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Halloween folklore from the archives

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We have an amazing collection of folklore stories in the archives of the Ulster Folk Museum. Stories of a haunting nature appear frequently and with Halloween fast approaching I thought I’d share some of them with you here. Happy reading!

The banshee

The banshee

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Playing cards with the devil

Playing cards with the devil

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The possessor of the evil eye

The possessor of the evil eye

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Driven from home by the fairies

Driven from home by the fairies

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The woman with dragging feet

The woman with dragging feet

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Image: The Banshee of the O'Neills, Shanes Castle. BELUM.Y.W.01.82.18 © National Museums Northern Ireland
The Banshee of the O'Neills, Shanes Castle. BELUM.Y.W.01.82.18 © National Museums Northern Ireland

The banshee

“I was told a story by a Presbyterian gentleman who was born in Co. Antrim but who spent his adult life as a prosperous merchant in Maghera. He told me that his neighbour and a friend who lived a few doors further up the street was awakened in the early hours of the morning in the grey dawn of a day in late autumn by what he believed to be the sound of someone weeping in distress. As this continued he felt that he should give some aid so he rose from his bed and looked out the window. On the opposite side of the street he saw what he believed to be the bent figure of a woman sitting on the footpath. It was still not daylight and he could not see details clearly. The figure seemed to be wrapped up in a shawl and there was hair falling over the face. The crying continued with a deeper note of distress and the man felt he should offer help. Something struck his mind and checked this impulse and shivering and uneasy he went back to bed. The sequel to this is that when people gathered for the fair a man from the townland of Ballyknock dropped dead R.I.P. beside his car on the very spot where the figure had been crying. It had been the banshee.” (V-18-6)

 

Image: Pack of playing cards, c.1900. OMAFP.2010.27.291 © National Museums Northern Ireland
Pack of playing cards, c.1900. OMAFP.2010.27.291 © National Museums Northern Ireland

Playing cards with the devil

“A man by the name of Peter lived in Myroe who preferred to play cards with his money rather than to give it to his needy wife and children. At the start he would only play a few games each evening but he gradually became so obsessed with cards that he remained at his friend’s until three or four o’clock in the morning. One night when he was coming home a stranger asked him where he had been. On informing him that he had been playing cards the stranger invited him to a game. Despite Peter’s efforts the stranger won every game. But instead of becoming more confident he became more restless with the approaching dawn. At last he decided he would have to depart and as he rose Peter noticed his cloven feet. Knowing that he had been recognized, the devil disappeared into the air in a ball of fire. Peter had such a fright that he immediately disposed of his cards and gave up gambling.” V-18-1

 

Image: Donegal women at Ardara on the fair day. HOYFM.WAG.1928 © National Museums Northern Ireland
Donegal women at Ardara on the fair day. HOYFM.WAG.1928 © National Museums Northern Ireland

The possessor of the evil eye

“Either sex might have the evil eye and apparently could have it by inheritance as well as by the practice of black art. In other words some could hardly help themselves from bringing bad luck merely by inheritance, so that certain families had to be watched. It was and probably is considered unlucky to meet these people when going to a fair or market, if malicious they could ‘overlook’ animals leading to sickness and death if not remedied. They could take away the milk from a cow and transfer it to their own…Farmers here have been known to turn back from a market with their beast because they met a suspect person.” V-14-5

 

Image: Witch stone hung in pantry to keep fairies from souring cream. BELUM.Y14420 © National Museums Northern Ireland
Witch stone hung in pantry to keep fairies from souring cream. BELUM.Y14420 © National Museums Northern Ireland

Driven from home by the fairies

“An old man, who lived in a house on the mountains around Limavady, was aroused from his sleep every night by fairies who persisted in tickling his feet. One night they eventually told him that he would have to leave the house because it belonged to them. Immediately the old man arose, put on his clothes and fled across the fields. When he reached his neighbour’s house he told them what had happened and he swore he would never return to his home again.” V-18-1

 

Image: Doctored photograph of two young men being threatened by a ghost in a lane. BELUM.Y16607 © National Museums Northern Ireland
Doctored photograph of two young men being threatened by a ghost in a lane. BELUM.Y16607 © National Museums Northern Ireland

The woman with dragging feet

“[My granny] used to go and lay out the dead…She went to lay out this person…and there was a wake that night as usual, and she was coming back home, her and her daughter were coming back home and they were walking along the road and this woman, this person linked in with them, in between them, linked their arms and they could feel feet dragging and they would swear…it was the woman that they were after laying out that was coming walking in along with them.” Field Transcripts Vol. 1, M3.1, p.109