“I’m glad he’s moving out of that house because of the ghosts.”
We were on a family holiday – the last before my Dad died – in Dingle and my sister was on the phone to my brother who, having been detained in Dublin, was to join us the following day. I had mentioned over dinner, in passing, that I was leaving the 240 year old Georgian house that I’d been renting in Drogheda for the previous three years to move back to Dublin.
“What ghosts?” was my sister’s predictable response.
My brother went on to explain that, within days of me moving in, he’d called to visit unannounced and found nobody home. He’d crossed the street to take a photograph with the disposable film cameras that he still used – his technophobia ruling out such modern contraptions as digital cameras or smartphones. The photograph was to show his girlfriend my new seven level home, which came complete with servants attics, cellars and servants’ quarters. There was even a bell pull beside each fireplace which rang a bell in the servants’ quarters to tell them where they were required. It was not until the photograph was developed that my brother noticed the two figures behind the net curtain in the lower window. Rather than upset me, he had a Mass said and told me nothing.
My sister instructed my brother to bring the picture with him to Dingle where we all poured over it. I took a photograph of the photograph and was able, therefore, to zoom in closer. A few days after moving in I painted the front door bright red so the photograph was definitely taken within the first few days. While I was sure that there must be a rational explanation, I was keenly aware that, until more than a week after the painting of the door, there wasn’t a stick of furniture in the that room. What’s more, I’d changed the locks so there was nobody in the house while I was absent that day.
“When you have removed all possibilities, whatever is left, no matter how improbable, must be the truth,” had claimed Conan Doyle’s legendary detective Sherlock Holmes (or words to that effect). Therefore, I concluded, there were two possibilities. Either the ghost-like figures were, in fact, a reflection from across the street or… well, the alternative was unthinkable.
As soon as we returned to Dublin I wasted no time in driving to Drogheda. I crossed the street to the exact spot where my brother had stood and gazed across at the window. I can still recall the shiver that ran up my spine. Because a series of steps ran up from street level to the door, the window sill was at head height from the street. What’s more, the glass in the windows been countless decades old, like the glass in the the upper windows, it was warped and reflected the sky rather than anything on the street. I stretched and jumped trying to catch the reflection of anything – perhaps a street lamp or the top of a building – but there was nothing that could have caused a reflection.
What added a further air of mystery to the puzzle of the photograph was my memory of the first few days spent in that house. I had found myself unable to spend the first night there alone, such was the sense of brooding oppression that I felt from it as the evening darkened into night. The following day I had returned familiarise myself with all the nooks and crannies under the courage of daylight. When I went into the servants’ quarters I was hit with a strong smell of pipe tobacco that I remembered from a neighbour’s house in my childhood. I couldn’t find anything that would explain the smell. I managed to stay there that night but on a sofa in the first floor living room after exorcising the place with my guitar and a raucous rendition of every Bob Marley song I knew (I know. Bob Marley? Somehow it seemed appropriate at the time). On the third day, probably the day that my brother took the photograph, I was gone until evening, organising heating oil, a bed and other such necessities. On my return I entered to find that the oppression had lifted. It wasn’t that it didn’t feel as though the house had a personality. It felt more as if it had decided to accept me.
I had a number of dinners and parties over the three years in that house with friends from Dublin staying over. I became quite used to hearing that they’d been ‘spooked out’ by something. I had two friends who would only stay if they shared a room which used to raise an eyebrow (I trick I can no longer perform since my eyebrow nerve was severed in my recent accident.
The final chapter in this tale came from my sister. Some weeks after I had left the house, the riddle of the ghostly photo unresolved, my sister was mentioning it to a friend in company and showing her the photo. A woman interjected.
“That was a priest and a young boy,” she said. “He used to call at the local orphanage and bring a different child with him on his rounds each week to give the boy a break from his routine.”
“She’s a medium,” my sister’s friend explained when the woman had moved away.
I’m looking at the picture now. I found it while looking for photos that I’d taken on my Camino trips while researching my “Pins and Needles” book. It still sends a shiver down my spine. It’s also giving me ideas for my next book…