PAUL MOYNIHAN chats with to The Legend Seekers, Ireland’s most interesting and innovative paranormal researchers. The team consists of Barry Fitzgerald and Cormac Strain. Barry is well-known for appearing on Syfy’s Ghost Hunters International, which saw him travel the world in search of the strange, the sinister and the spooky. He is a respected writer and an authority on the subject of the paranormal. Cormac is one of Ireland’s most prolific paranormal researchers, and a member of Leinster Paranormal. He is also the author of the books Haunted Carlow and Haunted Kilkenny. The duo have now teamed up to release a set of exciting and terrifying tales, focusing on Ireland’s greatest myths and legends…
How did the Legend Seekers project come about?
Cormac: It was something Barry was already doing in his books, looking at history and looking at it from a spiritual angle, looking at how people may have done things years ago with a more spiritual aspect. At the same time, I was noticing that if you look around us, every nook and cranny has history and we don’t really know of any of these stories anymore. It also ties in with Haunted Carlow and Haunted Kilkenny, the same ideas happen with ghost stories where the spoken word is disappearing and these stories are vanishing. I initiated the process sending emails out about the idea, based on research that Barry had already done. I put the idea forward to him and now we’re getting stuck in. I really like the whole project, it’s something you can really get your teeth into.
Barry: As Cormac says, we’re breathing life back into the ancient legends, some not so ancient which have fallen to the wayside. There’s a great interest of ours to see is there anything of those legends that still responds to us being there on location if we decided to visit. It has been a thrilling ride for us.
Cormac: We have broadened (the concept) more to bring it into the spiritual side and the historical side of Ireland. What we’re really doing is following our own path. We’re doing what we’re interested in, and we’re not really influenced by trends or what the latest gadget should be. We are mainly focused on finding out the information related to these places and it gives us a path to go on.
Barry: We do it the way we want to do it and we lend heavily into the history, which can be shocking and staggering as well.
Barry and Cormac then told me of their trip to the spooky Saints Island, subject of their upcoming book ‘Island of the Dead’…
Barry: Saints Island is definitely a place that has left long, lingering side effects!
Cormac: It showed us that with all modern technology from the 21st Century, we may as well have been back in the 12th Century on that island. There is something very wrong there. I started getting ‘fight or flight’, and I never get that vibe. The minute it started turning dark, I told Barry that we need to get out of here. I personally talked to the priest in charge of Station Island which is right beside Saints Island, and we were told the information and history regarding the island had been purposely destroyed. We were reassured that we were going to find nothing and we were wasting our time, but everything we thought was there turned out to be there. The history suggests that the whole island had been abandoned. That leads into the experiences we had.
Barry: Spiritually I can understand why they abandoned that island.
Cormac: We got there by boat and we rowed in the pouring rain and eventually got to the island. When we pulled the boat up we thought ‘that’s all the hard work done’. Then we walked onto the island and the grass was five feet high because no one had been there in a very long time. We had to fight our way through it. It was like a jungle!
How long did you stay? Did the ‘fight or flight’ kick in?
Cormac: It kicked in but we couldn’t row in the dark, we stayed the night! The next morning when I woke up, Barry’s tent was already down and he was on his way to the boat, telling me to hurry up!
Barry then spoke of another intriguing case the Legend Seekers have investigated, regarding a mysterious alien abduction…
Barry: With the project, we try to cover a wide range of stories, and in this first batch of books coming out soon we also touch on alien abduction within the border counties. Back in 1996, a man was taken for three days and we explored that site. In the book, we delve into the history of the place, and it was yet another remarkable tale that had fallen to the wayside. It’s a very strange place. When you get to the forest (where the event took place) something is off, or feels as though it is in the wrong time. That’s the only way I can describe it. It’s definitely worth thorough investigation. We tried to understand what the Celtic and pre-Celtic civilisations were doing there and we came up with several theories.
What was your first paranormal encounter?
Barry: I think I was around four or five years of age when I saw my first full bodied apparition. It frightened the living hell out of me, it was Christmas Eve and I thought I was caught by Santa! Then I learned that my family were also seeing the same gentleman in the house but they were keeping quiet so as not to scare the children. That was the fundamental cornerstone for me.
Cormac: Funnily enough, I had the same kind of experience. Various things happened to me. When I was five or six, in my parents’ farmhouse in Omagh, I shared a room with my brother. He wanted the light on, and told me that for every second the light was off it was costing my Dad a million quid, and feeling guilty I ran over and switched the light on! I was on my way to turn on the light-switch when I saw a glowing white thing just appear at the bottom of my brother’s bed. It lasted about twenty minutes in my brain! I was staring at this thing, and inside it something was moving. I still can’t explain it to this day. I found out later that other family members had seen it. Even my own son has seen it, at the same age I was when I saw it. He described it the same way. It seems only kids of that age can see it. There was obviously something going on in that house. Also, I was in a house in Derry when I was a teenager and there was poltergeist activity going on. We ended up leaving the place. My sister lived in a house in Belfast and there was poltergeist activity there as well, which I witnessed. There were also voices, and other people in the house were hearing it too. We were the only ones in the whole building, so we shouldn’t have been hearing these things!
As the Legend Seekers, have you uncovered any evidence that you believe may be paranormal?
Cormac: In my head, I saw strange lights in the trees in the forest (location of the alien activity). They were changing shape, and part of me says that as I went behind the trees it caused the light of the moon to change shape. The other side of my brain said I’ve seen the moon many times and it doesn’t change shape! Unless you experience these things first-hand, you can’t prove anything.
Barry: That’s what these tales are about, the experiences that people have had and we’re bringing this to the forefront. We are presenting these stories in a way which revitalises the myth and legend of Irish folklore. For me, it was diving into a lough where there is said to be a creature that drags men to their deaths. That was bloody well terrifying! It was harrowing and it was tough, physically and mentally. Entering that type of environment looking for a creature, going to its home and knocking on its door is frightening!
Cormac: Diving into water looking for a creature that is known for drowning men, that’s a real genius idea!
How sceptical are you of other people’s findings?
Cormac: I think I differ a lot from other people in this field. I don’t really worry about anyone else. I just want to find out stuff for myself. That’s really my core drive. Everything I look at, I’m sceptical, even things I look at with my own eyes. People think being sceptical is a bad thing. Being cynical is a bad thing. Being sceptical is a really good thing. If you’re not sceptical, you’ll completely believe everything and that’s good to nobody. It’s good to doubt anything. I’m never at a stage where I have completely made up my mind about anything, because how can you really?
Barry: I would be of the same mind-set as Cormac. I’m not doing this for anybody else. I’m doing it for me, and I’m very happy with that. If I see something, I will contemplate it for quite some time before I give an opinion because I need to understand all the information I was given. That can take a long time for me to meditate on. Having been in this field for so long, there are a lot of things that you need to let go of and move along. There are always going to be folks out there who will never learn, no matter what you tell them! I think when you start bringing huge numbers into your team, that’s when things will start to break down and egos will take over. Our team works wonderfully. Cormac and I banter between each other and Max (Barry’s beautiful dog and third member of The Legend Seekers) doesn’t really say anything!
Cormac: I don’t get involved (in the drama). If you really cut it down to the bone, we are in a research-hobby in which you have to be savvy and do your research in order to learn. Here are people running around buying multi-spectrum cameras and had they looked up research that Barry has done, it suggests that ultra-violet and infra-red are two spectrums of light that seem to inhibit paranormal activity. Groups are spending hundreds of euro buying these cameras without researching the technology.
How do you prepare for such interesting trips in search of paranormal phenomena?
Barry: Each case would be different. We decide what to bring depending on the case itself. Some cases are land-locked which is easy. Some are on top of mountains which can take a day’s climb to get up to. If something goes wrong, you have to be prepared and have the extra equipment with you to bed down. We do a lot of historical research also.
Cormac: Either Barry will hear of somewhere and dig up the history or I will hear of somewhere and dig up the history. This gives us a good idea of what we need to be careful of and what the dangers are. Sometimes we might stay overnight and other times we might only stay until two or three in the morning, each one is different. Don’t blindly land at a location wondering what the hell you’re at! We do thoroughly research everywhere before we get there. In the paranormal field, there are hobbyists who just want to have a laugh. Then there are those who take the research more seriously who know what they want to achieve. The two categories shouldn’t be put together because it’s not fair to either one. It’s their own business what they do, and it’s not our job to tell them not to.
Barry: I think with these particular cases, they will all challenge whoever goes out to investigate them for themselves, and I think common sense is a big thing. That is essential. There was one particular investigation I was on just before we started Legend Seekers, and we were on top of a mountain. One man came unprepared and got destroyed! Common sense is definitely a big thing, and we hope that our readers will have it!
What kind of equipment do you use in these locations, and what do you see being integrated into your toolkit in the future?
Barry: It’s safe to say from my standpoint that I have reduced the amount of equipment I bring out because I found myself in a place where I’m not here to prove or disprove, I’m here to experience the story and the legend. I’m not so caught up on getting photos of this or audio of that, because this is about personal experiences. It is a simplified approach that the original people who first experienced these legends had as well. They weren’t surrounded in infra-red lights and everything else, they were simply out on a lonely mountain trek when this particular thing happened. We try to mimic that as best we can. From a paranormal aspect, we have reached a precipice where other teams have got so much equipment with flashing lights and dials, and they are watching the equipment and not what’s going on! They miss the big picture of what’s going on around them.
Cormac: If a ghost hunting team goes out investigating, they bring EMF meters, and they bring them because they probably saw them being used on television! They’re not using it because they know exactly why they have it. A lot of the stories we have researched seem to be based on ancient sites. Also, they seem to be places of worship where there seems to be something still resonating. You really need a theory for each case as to how to approach it, and that will determine what equipment you might need. In our experiments, we were in a cave in Rathcroghan in Co. Roscommon, and we both had the same very strange experience which has led us to the idea of frequencies and acoustic abilities. I was standing in the cave and started seeing these gray wavy lines. I couldn’t see my hands so how was I seeing little gray wavy lines! Ten minutes later, Barry was standing in approximately the same area and he saw the same thing. Maybe frequencies in these kinds of places might help us to communicate. A lot of it is experimentation in order to learn how to do it correctly. That’s our equivalent of an EMF meter. Rather than just having a big bag of toys, we need to have a theory of what we want to find out, and then to find the right piece of equipment to prove or disprove it.
Barry: I think from that particular standpoint we were lucky. If the frequencies paid off, we managed to push a doorbell to another place. We were fortunate enough that whatever came through was quite nice. It could have very easily gone wrong, according to the legends of the cave. We are exceptionally respectful, especially in these ancient sites, and that is something we keep in mind. We don’t need our asses kicked!
Do you think you have any psychic abilities?
Barry: I would have to say that having done this for so long, yes. It’s intuition. It’s a good thing, and it’s something that our ancient ancestors used all the time but in the modern world it’s something we have been driven to do away with. There is so much technological distraction now and we are being blindsided into a small box that doesn’t allow us to expand from that.
Cormac: None at all! Barry once said I could walk into a house with 21 ghosts and I wouldn’t notice any of them! If I didn’t have Barry around I’d be in trouble because he is the one who remembers to be respectful and genuinely realises the power of these things, I’m a novice at that end of it. I’m not the kind of person who gets vibes off things but I’ve never had experiences like those on Saints Island. Throughout these experiences I’m starting to see that there definitely is something out there, we just have to find out how to interact with it.
What do you think makes a great haunted location?
Cormac: I love Carlow Shopping Centre (reputedly haunted by several spectres) because there are so many strange things, like real, loud banging noises. We were there last year and a door slammed really loudly in the centre and reverberated around us, clear as a bell, but no doors there can close like that. One night we were there with a radio show and that happened. Everybody heard it. You would have to forcibly slam the door to make it make this noise. We knew exactly where everyone was and nobody was near this particular door. Another sound comes from the café area, which is like scaffolding hitting the floor. Another time I heard it, it sounded like pots and pans. If it was someone in the café, they would have had to have been there all night because the place is locked! There is a video on Leinster Paranormal’s YouTube page from last year where music started playing in the supermarket inside the centre. You can’t get into the supermarket itself, it’s locked. We were filming for a TV show, and we could hear the music going on and off, getting higher in volume, then we started hearing people talking and shouting like they were at a party. The next day I contacted management, and told them the whole thing. They told me the music player can’t switch itself on and off! (Here’s a link to the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8FNFon5kHkQ)
Barry: We will be there this Halloween, and members of the public can come down and experience it for themselves.
Is there any location that you would really like to investigate?
Barry: After speaking to some of the submariners who have been down to the Titanic, that is something I would love to have done. That would be an absolutely awesome place to dive down to. I would only climb into the submarine if William Shatner was to go down with me! (Barry went on to reveal his love of all things Star Trek, much to my delight!)
What do you believe to be the most haunted area in Ireland?
Cormac: I would have to say that since I haven’t been to every single haunted area in Ireland that I can’t tell you what the most haunted place could be. All I can really go in is my own experience. Haunted places are few and far between. From being with Leinster Paranormal and getting private cases from people who are having issues, you see that there’s a lot of stuff going on out there. Don’t take the lazy option and look for the most haunted place. If you’re interested, go out there and find out.
Barry: I think to be honest that the places we have covered with Legend Seekers really stand out for me. We’ve six books coming out this year, with titles such as Cave of the Cats, Island Of The Dead, Forest of Lights, Ghost Train, Cave of the Boneless and Habitat of Merrow, which tells the tale of an exceptionally dangerous mermaid. After that, we’ll be releasing Blood God, Cursed Waters which deals with a cursed sunken village, The Devil’s Card Game and Dreachfhoula Fortress.
I would like to thank Barry and Cormac for being so generous with their time and their knowledge. I thoroughly enjoyed speaking to them about their views on the paranormal world, and it revitalised my faith in doing something refreshing and new. The Legend Seekers book series is breathing fresh air into the lungs of the paranormal world, and the project is pushing the boundaries of historic exploration and research.