The Faithlegg Phantom

The following story comes from the newspapers of February 1892 and concerns the haunting of an ex-RIC man who had taken up residence in the home of an evicted family.  Make of it what you will!  

In February 1892 a family by the man of Kingworth (Kingsworth but some accounts) had a fearful experience. Mr Kingworth, his wife, and his young family had moved into a farmhouse in Carraiglea, Faithlegg. An ex-Royal Irish Constabulary man, he took on the role of an Emergency Man, protecting the house for the Marquis of Waterford estate after a long-standing tenant had faced eviction.

Not long after, the Kingworth family had their nighttime peace shattered by a horrendous experience. As they doused the candles one winter’s night and settled down to sleep, the furniture flew across the floor, wall hangings fell, dishes smashed and the very house seemed to quake. A high-pitched scream of agony and torment filled the house and the family crouched down, huddled in sheer terror. They eventually ran finding shelter in an outhouse and fitfully dozed until morning, ever fearful of any sound lest the torment fall upon them again.

Next morning, at first light, Kingworth ran to Passage East, and there he reported the happenings to Sargent Murphy at the local RIC barracks. Murphy, who was no believer in ghosts, took his ex-colleague’s word with a pinch of salt no doubt, but he left immediately to investigate the scene, and so concerned was he, that when darkness came that evening, Sargent Murphy commanded an escort party at the house, the approaches of which were barricaded off and a RIC man stationed inside. But once again, when the Kingworths tried to sleep the unearthly sounds returned, and they were witnessed by the RIC men too.

An eviction scene of the 1890s

The man on duty inside saw furniture dashed about by an “invisible agency”. Sergeant Murphy reported the result of his experience to his superior officer in Waterford, and Head-Constable Waters was sent out to investigate the allegation that ghosts were haunting Kingworth’s house. Despite all their support, caretaker Kingworth and his family left in a state of terror. They secured accommodation in Ballybricken in the city, at Costello’s Lane.

There they lived in peace for about two weeks, but then one Saturday night, they doused the candles and lay down to rest and the sound of the screaming returned. Not just that, but the furniture moved, the pictures on the walls fell, the crockery smashed and they huddled in terror once more lamenting that the ghost had followed them. This time those residing in the close-knit neighbourhood heard. And rushing to the Kingworths door they tried to burst in to offer help. Try as they might the screaming increased, their entreaties to those inside only being answered by other neighbours who emerged into the street to assist. All could hear the sounds from inside, including a voice quite audibly moaning and shrieking. The RIC were summoned, and when they eventually gained entry they found the Kingworths huddled insensible and terrorised on the floor and the inside of the cottage in ruins.

Image from La Vie Mysterieuse in 1911. Artist unknown. Wikipedia public domain

On Sunday the RIC were stationed inside out outside the home. Several clergymen visited and numerous prayers were said, both by the family, and also their neighbours in the street outside, and what was reported as hundreds of curious onlookers. Again on Sunday night, the approaches to the Kingworth home were sealed off by the constabulary and hundreds of citizens came out to witness the scene. Despite this, the poltergeist reappeared.

The next morning Kingworth sold what furniture he still had unbroken to a furniture dealer in Patrick St, called Mrs Fahy, and under police escort, they withdrew to an undisclosed location in the county.  Mr. Kingworth expressed the hope to a local journalist that the charitable people of Waterford would pay their passage for the boat to America…confident, he claimed, that the ghosts would not follow him there.

There is no Kingworth family to be found in Waterford in the 1901 census. Maybe the ghosts got them, or maybe the charitable people of Waterford bailed them out. Where ever they got to, I’d imagine Kingworth steered clear of evicted homes thereafter.

This piece was suggested to me by my cousin James Doherty – infamous now for his Dark History Tours of Waterford. Follow him on Eventbrite for details of his next walk.

I merged a number of contemporary news reports from several sources including the Munster Express of February 1892

No ghosts on my next walk, but plenty of river based yarns of the lightermen that operated on John’s River. You can book on Eventbrite or come along on the day, but please let me know you are coming by email in case I need to cancel with this weather.

Digging up our dead – The Body Snatcher era

I remember hearing many years back an account of the body snatchers who resurrected a lady in Kilkenny.  The story went that a wealthy lady from Ballinlaw on the River Barrow died and was buried in Slieverue.  It was a time when even the dead could not rest in the country and later that night, the dreaded grave robbers arrived. They broke into the limestone tomb within which she lay.  As they uncovered her burial shroud a diamond ring glittered in their torchlight.  As her fingers had swollen prior to her death, her husband could not bear to have her rings removed. 

Now although they wanted her whole body, greed got in their way.  Try as they might they could not remove them, as they squabbled, jostled, and pushed each other aside.  Finally, as one held out the wedding finger on the tomb, another brought down a shovel. With a crack, the finger was parted and the ring flew onto the ground.  The thieves dived on it and started squabbling again.  When they finally stood up from the ground, they found the corpse sitting up in the tomb. The elderly lady, pale and gaunt, was groaning and looking from one to the other with bloodshot eyes.  As they fled the graveyard she rose from her tomb returning to her home, minus her finger and her wedding ring. She lived for several more months to come.

The account was only one of many of course which relates to a very macabre era in Irish history. It was the era of the Grave robbers, the body snatchers, the “sack ‘em up men” or the Resurrectionists.  The last term seems to be a rather grand title for what was a deplorable activity; the desecration of a grave and the removal of a corpse for monetary gain.  The trade-in corpses, however, was largely based on the need for medical students and those interested in furthering medical research to have access to bodies for dissection.

Historically dissection was largely carried out on animals and monkeys in an effort to understand human physiology. The research by William Harvey into the circulatory system was benefited by the dissection of his sister and father.  In 1752 the murder act enshrined in law the replacement of dissection to gibbeting of murders.  However, the activity of robbing the dead was common in Dublin from at least 1732. There were several scandals at the Edinburgh Medical school from its founding in 1726

Resurrectionism increased as a new area of medicine emerged, pathology.  As physicians began to struggle with the causes of illness and the impact of various diseases on the human body, it was no longer enough to simply extrapolate from the bodies of murders or soldiers who were more likely to be fit and well when they died.  What was needed was a variety of corpses of all ages and causes of deaths.  It also increased as medicine became a popular profession and with it an increase in the number of medical schools.

Four stages of cruelty – The reward of cruelty, fourth and last of series of engravings. Tom Nero’s body is dissected after he has been hanged. 1751. William Hogarth. Public domain

But there were other reasons to mine human bodies.  There was a roaring trade in human teeth for transplanting into gums.  After the battle of Waterloo so many teeth were scavenged from the mouths of the dead, that they flooded to market and became known as “Waterloo teeth”[iii]  Another target was body fat!  Used in candle making…and in Irish terms, there seems to have been a folk-based superstition. This held that a thief who used a candle made from the fat of the person would be invisible if this was used to light an intrusion and robbery of their home.

The incidence of Irish resurrectionism was further encouraged by the English market and exports, from Dublin, at least, seem to have been common.  The trade was noted from the late 18th Century and apparently increased after the introduction of faster and more reliable steamship crossings in the 1820s [vi]  Monetary gain was, of course, the principal driver.  In 1831 three Irish corpses were sold in London for £38. Almost a year’s wage. Criminals got in on the act and it is estimated that there were 50 professional resurrection men operating in Dublin alone at its height.[vii]

It seems they came there from all over the country including the Barony of Forth & Bargy in Wexford. “Peter Dempsey, a deputy supervisor of roads, died and was duly waked by his friends, but the night of his internment the body was removed from the grave, and all traces of it lost, notwithstanding a most determined chase from South Wexford to Dublin by the relatives of the deceased”. All to no avail, however.

In Waterford, the dead were unsafe too as this piece from the Waterford Mail of 1833 highlights. What was described as “two medical gentlemen” were spotted “driving into town [Waterford city] a peculiar kind of vehicle, long after midnight on Tuesday morning, some suspicions about the resurrect of the body were excited, and a search being accordingly instituted” The body of an old woman named Johanna Power who had been buried outside the city (no graveyard is mentioned but in another article Drumcannon close to Tramore is the given graveyard) were discovered “…entombed within a sack, on the upper floor of a store in Michael-street…” Investigations were instigated and somehow a rumour spread throughout the city that a local firm names Messrs. Kenney were involved. As a consequence “…A large mob rushed down towards the cross accordingly, about noon, on Thursday, and broke the shop windows of these gentlemen… and it was evident that the rioters would have proceeded to attack more violent nature, but for the timely presence of the Mayor and constables.”  Johanna’s corpse we learn was reinterred with a much larger crowd of mourners than before.

Resurrectionists (1847), by Hablot Knight Browne. Public Domain image

But for all these efforts the trade continued until the grisly business reached what was perhaps its logical conclusion.  For if it was ok to rob the dead out of the ground, would it not be a logical step to actually kill to provide for the trade.  The names Burke and Hare will be well known to many as they were responsible for the murder of 16 individuals in the streets of Edinburgh for sale to the anatomist Robert Knox.  Their capture and the subsequent hanging of Burke (followed somewhat ironically by dissection) after his companion Hare gave evidence against him led indirectly to the 1832 Anatomy Act which finally outlawed the practice, although it was slow to stop. From that point forward it was illegal to rob a corpse. The bodies of the executed, those that died in the workhouse or by their own hand were available for science

Faithlegg Churches and graveyard

All that remains now are the folk memories, and I will conclude with one of the more interesting; the corpse that hung the man.  My brother-in-law Maurice told me this again only recently. As he had heard it, a thief landed by boat at Cheekpoint and walked to Faithlegg Graveyard. There he unearthed a recently deceased body.  Wrapping it in canvas, he tied both ends with a rope, using this on his shoulder to carry the body back to the village.  As he came down the chapel road he decided to rest at the bottom of the Bridge Hill before the steep climb. He placed the body on the wall of the bridge.  The body slipped and fell off the opposite side. As the rope was still around his shoulder, this slipped too, got caught around his neck and the weight of the corpse strangled him. 

Jim Doherty in his wonderful book, the House Next Door, tells the same tale. Although in that telling, the bridge was at Mooneys Grove, by the bumps in the road.  And there is a very fine account from Passage East too.

My new book is out.
Details here