These photos represent a sample of the mysterious and macabre elements we ran into on our visit to Ireland in the summer of 2017.
Not far from where we were staying in Dublin is a desecrated building once known as St. Mary’s Chapel of Ease on St. Mary’s Place. Today it is known as the Black Church because it changes color to black, especially when it rains. It is rumored that anyone who runs counter-clockwise around the exterior of the church at midnight will meet the devil. Built in 1830 from local calp limestone, the Joyce family once lived nearby at 44 Fontenoy Street .
On the site of what was once Number 7, Eccles Street — the residence of Leopold Bloom and his wife Molly (known professionally as Madame Tweedy the singer) — now stands a section of the Mater Misericordiae Hospital, better known to the locals as ‘The Mater’. When the house was demolished, a plaque was put up on the wall with a quote from Ulysses and a bust of James Joyce. When you consider that one of his many landladies referred to him as ‘Herr Satan’, you might be able to see the resemblance.
Did you know that that Dublin was once a Viking village? There was even a church on Church Street on Arran Quay (founded in 1095) that was once a Norse chapel built to serve the remnant of the ostracized Vikings after the Battle of Clontarf. In its vaults you can visit the mummified corpses of some very unique people who died hundred of years ago. Among those who can be viewed at St. Michan’s is a crusader whose hand it was once possible to shake, but who can now only be touched for fear of wrenching his crumbling arm off. Whatever is preserving the bodies is also destroying the caskets, so coffins occasionally burst open to reveal the occupants. Bram Stoker is said to have visited the vaults seeking inspiration for his novel Dracula.
On the Hill of Tara is another item of interest. Decorated with a collection of multi-colored strips of cloth and photos is a very special hawthorn tree, which is never to be disturbed. This is a fairy tree on which people tie bits of cloth which have been rubbed on their afflicted parts in the hope of being cured. This must be done keeping in mind that those who ask favors of the fairies may also be asked for something in return.
On the summit of a hill at Loughcrew lies a Neolithic tomb that dates from 5300 years ago. On the far side of the exterior of the tomb is what is known as the Witch’s Chair. According to local lore, if you walk three times around it in a counter-clockwise fashion you will be granted whatever you have wished for. But beware — there is no indication of what might be expected in return.
Finally, in Drogheda at St. Peter’s Church is a particularly macabre relic of times past. Oliver Plunkett, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of Ireland, was accused of trying to overthrow Charles II in what became known as the Popish Plot. Tried on trumped up charges and through the use of perjured witnesses, he was found guilty, and was then hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn on July 1, 1681. While his body was being burned, some of his followers managed to snatch his head from the flames, and it was taken at first to Germany before finally being returned to Ireland hundreds of years later. It is now displayed in a reliquary in the church.