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Midsummer madness, the terror of absolute confinement in the California desert resort of Palm Springs. Today’s temperature soaring to 120 degrees  so its essential to stay put in the comfort of air-conditioning and speculate on topics rarely talked about. Ghosts head my list and belief in them was part of traditional rearing in Ireland. Ghosts were everywhere, every family had stories and as a child I prayed a nice ghost would appear to me. I also prayed that the Virgin Mary would appear heralding my holiness and at the age of seven rendering me famous. I built a grotto to the Mother of God at the back of the garden, wild flowers changed daily but alas, I was bypassed, the children of Fatima clearly were preferred.

Every Irishman and woman harbor an abundance of ghost stories, many told with gusto accompanied with liberal vocal sounds, moaning, gusts of wind, footsteps and knocks on the arms of chairs. Children were riveted spawning nightmares. What caught my eye during the current incarceration is a US government survey published in the New York Times that 45% of Americans believe in ghosts. Could be they are Irish American citizens. There is no scientific evidence for the existence of ghosts although the PEW Research Center found that 18% of Americans believe they have seen or otherwise encountered one.

John E.L. Tenny, a paranormal researcher, a former host of the TV show “Ghost Stalkers,” estimated he received two to five reports of a haunted house every month in 2019. More recently that number has escalated from five to ten per week. Ironically Michigan rates as one of the top ten haunted cities in the United States.

During my childhood adults spoke often about seeing a ghost, a dark shadow on a country road, a moan from a ditch, a door opening in the night the sense of nearness of a diseased friend or relative. The Irish thrived on the folklore of ghosts and their stories. In my adulthood I erased testimony of a moan from a ditch as proof of a ghost, more likely two young lovers hidden from sight, moaning having their way with each other. Nonetheless growing up I listened to my mother and her sisters spinning stories about their young lives in Inniskeen, County Monaghan, the birthplace of Irish poet Patrick Kavanaugh. Their home was haunted by a ghost named Simey. At night they’d hear the latch lift on the outside gate, hear footsteps, a tap or two on the front door. It was always opened to welcome the invisible Simey who allegedly lived there in by-gone days. When he came too frequently the parish priest was summoned for prayer and a house blessing, forever explaining the spirit of Simey was serving out a sentence imposed by Heaven, therefore unable to rest until his mission on earth was complete.

The ghost stories were told at nighttime, sitting around the fire, and depending on the skills of the narrater, sounds were uttered putting the fear of God into the wee ones terrified of going to bed in the dark.

Perhaps the current pandemic has given rise to ghosts and poltergeist activity. We are house bound, we hear creeks in the night, a book dislodged, falling from a book shelf, a full moon, a wild cat screeching outside, recalling the banshee who keened loudly when a person was close to death. Back then the mythology and odd phenomena pertaining to the weeping banshee was that death came in threes. My old Granny when visiting, making porridge in the morning often sighed, asking if we heard the banshee. Sometimes, being the oldest, I did and Granny would say we can expect two other deaths in coming days. If memory serves me, I recall she was generally right on the mark.

The strong and ancient tradition of ghostly appearances in Ireland partnered with history and culture. A country full of old castles with secret rooms, and while some of the stories are figments of lively imaginations, there are other tales that cannot easily be explained away. Dublin’s Mercier Press published a slim volume of Irish Ghost Stories in 1965. The writer Patrick J .Byrne died in 1960, a fifth-generation Dubliner, a journalist

who documented  one of the strangest stories about Gormanston Castle, in County Meath. Purchased by the Preston family who came to Ireland from Lancashire early in the 14th century, settling as merchants in Drogheda, County Louth. According to local folklore, one of the Vicecounts Gormanston was participating in a hunt when the fox was located in a secluded part of the demesne. Hounds were going in for the kill when the viscount saw that the fox was a vixen trying to protect her litter. The crest of the Viscounts Gormanston is a running fox while the animal forms one of the supporters of the daily coat-of-arms. If the head of the house died, foxes from the surrounding countryside congregated at the castle. In 1860 when the twelfth viscount lay dying, foxes moved towards the house for several days. According to legend, just prior to his death foxes came in pairs into the demesne and sat underneath the vicecount’s window, barking and howling through the night. In the morning they were found all around the outside, walking through the poultry pen without touching them, nor were the foxes touched by the dogs. After the funeral the animals returned to their natural habitat. The castle was subsequently purchased by the Franciscan Fathers, and is currently a college. If foxes are spotted walking tamely around the campus, it is said the reason might be they know that the place is under the patronage of the followers of the saint who loved animals and called them his brothers. In reality, no one even knows what a ghost is, or if they are in communication with the living. So where are the fairies, the demons, the black cats, the devil, human possession by demonic influences? The necessity of exorcisms? Stay tuned!
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