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The Bleeding Horse and Other Ghost Stories

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The Bleeding Horse and Other Ghost Stories

  The Bleeding Horse

  and Other Ghost Stories


  Trade enquiries to CMD Distribution

  55A Spruce Avenue, Stillorgan Industrial Park,

  Blackrock, County Dublin.

  Text copyright © Brian J. Showers, 2008

  Interior illustrations copyright © Duane Spurlock, 2008

  Introduction © Jim Rockhill, 2008

  Cover paintings © Scott Hampton, 2008

  Extracts from Kilpatricks Phantoms and Apparitions of South Dublin and the Irish Classics edition of Father Corrigan's Diary used with permission from the publishers.

  ISBN: 978 1 85635 578 010 987654321

  In memory of Deirdre Kelly, whose scholarship haunts rids books every page. And for Anna-Lena Yngve, who worked just as hard for this book as I did.

  A CIP record for this title is available from the British Library council

  This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out or otherwise circulated without the publisher s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or any information or retrieval system, without the prior permission of the publisher in writing.

  All characters, locations and events in this book are entirely fictional. Any resemblance to any person, living or dead, which may occur inadvertently is completely unintentional.

  Printed and bound by J.H. Haynes & Co. Ltd, Sparkford

  Table of Contents


  A Note To The Reader


  The Road to Rathmines

  The Bleeding Horse

  Oil on Canvas

  Favourite No. 7 Omnibus


  Rathmines Road Lower

  Meones’ Beast

  Quis Separabit

  Lavender and White Clover

  Father Corrigan's Diary



  The folkloric ghost story has a long, chequered history ranging at least as far back as mythology will trace, through the Roman Houses of Hades, to such present-day collectors of urban legends as Jan Harold Brunvand. Few of those printed leave lasting impressions, being little more than bare records of events with no care taken to: delineate the characters involved (either natural or supernatural); place the events within their familial, geographical, historical or wider folkloric/mythological contexts; or even describe the events with sufficient finesse to lend them atmosphere and impact. The storyteller of old could make up for what looked bare on the page by reshaping his tales with details from each new site visited and long practice at creating dramatic effects through voice, gesture and expression.

  Of the hundreds of ghost stories and weird events culled from folklore for the printed page over the centuries, those that have proved most memorable have been the relatively few tales on which the author has imposed a shape, recreated a context and at least hinted at a purpose. A convincing ghost story could be written about the spectre of Myrtilus haunting the stadium at Olympia following his betrayal and murder by Pelops, but the full impact of the story requires the authors deployment of all those elements noted as missing from the majority of recorded folkloric ghost stories, including, in this case, references to the crimes of Pelops’ father, Tantalus, and a veritable litany of succeeding tragedies that ultimately led to the destruction of Troy, the murder of Pelops' grandson Agamemnon at the hands of another grandson, Aegisthus, and the madness of Agamemnon s surviving children. Few ghost stories have such a broad scope as this, yet the successful ghost story based on folklore always explores or hints at something — whether event, emotion or a fierce combination of the two greater than the mere recital of details can ever hope to encompass.

  We encounter this most frequently in myth, but we also see it in tragedy, ballad, verse and the more literary forms of the ghost story which started to appear in the nineteenth century. The details of the hauntings in such ballads as ‘William and Marjorie’, ‘The Wife of Ushers Well’ and ‘The Unquiet Grave’ are interesting enough, but what makes us remember them so fondly and so clearly is their depth of longing and their sense of place they make us recognise that these are not quaint events purported to have taken place among a group of superstitious nonentities in the remote past, but tragedies with significant repercussions affecting real people in a specific place and time. As the so called Age of ‘Enlightenment’ gave way to Sensibility and thence to the Romantic movement, authors, searching for an art that eschewed the artificiality and preciosity of the eighteenth century in favour of greater intensity and a closer contact between free men and sublime nature, enriched both their verse and their prose through the influence of the folk tale and the ballad. This fertilising influence has had a profound effect on authors as diverse as William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Sir Walter Scott, James Hogg, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Gottfried August Burger, Ludwig Tieck and others.

  By the time Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu began publishing his first folklore-based ghost stories in the Dublin University Magazine in 1838, the folk tale, the local legend and the ballad had become grist for the literary mill. It must be borne in mind that Le Fanu and his brother William assiduously researched the folk-ways of the areas in which they lived, to the extent that their expertise was relied upon by the folklorists Samuel Carter Hall and Anna Maria Hall when compiling the immense three-volume guidebook to Ireland they published between 1841 and 1843. What sets Le Fanu apart from a great many of his contemporaries in this endeavour is his attempt to capture as closely as possible the inflexions of a local storyteller, the scenic grandeur or peculiarities of the place in which events occurred, and the precise speech patterns and personalities of the individuals involved. At the same time he would pace events with the utmost precision, imparting the proper atmospheric effects to each event and location, and injecting a sense that events described are mere fragments of a larger and more ominous pattern that mortal man might never fully comprehend. He demonstrated this artful melding of seemingly naive material and narrators with extreme sophistication throughout his literary career, from the earliest of the Father Purcell tales in 1838 to ‘Laura Silver Bell’ and ‘Dickon the Devil* published the year before his death in 1873. And the more closely he ties them to a particular time and place, the more powerful they are. These are aspects of his supernatural fiction that also inform and interpenetrate those works not directly influenced by folklore.

  Of particular interest here are two sets of linked stories Le Fanu published almost twenty years apart: ‘Ghost Stories of Chapelizod* (Dublin University Magazine, January 1851) and ‘Stories of Lough Guir (All the Year Round, 23 April 1870). Each story in each set not only works independently, but also gains strength from shared motifs that add resonance to its fellows. Le Fanu wishes to remind us that these supernatural events do not occur in isolation, but are manifestations of a vaster spiritual world impinging upon our natural one and ever ready to break through.

  Readers of the present collection may find it disquieting that Mr Showers has allowed similar motifs to echo within these pages, to chilling effect. When, for instance, a horse similar to that described in the first story appears in a later tale under different circumstances, what are we to make of it? And if a corpse is found in an unexpected place with its mouth stuffed with lavender, what should we conclude
about a man in a later story who insists upon the presence of lavender whenever alone? These details, among others, summon a whole host of uncomfortable surmises, surmises which the narrator of the stories seems all too willing to overlook.

  Rathmines may not be separated by a great physical distance from Le Fanu's Chapelizod, but it would be comforting to believe that the intervening century and a half had at least dimmed, if not entirely obscured, the chillier implications Le Fanu revealed in the rapprochement between his region and its damning past. Showers’ careful marshalling of the facts from diverse sources and a cloud of witnesses proves otherwise. These ghost stories of Rathmines, often deceptively light in tone, are full of the kinds of twists and turns that make safety look illusory, shrink the distance between passive reader and active witness, and bring the recurrent past ever before our eyes.

  Jim Rockhill

  Dowagiac, Michigan

  October 2007

  A Note To The Reader

  I should probably take this opportunity to inform the readers of this book that my introduction, though true as far as it goes, is also a trifle disingenuous. Brian J. Showers and I have never met in person, but have been carrying on a lively correspondence via internet and post since Barbara Roden of the Ghost Story Society sent me for review and comment an early draft of what would later become the Le Fanu chapter of his Literary Walking Tours of Gothic Dublin (Nonsuch Ireland, 2006). To my delight Brian was as enamoured of Le Fanu's work as I was, and had been doing a considerable amount of research into the urban geography in which the man lived and worked.

  Although an amiable correspondent and generous with the fruits of his research, Brian seems by nature a private person. Rarely has he mentioned personal matters, and on those occasions early in our correspondence when he offered a few details of his life and I responded as if more details were forthcoming, he became aloof, and on one occasion did not respond at all for several days. Over the years the sum of what I have learned about Brian as a person amounts to very little. Enumerating in my own mind all that I knew about him, I arrived at the following list:

  He is an expatriate American from Madison, Wisconsin, who has lived in Dublin since 2000.

  He does indeed live in Rathmines, as can be determined by the postmarks on his letters, and resides only a short distance from Le Fanu s final resting place in Mount Jerome Cemetery.

  He is always willing, nay eager, to act as my remote research assistant by looking into records available only in Dublin and Belfast archives, which I need for my own Le Fanu research.

  He is a devoted enthusiast of the strange tale, that venerable and still lively mode of storytelling with the specific goal of invoking a primal awe in the reader, what M. R. James called a pleasing terror.

  He is keen on the lost byways of history and has a knack for sniffing out mysteries within even the driest of documents, then doggedly following lead after lead until he has discovered as many pieces of the hitherto-forgotten puzzle as still remain available to modem eyes.

  This knowledge amounts to very little; therefore you can imagine my bewilderment when he began to send me, quite unexpectedly, the stories that are now included in this book.

  Brians fascination with the strange histories he has uncovered in his chosen home have proved infectious, and the joy I felt while first reading them, in the raw, has been redoubled now that he has correlated these tales into a single volume, so that a wider understanding and appreciation for Rathmines has emerged. Not that this joy has been an entirely comfortable one; as you will discover within these pages, the history of Rathmines hides more than a few disturbing patterns which bode ill for those of a careless or over-inquisitive temperament. Brians own persistence and curiosity have more than once landed him in trouble with local eccentrics, belligerent alcoholics, landlords harbouring a rather brutal intolerance towards trespassers, and led to random encounters with a person or persons perhaps just as dangerous whose motivations remain, as yet, unclear.

  When Brian first started sending me these stories, he provided no preface or explanation, inviting no input beyond the occasional question regarding syntax and orthographical errors. It was as if reading these strange stories of local supernatural disturbances allowed me to eavesdrop on ghostly radio transmissions from across the Adantic. Separated though I may have been by many thousands of miles, I was still somehow drawn into them and made complicit in their telling.

  But what was their underlying meaning?

  Had Brian been sending them to me in lieu of the private thoughts he guarded so carefully?

  Perhaps someone reading this book can determine the answers to another series of questions that has plagued me ever since these cryptic narratives began to appear: How much in them is truth and how much fiction?

  Where precisely does Brians carefully documented research end and the outgrowths of his imagination begin?

  And are we to accept the narrator s voice and opinions as those of the author, or do they represent a persona?

  I tried asking Brian these questions after reading each successive story, but he always found a way to routinely, if politely, avoid answering any of them. Not that he has not occasionally let drop a tantalising hint.

  There is a curious episode in ‘Quis Separabit’ in which the narrator mentions purchasing a first edition of Le Fanu s The House by the Churchyard in a flea market for the price of six pounds. Those of you who are familiar with the value of such a book are no doubt gasping, and you can well imagine that I did the same. However, Brians response to my queries was in this case rather more than I expected. I received no immediate response to my email asking him if he had really encountered this edition at such an astoundingly low price. But what I did not foresee, and what continues to amaze me, was my receipt eight days later of a bulky parcel wrapped in brown paper bearing the postmark of Rathmines and containing a remarkably fine copy of The House by the Churchyard — all three volumes, printed in London by Tinsley Brothers in 1863. Scrawled lightly in pencil on the inside cover of each volume was £2. Between the copyright and title page was a scrap of paper with a brief note in Brians handwriting:

  I hope this helps you with your research! Please take your time with it and return it at your leisure.

  Yours sincerely,


  I would have been afraid even to entrust such a treasure to the mail, but that is at least one of many mysteries associated with these tales which we can safely put to rest.

  A subject about which there should be no doubt is the existence and location of all the sites mentioned within these stories. Any good map of the city will show each of the sites Brian describes, as will a deft hand and a degree of diligence with an internet search engine.

  Considering the passion with which Brian pursues these strange ‘stories’ of his, I would have expected to hear that he had approached a publisher and was well on the way to seeing at least the first of several specimens in print, but when I brought this up some months ago, he responded as though the thought had never entered his mind. A few months later I was expecting to discover that he had acted upon my suggestion, but he informed me that he had still not contacted anyone. Although he was hesitant at first, he ultimately had no objections to my submitting them on his behalf. This was not the easiest thing to do: I was separated from Brian by an ocean and half a continent, and had to talk around his diffidence and my own inexperience with publishers without making us both sound like lost causes. After the usual round of publishers who may very well have thought just that, I found a sympathetic ear, and the book that resulted from our negotiations rests in your hands.

  In the meantime, Brian has continued to send me more ghost stories of Rathmines, the most recent of which concerns St Mary's College and the eccentric ornithologist Ellis Grimwood. There should be enough new stories to fill a second volume some time in the near fixture. Whether he will take a more active role in submitting this second crop of tales to a publisher is any-ones guess.

et us all hope that if Mr Showers, in the course of his researches and perambulations, within either the physical world we all share or the world of his private imagination, ever finds himself amidst shades of dubious mortality, they pay less heed, and take less offence to his scrutiny than have their mortal counterparts.

  And, if a friend ever invites you to visit the former Blackberry Fair after dark, find an excuse, any excuse, to decline.



  The Road to Rathmines

  Most people do not realise as they go south along South Great Georges Street from Dublin’s city centre that they are walking a very old path. It is one of the four roads to Dublin, a highway of pre-Norman origin that still feeds the city like a great tributary. This particular road connects Dublin with the not far-distant neighbourhood of Rathmines. At one time Rathmines was a desolate morass of scrub and gorse, of swampy ground and wandering, unbounded rivulets. But from this unwelcoming terrain sprouted first a rural village, then, from tillage land, a booming township, and now a fully urbanised neighbourhood of the ever-expanding city. And Rathmines, built upon the mulch and layered sediment of history, is our destination this evening.

  If we follow the old highway away from the city centre the road changes its identity several times - South Great George s Street bypasses onto modem Aungier Street which gives way to Wexford Street and so on - until we come to Camden Street, and a well-known and oddly named pub called the Bleeding Horse where, like coundess travellers before us, we can stop for a nip of your favourite and a short rest. Now, does everyone have a pint?

  I hope you will indulge me in this opportunity to tell you the evening’s first tale. Its called:

  The Bleeding Horse

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