In 1844 Mr Arthur Gloster , a Protestant gentleman living on the outskirts of Limerick, was shot in the back by a secret assassin who’d heard he was planning to evict his tenants and our family took over his house and his land.
Built in the early 1700s, badly designed and sadly neglected, Moylish House was a bit of a wreck by the time that my cousins were living in it: the back staircase had fallen down and because of the perilous state of the floorboards two of the bedrooms were declared off-limits.
But the house was beautifully set in the middle of a small bluebell wood. Approached by a long, straight, sloping avenue, to the children we were it was a magical, adventurous playground. For starters, there was the delicious thrill of accepting a dare to creep into a room, fuelled by the fear that the floor might collapse. And to add to the mix was the presence of ghosts.
On hearing that Moylish had fallen into Catholic hands, old Mr Gloster would have been angered. He and the Catholics didn’t get on and according to Press reports of the time, on hearing of his death ‘the peasants in the fields turned off from their work of digging potatoes to cheer and exult.’ No wonder he returned to haunt Moylish House.
Once there, he would have encountered two other such spectres: the ghost who was haunting one of the stables – where, it was said, he had taken his life – and the ghost of the lodgekeeper’s daughter who, at 15, had been snatched from her bed as she slept in the night.
We were eager ourselves to encounter these ghosts. But the ghosts were reluctant to meet us in person, being too shy, we decided, as well as benign. Like most Irish children, we weren’t frightened of ghosts but fairies were something to worry about. To the right of the avenue leading down to the house was a ringfort or lios belonging to fairies, or so the legends would have us believe although these circles, common in Ireland and dating back to the Bronze Age, were probably only enclosures for livestock. But, like most Irish children, we believed in legends and were fearful of fairies.
In Seeking Clemency I wrote about fairies – of the fear they engendered in children like us and how they took over at Hallo-een which ‘was a night for ghosts and goblins. For wicked fairies, like the pucca, the Black Pig, and the dallachain, a horrid thing without a head, to creep out of their hiding places.’
Or to dance in a ringfort as a harpist was playing… The penalty for joining them was to die young. As we played in the fields that surrounded the house, we made sure that we didn’t step into the ring.
Next week: What went on in Castle Park.