Irish Ghosts & Hauntings by Michael Scott
Ireland is a land haunted by many ghosts. Sometimes sadness seeps from the streams, and despair from the soil. A nation that has known one million deaths due to the effects of starvation in a short time will have stories to tell. But the tales that are shared at the firesides of The Emerald Isle go back much further in time, and many are much more recent. In this collection, Michael Scott entices us into a world of strange occurrences and people. It makes for an interesting read.
We encounter the remnants of the magical Tuatha De Danaan, who fled underground after losing their war to the iron-wielding Milesians. These mythical creatures return, on occasion, to the surface to torment and terrify any humans unfortunate enough to upset them.
There is the Banshee, the Fairy Woman of legend who appears whenever a member of a particular family is about to die. She is a prophet of death never welcome near a Gaelic home. In the story contained within this book, we are given an intimate view of her life and why she does what she does. Should we feel pity for her, or curse her for the harbinger of grief that she is?
We meet the Beasts of Ossory and The Black Dog, neither of whom you would wish to run into on the way home from the pub. There is the tale of The Seventh Husband, a story that, at first glance, is enough to make a divorce lawyer weep with happiness. There is The Hungry Grass, which takes us back to An Gorta Mór (The Great Hunger) when a multitude starved to death in a land of plenty. The incidence of hungry grass is commonplace across the island, especially in the West, and serves as a terrible reminder of the grave injustice suffered by the Irish at the hands of the colonial regime and its lackeys.
Anyone familiar with the Irish countryside will be well acquainted with the many examples of standing stones that lie scattered everywhere. These prehistoric monuments often serve as markers of burials places for the ancients and, as such, are sacred and to be untouched. But sometimes there are those who ignore the old wisdom and endeavour to interfere. They often pay a heavy price for their foolishness. One such example lies within these pages.
Red Aoife was the, at first reluctant, wife of the Anglo-Norman invader of Ireland, Strongbow, the first of the colonials to come to Ireland for rape and rapine. But Aoife soon took up her husband’s cause and stood beside him in battle, or so the legends say. In the story included here, she defends her man to the death and beyond as old feuds follow bloodlines over centuries. How to settle the ghost of Red Aoife?
So where is the most haunted house in Ireland? There are many arguments as to that answer, but in this book we are given a strong contender. It is a place of tragedy and doom that befalls any who try to inhabit its halls. It would make a great attraction for Halloween and if Disney got a hold of it they would soon commercialise it. Luckily, the location remains a secret yet.
But one of the most haunting, yet poignant, stories in Irish Ghosts & Hauntings is that of “A Certain Small Hotel”. In this gentle tale, we are told of a peculiar hotel in Dublin, nondescript and quaint, but one that provides an amazing service to the few who know about it. Only those who have stayed there can tell of it and only those who have benefited from their visit will understand and care enough to share. It is a place for those in deepest grief, a means of comfort and for achieving a measure of peace. It is just simply a certain small hotel and you won’t find it on Trip Adviser, thank god.
This book is a wonderful collection of scary and/or ghostly stories from across Ireland, both in time and place. There is a sometimes heavy focus upon the Tuatha De Danaan that might appear repetitive. But, then, they were a very important part of Irish history. The action moves in a way that will not bore nor offend the average reader. It is a loose lesson in Irish history and whilst some of the tales might be part of the folklore of Ireland, others may have been woven by the author himself. It’s not always easy to tell, and that is a testament to the writing skills of Michael Scott.
It is easy to understand that the author has a profound love for his topic and the land in which it is set. Children, such as this reviewer for Rebel Voice, grew up hearing ghost stories in a quiet room, anecdotes from the darkness that scared but also thrilled a young mind. Fairies, selkies, black dogs, The Black Man, devils, demons, vampires and apparitions were all part and parcel of growing up in an Ireland of a much more innocent time. Even as bombs exploded and bullets flew across the north in those days, children still desired the fear that comes from hearing of the supernatural. Perhaps it was basic escapism, or maybe a desire to get in touch with an innate need to remember the haunted past. Whatever it is, children and adults alike, even in our cynical world, enjoy ghost stories and Hollywood knows this. It was simpler, and better, however by an Irish fireside.
There are 22 stories in this collection. Each has its own merits and some might stay with you. The one aspect to be pointed out is that the stories do not always have happy endings, unlike Aesop, for example. There are not always morals to be learned from them. Many are just stories pure and simple that might not end well for the central protagonist, even if that person be a child. It’s true that life is like that. It would be better of it wasn’t, but there we have it, reality. Irish ghost stories tell it like it is, with a supernatural twist, and some of the endings may not sit easy with the reader. Imagine hearing one and then having to walk home from a house in the dark past a burial place that is a location of reputed haunting. That’s the beauty and terror of the ghost stories.
Sult scale rating: 7 out of 10. This is an interesting and light collection of mostly scary tales from Ireland. They should enthral and appal you in equal measure. They should also make you long for a turf fire and an old person with a wrinkled face and even more wrinkled memory who can relate these insights into a world that is fast disappearing. When the imagination no longer allows for ghosts and supernatural creatures, then surely they will die. But will our world be a better place without the mystery and fear inspired by Irish ghost stories?