Saturday, 13 June 2015

Three little vignettes: ghosts, apparitions and porter

When I wrote the blogpost ‘Uncle Michael married Aunt Kate', my uncle Colm said it solved one the great mysteries of his life. That mystery was - ‘who the hell was the Uncle Mike?’ Colm had always believed Uncle Mike was a Byrne, but he could never quite place him. My blogpost confirmed Mike was actually Michael McGrane, Colm's maternal great-granduncle. Last year, shortly before he passed away, Colm shared with me three intriguing stories concerning the long-gone Uncle Mike. Here they are in my uncle's own words:

Three Little Vignettes [by Colm Wynne]
'The first made a great impression on me. The Wynne family moved to 3 Lower Jane Place from Leinster Avenue around 1950, shortly after Anne's [my aunt's] birth. Auntie Kay [my grandaunt, Kathleen Byrne] had been living there on her own, following her parent’s deaths.  We opened (or re-opened) a small corner shop there called Kathleen's. It was very much later, when I was an adult, I realized that following my father’s first heart attack around 1947, his business failed as he was unable to pursue it, and we needed the income from the shop to survive. 

Aged around six, I used to sleep on a chaise longue in the kitchen/ dining room. That's a fancy description of a small general use room with an iron range, a gas cooker and a very mean table, some equally mean chairs and a bench. There was also an old fashioned dresser and a wardrobe! in the room. 

One night I awoke to find an old man, in a jacket and cap, hunched up on a chair in front of the range, warming himself. I knew he should not be there so I picked up a toy to throw at him. For some reason, I could not move my limbs freely. The attempt to throw was like moving my arm through treacle. When I finally released the toy, instead of flying through the air and clouting the intruder, it just dropped harmlessly beside the bed.

I knew this shouldn't have happened and got frightened at this point so I started screaming. Mammy and Daddy came from their bed in the next room and turned on the light. My visitor vanished. They did not see him. They tried to persuade me I was seeing things and it was all in my imagination. I insisted I was not, so they changed tack and tried to persuade me I was just awaking from a bad dream. I know to this day, I was not. 

The upshot was I was taken into their bed for a few nights and then transferred to the front bedroom with my sisters, where I slept for several years. The following evening the adults were gathered around the fire in what nowadays would be called the lounge. I don't remember what it was called then, probably the parlor. Your Mam will probably remember. It was a big room with a section curtained off shielding a double bed where my parents slept. It had previously been where my grandparents slept. I had already been put to bed there. Although I wasn't supposed to be, I was wide awake and listening. 

I heard them discussing the events of the night before with Auntie Kay. It transpired that from my description the apparition was clearly the deceased Uncle Mike, and that I was not the first to have seen him. I can't remember now who else had the dubious pleasure. 

Number Two: A very short one, this. Apparently when living in number 31 Lower Jane Place, the Uncle Mike worked on the docks. When he came home each evening he never had to knock or use a key. The door was always opened for him by some previously deceased family member. I don't think I ever heard who it was. I certainly don't remember if I did. 

Number Three: Also short. The Uncle Mike was very fond of his porter. His bosom drinking buddy and working companion became very well known in later life and indeed his afterlife as Blessed Matt Talbot. When Matt forswore the drink, he tried very hard, and I understand unsuccessfully, to persuade Uncle Mike to do likewise. Despite his best efforts, the Uncle Mike remained a toper. Matt gave Uncle Mike his prayer book in the hope that it would help. I don't know if he ever read it, but it was still around when I was a small boy. I have no idea what happened to it afterwards. Again, your Mam might be able to throw some light on it.'

Michael McGrane died of heart failure on 23 December 1929, at 3 Lower Jane Place, the house he shared with my great-grandparents. He had suffered from bronchitis for seven days before his passing. On Christmas Eve that year, my great-grandfather and Michael's nephew, James Byrne, registered his death. 

© 2015 Black Raven Genealogy


  1. Dara, I love family stories like these, especially the thought of Michael McGrane never having to use a key because he was let into the house by a previously deceased relative.

    Mike McGrane must have been very happy in that house, given that he ‘came back’ himself, to warm his hands by the range. I love the thought of those long since passed popping back in for a ‘visit’ every now and again. The mention of Blessed Matt Talbot reminds me of my own mam, for she always carried a memorial to him inside her prayer book. How lovely it is that your Uncle Colm shared these vignettes with you.

    1. Stories like these are rife in my family, Jennifer. I'm sure you have many similar in your own family - we were a superstitious lot. I always looked forward to emails from my uncle Colm with his thoughts on my blog. I miss them now, but treasure the recollections he did share.

  2. I hope Uncle Mike's ghost was a friendly one and meant Colm no harm. My aunt claims she has been awakened by my great-grandmother's "ghost" rubbing her forehead. I wonder what seeing the ghost of a loved one would be like - it's never happened to me!

    1. Wendy, I once imagined my mother-in-law, who died before I had the chance to meet her, shouted at me to slow down one morning as I was driving to work. I got such a shock, thankfully, I slowed down and around the next bend was a police man, hiding in the bushes with his speed-gun. I'd probably have got a ticket if not for my 'imagination'!

  3. Thank you, Colleen and Jo, my uncle was a good story-teller!

  4. Thank you for sharing those tales Dara. How wonderful they were passed on to you, such stories are so easily lost.


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