THE COONIAN POLTERGEIST
The story goes that in 1913 a widow called Mrs Murphy, her son and five daughters, all lived together in a mountain cottage near Brookeborough, Co Fermanagh . Apparently the family became plagued by a poltergeist shortly after Mrs Murphy's husband died in an accident. Paranormal events started to occur in the house, it began with the occasional knocking of the front door and when any member of the family would go to answer the door there would be nobody there. The noises then became more frequent with knocking on all the doors and windows. Above the house was a room used as storage for hay. This room was only accessible by a stone staircase adjoined to the farmhouse and in the room heavy footsteps were often heard yet every time someone went to investigate there was nobody in the room.
The family decided to get friends and neighbours to come to the house and listen to these strange noises for themselves. Mrs Murphy, her children and some friends would sit in the kitchen listening to the banging on the windows and doors and the footsteps coming from upstairs. Unfortunately things took a turn for the worst when more intense paranormal activities started to happen. Mrs.Murphy would watch as plates would lift off the table and fly across the room smashing against the walls. The family would also watch in the bedroom as a bed would lift several inches of the ground by itself and fall back down again. Things got so bad that Mrs Murphy turned to the Church for help. Father Coyle from Maguiresbridge visited the house and watched for himself as mysterious shapes appeared and disappeared on the walls as he stood inside the house. He also watched pots and pans that would suddenly fly across the room on their own. Another witness to the events was the MP Cahir Healy, who could simply not believe what he was seeing.
Father Coyle was given permission for two exorcisms to be performed in the house. It is said that during the exorcisms, bed sheets would rise of the beds, cups and plates would fly around the room, and deafening groans could be heard coming from upstairs. Both exorcisms were among the very few exorcisms to ever be carried out in Ireland. Unfortunately they didn't work and the Murphy family continued to live in this house with the poltergeist.
The Murphy's were understandably terrified they had hoped that the exorcisms might work, however the poltergeist activity in the house seemed to be getting worse. It is also said that friends and neighbours started to blame the Murphy's for practising witchcraft, therefore bringing this entity upon themselves. There were claims that Mrs Murphy's son found a book in a forest near Coonian called "The Legions of Doom" and was supposed to give instructions on how to practice satanic rites, and summon demons. The son started to develop an unhealthy interest in the spirit world, and was supposed to have tried to raise a demonic sprit in the house. It was this story among others that became the last straw for the Murphy's and they decided to leave their home and set sail for America in 1913.
Much to the horror of the Murphy's, it seemed like the poltergeist had followed them on the boat to America. It is well documented that passengers on the ship complained about the rapping's and banging's that were coming from the Murphy's Cabin. The noises became so bad that the Captain went personally to Mrs Murphy to tell her to stop making so much noise in her Cabin. It is stated that the Captain did not believe that there was a poltergeist on the ship, but did however threaten the Murphy's that he would put them off the ship if the noise continued. It is known that the poltergeist activity did follow them to their new home in America, but over time the manifestations and rapping's subsided and eventually stopped completely allowing the family to get on with their lives the best they could. One of the girls of the family was so traumatised by these events that she is said to have spent the rest of her life in a mental institution in America. As for the Coonian house it is claimed that a ghostly presence still remains there to this very day.
Author, broadcaster and devout Catholic Shane Leslie [pictured below] spoke personally to all three priests involved in the exorcisms and recorded their experiences in his ‘Ghost Book’ of 1955. One of the priests told Leslie that he investigated the disturbances on no less than 50 occasions. He said it focused its attention on the bed shared by the Misses Murphy, the oldest of whom was 18. He said pillows would be torn from under the girls’ heads; a human shape would be seen to rise up under the bedclothes and then collapse, accompanied by a snoring sound; when the priest put his hand there, it felt like there were snakes moving under it. When asked to play well-known folk songs, the presence would tap out the tune.
Another priest said he saw bedclothes thrown across the room with the sound of a kicking horse. The phenomenon was repeated even when he held onto the girls’ hands and pressed down on their feet. He challenged the entity, implying that it came from Hell – he was answered by a loud hiss. He felt ‘something like a rat’ crawling around his hand under the bedclothes and this was followed by the even eerier sensation of ‘an eel twisting round his wrist’
The canon of the diocese told Leslie he went to the Murphy’s house about sixteen times. He confirmed there was some sort of intelligence behind the disturbances. Hearing a musical noise in the ceiling, he had pondered whether the thing might whistle – and it did whistle. When he cracked his thumb, it cracked louder. Using numbers of taps to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions, they found that the entity could accurately answer many personal questions about the family – whether they were asked in English, Irish or Latin. One of them asked a foolish question: ‘Could you put the dog from under the bed?’ The collie came out, ‘dancing mad, with fire from his eyes’, to quote the canon. This priest was the only one to have any success with his prayers. He said Mass in the kitchen and this became the one room in the house where the Murphys could get some rest.
Leslie’s belief, and that shared by the three priests he spoke to, is that poltergeist activity such as that presumed to take place at Coonian, is caused by the presence of mischievous or malevolent spirits. Not all share this belief. Poltergeist activity is a class of phenomenon separate to other examples of haunting, though often sharing certain characteristics. All poltergeists are noisy. Taps, bangs, crashes and other inexplicable noises are their stock in trade. Often they will move, knock over or smash objects. Sometimes they will remove objects altogether and replace them at a later date. They like to rip the clothes from beds. They may create pools of water or start fires. Sometimes the appearance of ghosts will be accompanied by some minor poltergeist activity but apparitions rarely occur in poltergeist cases. When they do occur, they usually do so after the phenomenon has become well established. Poltergeists come and go; they do not haunt a house like a ghost does, but rather a person or persons, and their period of activity is limited. Their targets are usually adolescents, most commonly adolescent girls.
Despite investigations from local clergy, the mystery of the haunted house near Fivemiletown, Co. Tyrone continues to deepen.
For six weeks, the farmhouse of the Murphy family has been thrown into turmoil by eerie scratching noises on the walls, sounds similar to the kicking of a horse against a stable door and the sight of bed-clothes being shaken and pulled about.
With neighbours now unwilling to visit the house, the Murphy family have been left in social isolation. Their situation has been described locally as ‘pitiable’.
The Murphys, a family with young children, are now considering selling their farm and emigrating to America.
Taken from an old Irish newspaper source of the period.