|The Rev. Charles Watson and his wife Jane (nee Finlay). He claimed in 1892 that there was "almost an entire absence of the superstitious" within his parish at Glenavy.|
JAMES Boyle, writing in 1838, as part of the Ordnance Survey memoirs had visited the Parish of Killead and stated the lower orders are generally superstitious and implicitly believe in ghosts, fairies and enchantments."
Over 50 years later the then rector of Glenavy Parish Church, the Rev. Charles Watson, assured readers in his 1892 publication 'Glenavy Past and Present' that "there is almost an entire absence of the superstitious; fairies are never seen, the banshee never cries, and not a house is said to be haunted..."
In a book The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries' published in 1911, and written by Walter Y. Evans-Wentz there are references to some interesting material submitted by a Mr. H. Higginson of Glenavy at the request of Major Berry in Richill Castle. I would think this was most likely Henry Higginson, one of the Rev. Watson's parishioners, who resided in Glenville at that time. Mr. Higginson had collected several stories from the area.
He reported on a local weaver, Ned Judge from Sophy's Bridge. After Ned finished the fairies appeared to be carrying on the work through the night for him, but unfortunately was so poor it took him a considerable amount of time to repair the next morning. However, it was said that he received plenty of household necessaries from them and when he sold his cloth always received treble the amount he bargained for. The other story related to a William Megarry from Ballinderry who had claimed he had been travelling to Crumlin on horseback to fetch a doctor. As he passed through Glenavy Village he claimed he met two regiments of "them" (fairies) travelling in the opposite direction in the vicinity of the Vicarage. Mr. Megarry said one of the regiments was. dressed in red, and the other in green or blue and they were playing music. The two regiments opened out to let him pass by and stopped playing their music.
I have gathered some strange stories from some of the older folks on my travels and the theme of each is an avoidance of individuals thought to bring bad luck. One of my acquaintances informed me that, as a little boy, an old man took him along to the river and taught him how to fish. However, if they met a certain man as they were walking towards the river, they would turn and go home as he was told it was bad luck to meet this person. The old man said: "To home, because you'll not catch any fish today." In the same neighbourhood at that time was another farmer who had regular visits from a local woman collecting her milk. When she left the farmyard, the farmer would follow her to the road, salting her tracks. He believed she had a 'cloven-foot" and the salt would ward off "the divil." It was a common belief that salt protected against unwanted spirits.
In the early 1960's the Ulster Star reported the "blood-curdling" wail of the banshee had once again been heard along a stretch of road from the Lagan Bridge at Drumbeg to Upper Dunmurry Lane. At that time Malone Golf Club had taken over land in that area and it had been suggested it was "a wail of protest.' The banshee had been roaming that area for over 200 years, and it was believed the last wailing was in 1939 at the beginning of the Second World War. In the 1960s incident a young girl staying with relatives at Ballyskeagh claimed she was suffering from nightmares after hearing it. A number of other people in the district confirmed they too had heard it, and it was reported that girls returning from late-night dances were refusing to walk home unaccompanied.
One of the older residents at Drumbo interviewed at the time said: "I don't know what all the fuss is about. There's nothing new in the Banshee. She has been with us over the years - and her history goes back to the 18th century."
A relative of mine in Belfast recalled hearing a similar strange noise, which was unlike anything they had ever heard before. Other people in the neighbourhood also reported the 'hair-raising' scream. I was informed the 'troubles' began about a week later, and people in hindsight believed it was an omen.
As a finale we will return to what was the Rev Charles Watson's parish at Glenavy. For there too, possibly about 50 years or so ago, a 'banshee' was out and about the countryside late one night.
A local lady had been out one dark evening and heard a strange unmerciful screeching sound. She looked round to see a light wavering from side to side across the road travelling towards you. She apparently let out a yell and made for home.
Several miles away, the story was being related around the fireside of a local farmhouse. A young fellow was sitting listening and as the tale unfolded, he knew only too well the truth of the matter. On the evening in question he had been to a meeting of the local pipe band. Determined to improve his newly acquired skill, he decided to take one of the pipe chanters home for practice. He set off at about 8pm on his bicycle, equipped with dynamo for the lamps to provide some light so he could negotiate the country roads in the dark. The chanter had been inside his jacket and was in the perfect position for some blowing as he made his way on the bicycle.
As you can imagine, concentrating on blowing into a chanter, pedalling and going up a hill all at the same time could be quite a feat, and naturally the bicycle was zigzagging along the road. The dynamo light on the front
of the bicycle was dimmer and intermittent. As he went over the brow of the hill he saw a diminutive figure giving out an "almighty screech' before making off down the road.
My good friend ended up in a heap in the middle of the road. He believed he had met the banshee and this was a sure sign of death. He had never pedalled the bicycle as fast again in order to reach the sanctity of home. Although badly shaken, he told no-one.
It was about 10 years later that he related the tale in the company of some of the pipe band members. A lady who had been listening later introduced herself and told him she was the niece of the lady he had encountered that evening. The story at last could be pieced together and the truth revealed. Neither party had met the banshee!
The Digger can be contacted via The Ulster Star office, or firstname.lastname@example.org.