‘Tell us this Father, do you believe in ghosts?’ It was an interesting question and drew me back years ago to two encounters I had with ghosts, one very real, the other not so much.
The first of these happened about forty years ago on a small back road outside Ballycastle in North Antrim. My brother and I were walking from the town out to the bungalow we and the rest of our family were staying in. It was a beautiful and clear summer night. We were a little uneasy. It was late. We both had acknowledged that it felt a little spooky but left the subject there so as not to make matters worse, and proceeded to try and talk about lighter things. The attempt to be light-hearted failed, partially because we had already spooked each other and partially because it was so lonesome a road. The other factor that did not really help was the fact that our much loved grandfather was who was staying with us in the bungalow had taken to telling us ghost stories. Neither of us made any mention of this but it was certainly spinning around in our heads as we journeyed further into the darkness.
We were making good progress when there was a slight clink of a chain. We froze. Petrified. Silence. Just as we began to move again another clink. This time we grabbed each other. What was it? It seemed to be close enough to us. We moved another few steps. Stopped again. Started. Every time we
stopped, the noise stopped. Every time we continued on, the clinking, rattling started again. We noticed the quicker we moved the more rattling there was. Like chains rattling. Where they the chains of the dead? Where these chains for us? We decided we would make a run for it. As we ran, the chains rattled like the devil himself. They seemed to be beside us. To be after us. To chase us. We ran like the hammers until we got to the bungalow, never as happy to see the little welcoming light in our hallway.
Granda had some laugh the following day when we went down the road to investigate the evidence of ghoulish activity. It was the clink of the chain that gave it away. Looking over the hedge and inviting us to come and see, he chuckled ‘there’s your ghost, the poor oul nanny goat and her more terrified of you two cowboys with every passing step. I’d say she was demented pulling on the chain, in fear of the two right eejits who in turn were frightened of their own shadows.’
For the second episode we go back twenty years. I was staying over in a monastery here in Dublin. I had heard that there was talk of something happening very late at night on the back stairs that led up from the kitchen. I remember saying to myself well I will not leave myself in the position where I am moving about the house very late, and if in the unlikely event that I did, it would certainly not be on the back stairs. At this precise moment I found that both of these things were happening. I had fallen asleep watching television in the room of the kitchen and to avoid making noise on the main stairs I decided to go up the old back stairs beside me. Remembering a number of voices of caution, I hesitated. Then telling myself not to be silly I began the climb. I was about half way up, just turning on the bend, when suddenly there was this very fast swoosh towards me and suddenly I felt like a very fine spray of little droplets of moisture, possibly water hitting my face. At the same time I felt as if someone or something had fairly forcefully pushed me out from the banister rail.
Unlike the discovery of the poor goat the morning after, in the previous story, it was almost five years before I got an explanation of this encounter on the backstairs. This presence which was no goat, and
no joke, was eventually traced to a particular room, long since used as a junk room but it was discovered had been the bedroom of a very troubled monk, who sadly took his own life. To add to the tragedy the poor man was buried without Mass. It was only with the celebration of this much overdue Mass that there came a permanent cessation of these late night encounters on the stairs and peace restored to both monastery and monks.
This poor man needed another little push towards God’s light and the most powerful prayer of all,
the Mass, was able to bring this about.
So do I believe in ghosts? In rattling chains and things that go bump in the night? Not really. Do I believe in the ghost, the spirit, the soul not yet at peace, in need of our prayer? I sure do. Do I believe in the greatest ghost? The Holy Ghost. Do I believe in the holy breath of God? The Holy Spirit? I sure do.