black cat, sitting in the middle of the hallway.
The creature, she claimed, was no ordinary housecat. Rather, it was panther-esque, with evil and intelligence in its gaze. In the blink of an eye, it disappeared from sight, and Margaret was once more alone. Soon after, the lead painter was also visited by this monstrous cat, this time accompanied by a wall of heavy mist.
Margaret O’Brien was, at this point, a believer. She was also terrified, and called for a local priest to perform an exorcism on the house. The procedure seemed to be effective; the arts center opened, and the community came and went as they pleased.
However, the peace was not to last: one evening, a group of drunken actors decided to hold a seance in an attempt to call upon the sinister feline creature they had heard so much about. They were, it seemed, successful: the haunting resumed more powerfully than ever before. The cat was now joined by the malevolent spirits of two nuns, who terrorized guests in the building’s gallery.
This time, Margaret called on a medium for help, and finally learned the true story behind this supernatural activity. The medium told her that the female spirits had been attendants of the satanic rituals performed by the infamous Hellfire Club. She suggested that the house may have once been owned by its members. Recently, in 2012, this theory has finally been given some bulk: at another site said to have been frequented by Hellfire members, a painting depicting a black cat bathed in flames was uncovered.
Killakee House is now privately-owned; however, rumors of sinister encounters within its walls continue to this day — just another example of a side of Ireland that’s destined to be shrouded in mystery for good.