Eoin Swithin Walsh recounts some spooky stories from the past – as told by the schoolchildren of the 1930s.
If you are looking for a scare at bedtime this Halloween, you need look no further than the The Schools’ Collection from Dúchas/UCD National Folklore Collection. This treasure-trove of local stories was compiled by national school children from all over Ireland between 1935 and 1939.
Perhaps you will find the stories your parents contributed? Or, it’s possible, if you are of a certain vintage, that your own story is included in this archive from the time you were in school. The collection has a wide scope, from fairy stories to local history, with everything from dolmens to the War of Independence included. What makes it even better is it’s free to access the original copy books online. You can even search by primary school, if you just want to focus on your own area.
For the season that is upon us, we thought we would focus on the more ghoulish stories that are included in this collection. When compiling their contributions back in the 1930s, the children had to ask their parents and grandparents for stories to include taken from their own local area.
Remember, some of these grandparents would have been born in the famine era. These grandparents likely would have been relaying tales they heard from their own parents, so the memories and legends stretched back into the mists of time. It follows a long Irish tradition of ghost-storytelling. Fairy-folk, in whatever form, were to be respected and feared in equal measure.
One ghost that much of the country was haunted by was the Headless Horsemen or Coachmen. This spirit – sometimes referred to as the Dullahan – crops up in every corner of the country. The headless coachmen were usually pulled by headless horses and they often carried a corpse. Suffice to say, seeing the Headless Horsemen was never a good thing.
This story was told in Knocklong school, Limerick, recounted by Teresa Curtis:
“Once upon a time there lived near the cross of Ballinvreena, a woman who said she did not believe in the Headless Coach. One night she was sitting by the fire with her friends… She told them she did not believe in the Headless Coach… and she boasted that she would remain up and watch for it…
“When it was near midnight, she put her head out of the window and she heard the noise of horses coming along. When they came near her, she heard the noise and saw a small carriage, drawn by two headless horses and two men sitting on top of the carriage with their heads under their arms. One of the men jumped down from the carriage and ran over to the window where the woman was and brought her back to the carriage. They proceeded on their way until they came to the cross of Ballinvreena. The man threw her down from the carriage and left her on the road.
“Next morning her friends found her there and brought her home in a shocked state… From that day until she died, she never said she did not believe in the Headless Coach.”
Indeed, death often followed the person unfortunate enough to witness the Headless Horsemen, as Maurice Power from Kilmallock said: “when a person sees the Headless Coach they are supposed to die soon afterwards.”