Words, Colm Lambert; picture by Royston Palmer
It was on a stormy winter’s night in the early 1770s that The Legend of Loftus Hall, on the south-western tip of County Wexford, begins.
At that time, the sprawling mansion had three residents; Charles Tottenham, his second wife Jane Cliffe, and a daughter from his first marriage, Anne.
The loneliness of life for the landed gentry on a remote peninsula can but be imagined, and so it was quite the event when a loud rapping on the main door sounded through the squalls of the storms outside, and a handsome albeit weather-beaten young gentleman presented himself to the family.
The legend says that he explained he had been sailing towards Waterford but his boat had to seek shelter in the nearby Slade Harbour.
His crew remained there, attending to their duties, but he had managed to hire a horse and rode towards the nearest big house to seek board and lodgings.
As was the custom at the time, he was gladly taken in, and he proved himself to be quite the charming guest over the days that followed. Charles Tottenham and his wife were hugely taken with their visitor, and daughter Anne even more so, particularly as she was a young lady of marrying age.
She is said to have spent a great deal of time in the mysterious stranger’s company, both sitting and talking in the house itself as well as strolling along the cliffside walks outside.
The two also became a formidable pairing for the nightly games of cards that were played in the house, as they won most if not all of the contests against Anne’s father and stepmother.
After several nights of cards though, Anne dropped one on the floor, and as she bent underneath the table to pick it up, she saw that the young gentleman had a hoof where his foot should be.
She screamed with the realisation that he was in fact the devil, and the man then transformed before their very eyes into a vision of Satan himself, before disappearing in a fireball through the ceiling overhead, leaving only a puff of black smoke and a vile stench of sulphur behind. Anne subsequently lost her mind as a result of the discovery of the true identity of the man she had pictured as her future husband, and becoming what was then seen as an embarrassment to the family, was hidden away for the rest of her days in the house’s Tapestry Room. But the family could not rid themselves that easily of the spectre of what had occurred, as a raft of poltergeist-like activity began to manifest itself around the house.
There would be strange knocking and banging at night; paintings and furniture were strewn about; and sometimes the main door, which the stranger himself had walked through on the night he arrived, would be swinging open in the mornings, having been securely bolted the night before…