Wednesday, 22 November 2017

A Famous Ballyshannon Ghost Story

The scene of the ghostly appearance was the barracks on the left of this photo.

The Goblin Child, Lord Castlereagh and the Barracks at Ballyshannon

The barrack’s building at the bridge in Ballyshannon County Donegal is considered to be the oldest and most interesting building in the town. It is an historic military building which has been central to the history of the town for over 300 years. A detached six-bay building of two-storeys over a basement, the barracks was built in 1700. The building was planned as a T-shaped building and this outline can still be seen today The keystone over the central archway, records the date of erection of the barracks which can be viewed today on the front of the building and the interior of the building had a long spinal corridor 8 foot wide and 110 foot long. Alistair Rowan considered it to have been the work of Colonel Thomas Burgh who took over the role of Surveyor General in Ireland in 1700. Burgh who designed Collins Barracks in Dublin in 1701 was an ancestor of well -known singer Chris De Burgh. 
The interior of the building has been renovated and reconstructed and today the most authentic features are to be seen on the facade. The barracks was constructed for the British military to protect a very strategic crossing point into Ulster. Located beside the bridge over the Erne, the barracks in its early years had a checkpoint on the bridge to control all movement into County Donegal. Local people for generations have identified the building as the ghostly home of both The Green Lady and The Goblin Child. The story of The Green Lady centres on an officer’s wife who defied her husband by attending a ball in the town. On her return to the barracks an altercation developed with her husband and he threw her to her death down the stairs. The lady had been wearing a green dress and right up to present times local people believe that she haunted the barracks, particularly around the Harvest Fair day in September.

The Radiant Boy seen in Ballyshannon by Lord Castlereagh

The Goblin Child of Ballyshannon is also associated with the barracks and this event was known in various parts of Ulster, in the 19th century, as ‘the radiant boy,’ but few sources identified the location of the apparition as Ballyshannon. The story of the Goblin Child concerns the supernatural appearance of a boy in the barracks at Ballyshannon, and is one of the most authenticated ghost stories in the area. The tale centres on Robert Stewart, Lord Castlereagh, who arrived in Ballyshannon barracks following military manoeuvres. Having retired upstairs to his bedroom, in which a fire was still glowing in the fireplace, he went into a fitful sleep. During the night he was awakened from his sleep and claimed that he saw the image of a naked child emerging from the fireplace and coming across to the foot of his bed. The child did not speak and the apparition receded back into the fireplace. Robert Stewart is reputed to have later recounted the tale to Sir Walter Scott, the famous Scottish novelist in 1815- “It is certain he related several strange circumstances many years after, at a dinner party in Paris, one of those present being Sir Walter Scott who afterwards referred to it in his writing.”  Scott said only two men had ever told him that they had seen a ghost, and that both had ended their own lives. One of these men was Lord Castlereagh. In other accounts of the apparition, Robert Stewart, Lord Castlereagh, was said to have been out hunting when the weather turned bad and he sought shelter in a gentleman’s house. One source called the child ‘a radiant boy’ and recounted that the incident happened somewhere in Ireland. Perhaps the reason that the event has not been generally identified with Ballyshannon is, that the ghostly apparition is mainly referred to as the ‘radiant child’ but William Allingham the poet refers to it as the Goblin Child. Francis Joseph Bigger M.R.I.A placed the ghostly appearance of the boy in the barracks at Ballyshannon in 1796, whilst referring to the apparition as ‘the radiant boy’ and recounted how Lord Castlereagh had told the story to Sir Walter Scott and to the Duke of Wellington. There is also strong anecdotal evidence to locate the strange happening at the barracks beside the river Erne in Ballyshannon. 
The Curse of the Goblin Child

Who was Lord Castlereagh? He was born Robert Stewart in Dublin in 1769, the son of a Presbyterian landowner and Member of Parliament, who built Mount Stewart near Newtownards in Co. Down. By a strange coincidence he had a Ballyshannon connection, as he was married to Lady Emily Hobart, who was a relative of William Conolly, the Speaker of the Irish Parliament, who was born in Ballyshannon in 1662. By a strange quirk of location the Speaker’s birthplace was just across the street from the barracks where Robert Stewart saw the apparition. Stewart later rose to prominence as Chief Secretary, War Minister, Foreign Secretary and Leader of the Commons during the Napoleonic Wars. He is remembered in Ireland for his suppression of the 1798 Rebellion and for forcing through The Act of Union. In 1822 he cut his throat at his residence in Kent. An added piece of information about the Goblin Child was that when the boy/child appeared to anyone, that person would rise to high prominence but would have a violent death.  Castlereagh’s violent death leaves one to wonder about the curse of the Goblin Child, as Castlereagh rose to high office but then met a violent death.,

William Allingham heard the story of the Goblin Child in his Youth

The account of the story in William Allingham’s narrative poem, The Goblin Child of Ballyshannon, graphically describes the appearance of the child to Lord Castlereagh and locates this unusual tale at the barracks in Ballyshannon.  The room in which the event occurred in the barracks was, for many years, referred to as Lord Castlereagh’s Chamber. It is significant that the Allingham family lived close to the barracks at Ballyshannon, when the apparition occurred in the late 1700’s, and that the poet William Allingham who was born in 1824, published his poem on the occurrence in 1850. He would have been familiar with the story, growing up, and in the extract from his poem quoted at the end of this blog, describes the apparition and names Lord Castlereagh as the person who saw the Goblin Child in Ballyshannon barracks.

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When   suddenly – Oh Heaven! – the fire

Leaped up into a dazzling pyre,

And boldly from the brightened hearth

A Naked Child stepped forth.

                                                                       With a total, frozen start,

A bound – a pausing of the heart,

He saw.  It came across the floor,

Its size increasing more and more

At every step, until a dread

Gigantic form stood by his bed.

Glaring for some seconds’space

Down into his rigid face –

Back it drew, with steadfast look.

Dwindling every step it took,

Till the Naked Child returned

To the fire, which brightly burned

To greet it: then black sudden gloom

Sunk upon the silent room,

Silent, save the monotone

Of the river flowing down

Through the arches of the bridge,

And beneath his casement ledge.

This happened when our island still

Had nests of goblins left, to fill

Each mouldy nook and corner close,

Like spiders in an ancient house,

And this one read within the face

Intruding on its dwelling-place,

Lines of woe, despair, and blood,

By spirits only understood;

As mortals now can read the same

In the letters of his name,

Who in that haunted chamber lay,

When  we call him – Castlereagh.

Fears of a French invasion during the Napoleonic era resulted in a new barracks being built on higher ground overlooking Ballyshannon in 1798. Traces of this barracks can still be seen at East Rock in the town. In the 1890s Finner Camp was constructed as a training camp for the Boer War and the First World War. The barracks at the bridge, where the Green Lady and the Goblin Child had appeared, had ceased to be used for military purposes since before the Great Famine. The building was suggested as a site for a workhouse but was not considered suitable. From the 19th century to the present day the barracks building at the bridge in Ballyshannon has been used as commercial premises and currently houses an auctioneer’s premises, a computer shop and a music store. This barracks still stands, beside the bridge over the Erne at Ballyshannon, and has a rich ghostly history, which is believed to be the location of Castlereagh’s ghostly vision of the radiant or goblin child.

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