Here I was, in Ireland on Halloween. You cannot stay alone in your hotel room on a night like this, no matter how cold it is outside. It was below freezing, but come *on*. I knew I’d need to do some advance planning or I’d probably give up and stay inside. So plan I did: enter the Historical Walking Tour of Haunted Dublin. Ticket for one, please. It had potential: city of Celts founded by Vikings, sentimental inhabitants who love storytelling, and a long history of poverty and suffering. How could there not be ghosts, or at least fantastic ghost stories?
Daylight was spent walking around the shopping district, looking at Irish crafts and seeing some of the town. Come evening, it was time for something a little darker. I put on my long underwear and every other warm thing I had and made my way to City Hall. There were about 40 people waiting there for our tour to begin. Our tour guide was a young lady with a flair for the dramatic and a voice to match. As you may know, I am a trained scientist, so I don’t particularly believe in ghosts or the finding of the paranormal. On the other hand, there’s a lot about the world that we don’t fully understand. Years ago, I spent a summer on the night shift alone in a funeral home (yes, really, I did have a job with the dead). After working in a mortuary, I have come to understand that I personally don’t know all there is know to about death and an afterlife. That said, while I thought it unlikely I’d feel anything spooky, the historical aspect of the tour appealed. And hey, it was a fun thing to do on Halloween night.
I learned a bit about old Dublin, particularly life in the 1700s under British Rule. Talk about unpleasant. To say the least, times were hard, and the disparity between the rich and the poor was wide and deep. This sort of gulf lends itself to desperation and the crimes that follow, and that leads to ghost stories.
A gentler story is about Jonathon Swift, once the Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin. He is well-known for his tale Gulliver’s Travels and the satirical A Modest Proposal (wherein the author suggested that the poor sell their children as food stock), and he’s considered an Irish patriot. In life he would always leave a coin with a beggar en route between St. Patrick’s cathedral and Christ Church, a path he walked every day. While it did increase the number of hopeful beggars along that route, it never discouraged Mr. Swift in his kindness to the poor. They say nowadays that sometimes, a beggar on Jonathan’s route will wake up with a strange old coin in his hand. Unfortunately along that same alleyway, there were once many prostitutes. It was a desperate time for women as well as men, and it seems that the world’s oldest profession was practiced in spades in old Dublin. They say that even now you can hear the misery of the alley’s ghosts – all ladies of the evening who got more than they bargained for.
As is often the consequence of prostitution and poverty, there were many orphaned babies and children in Dublin. Sadly, the stairs and alleyways of St. Auden’s church were a well-known place to leave children that had no one to care for them. It was so bad that the church staff needed to check two to three times a day for little ones left alone. They say it’s still haunted by a few youngsters who died on the stairs, but they are hardly the worst of the ghosts of St. Auden’s. Evidently the ghost of Darkey Kelly is the real tale to tell. Ms. Kelly was the madam of a successful brothel known as the Maiden’s Tower, and a wealthy woman in a position of some influence. She swore celibacy once she’d gotten out of prostitution herself (and moved on to pandering), but that did not last long. She took up with a married man in a powerful position, and before long, found herself pregnant. Once it became clear that Darkey expected support for the child from its father, well, he decided that something had to be done. Ms. Kelly had long been the subject of gossip and envy, and in the end, it was her downfall. The father of the child stoked up some rumors and the next thing you know, a posse was formed and justice was immediate. Darkey Kelly was dragged from her place of business, accused of witchcraft, hanged and if that wasn’t enough, taken down and burned to death at the old city gate entry to St. Auden’s. Whether she died pregnant or delivered before her murder is unknown. They say her ghost still haunts the gate at St. Auden’s. And I must admit it was creepy in there, even before we heard the story.
There’s also the goddess that still lays claim to the upper courtyard of St. Auden’s above the steps, in the trees. And if that isn’t enough haunting at the church, the entire present day “picnic ground” is really the old potter’s field of graves. I am afraid nothing went unused in a city this old; every square inch has been put into service at some point or another.
We ended our tour near Christ Church cathedral, home of the largest crypt in Ireland and Great Britain. It was dark and cold but I was brave enough to walk a few blocks for a taxi. Of course, I wasn’t alone. There were plenty of people in costume to keep me company. They were white and shivering, but I am sure they were all alive and well…