In Clonmacken House on the outskirts of Limerick city three children are huddled up in the boot cupboard, waiting for a ghost to join them.
The children are me, aged 8, my cousin Ormonde Power, the same age as myself, and his brother Charlie who is five. The cupboard is on the left hand side of the back staircase. Inside it, hidden behind wooden shelves, is a large hole beyond which is a secret passage leading to the river Shannon, a distance of less than a mile. If all goes according to plan today the ghost will make his way up that passage and into the house.
Unlike fairies, of whom we are scared, ghosts do not frighten us and we’re all looking forward to meeting the ghost who haunts Clonmacken House.
Clonmacken House, owned by my great uncle, Lawrence O’Brien Kelly – Ormonde and Charlie’s grandfather – is a two-and-a-half storey gable ended house, built in 1700 by the Reverend Edmund Walker. It can’t have been he who created the passage for the man who did that was a bit of a chancer, using the passage, not for political or romantic purposes, but to enable wine to be smuggled up to the house from Limerick docks without paying excise duty.
More than three centuries later, Clonmacken House will metamorphose into Crag Liath, the house which features in my first novel, A Wrong to Sweeten and its sequel, A Heritage of Wrong, along with its ghost, its horses and stables and the vast cellars which ran underneath the house, into which I was once locked by my cousins.
But that is still decades away and in the meantime I’m wedged in the cupboard, sandwiched between smelly old boots and discarded shoes, holding my breath in anticipation of that moment when we’ll hear footsteps in the passage and he will materialise through the wall.
The ghost we’re hoping to meet is black – a sailor who came up from the docks in the past in pursuit of one of the maids in the house. Alas for him, her fiancé wasn’t amused about that. He waited until the sailor got into the house before smashing his head on the kitchen flagstones.
‘He’s taking his time,’ Charlie says wryly – and then, indeed, we do hear footsteps But they come from the other side of the wall.
To our consternation, the door of the boot cupboard is wrenched open and an irate, all-too-human voice orders us to – ‘Come out of there this very minute !’ which we reluctantly do.
The grown-up have been looking for us. Didn’t we know that they’d be worried? The boot cupboard is declared out of bounds and we don’t get the chance to meet up with the ghost. But Ormonde and Charlie are not that upset. Unlike me, who has to make do with neighbourly ghosts, my cousins have ghosts of their own at home, waiting for them, in Moylish House.