Spooky Isles writer and paranormal investigator SHARON CLARKE tells us of the history of the distinctly-foreboding Armagh Gaol in Northern Ireland and takes us on a Paranormal Investigation to chill you to the core
When we think of gaols in Northern Ireland we tend to focus interest on the Crumlin Road Gaol, a prison renowned for its turbulent history and, of course, a paranormal hotspot for both tourists and paranormal investigators; but as I discovered recently in my opinion there is an even more prominent paranormal interest centred in Armagh Gaol.
Armagh Gaol was constructed in the 1780s under the design of architects Francis Cooley and William Murray. Originally it was designed as a women’s prison but was extended in the 1850s to house 3 subsections – women, debtors and felons.
As with most gaols of the time executions were common, firstly taking place in the gaol square but later moved to behind the prison walls. As with the type of prison the 18th and 19th century holds many tales of murder, suicides and torture but what alarmed me personally is the stories that occurred more recently.
On the 19th April 1979 Agnes Wallace, a prison officer was shot dead in the gaol. Also notable in the second half of the 20th century Armagh Gaol housed many high-profile political prisoners.
From a historical point of view it holds many interesting if somewhat horrific events from the era of the hunger strikes.
Marie Doherty a former prisoner spoke out about the gaol being brutal and horrific. They were sometimes locked up for 3 days with no toilet or washing facilities, the male guards were known to beat them regularly. It shocks me how these events are so recent in such an old building with an already brutal past.
The prison finally closed its doors in 1986.
From my area of interest, Armagh Gaol is rife with stories of recent public eyewitness accounts of shadow figures being seen moving around the building, stories of ghostly faces peering out windows, photographs taken of weird human like figures.
Staff have stated hearing footsteps, disembodied voices crying and doors slamming shut.
The walls house a couple of centuries of extreme suffering, torture, executions and murders so I’m sure even residual energy lingers.
I had the pleasure to accompany a group of people to spend time within Armagh Gaol late at night without public intrusion. I have to say after experiencing Crumlin road Gaol I was both excited and apprehensive as from a paranormal perspective gaols tend to harbour feelings of oppression and in some cases aggressive activity.
As we approached this structurally beautiful building from the outside, all lit up, my optimistic side thought it to be quiet and inviting, how wrong I was to be proved.
We entered the building and as I walked around I tried to imagine what it must have felt like to be an inmate, it didn’t take much imagination as the interior remains very much the same as it was throughout the centuries.
The walls in the solitary cells seemed to ooze an invisible cry, a residual echo of defeat and hopelessness. As I gazed upon A Wing it heightened to me as a woman and a mother the deep level of oppression and terror these women felt and the building witnessed.
We can say that the 18th and 19th century judicial system was archaic but as my history of the place showed it continued right up until the doors closed. So many women through the centuries were locked up for minor crimes even occasionally no crimes at all.
As we went outside to the execution areas the atmosphere was one of darkness both seen visually in the night sky and felt in my very soul, it felt like it had been a long time before any light had ever pierced the energy. Some people complained of feeling dizzy and ill, obviously from a psychological point of view this could be attributed to our knowledge of its dark history.
As we moved to B Wing, which housed the men, this was the point for me that Armagh gaol started to show its justified reputation for housing paranormal activity. Phone batteries started to drain, people were unable to take pictures etc. Arguably investigators do have an advantage that we don’t feed into suggestive fear and usually have a rational explanation for any noise or unusual occurrences.
In my field I am investigating the paranormal from a scientific angle and my history of studying psychiatry helps me to understand why people do feel ill or instigate mass hysteria BUT I will state what I heard and saw in B wing is not easily if at all able to be debunked.
We stood in a group, the place eerily quiet, I looked up at the second floor where more cells lined walls and I felt a very strong sense of someone watching me, then it started! Cell doors banging and when I say banging I do not mean light tappings or scrapes I mean large repetitive thuds. Gasps went round the group, a common question to me of “oh my god! What was that?”
I highlighted the necessity to not only remain quiet but also to stay calm. Periods of silence ensued as the atmosphere got more oppressive and cold – I would even be so bold to say that it felt whatever was there was gathering energy,feeding off fears.
Oddly the banging would intensify with any gadgets used, phones, cameras etc. We then all faced the steel stairs facing the 2nd floor and four members of the group suddenly looked scared to death, pointing to the stairs open mouthed. Everyone started to talk at once shouting “did you see it? It was on the stairs”. Four people all stated a male figure came down the stairs towards us.
As I called for quiet a voice quivering said “Oh Sharon, it’s tall and it’s beside you.” To be honest it did feel like someone was indeed beside me. I looked round and saw a black shadow figure move among the group. Others were shouting “it’s over here oh God!”
It became very intense and intimidating for some so I lead everyone to neutral territory, as we walked away the door banging got louder and faster, one could almost feel the anger.
I have been in many locations that claim paranormal activity, famous places, castles, opera houses, even people’s homes and businesses and I have to say Armagh Gaol is one of the most active places I have had the privilege to experience. I will never forget that night and as a researcher it has fuelled my calling to keep going to find out exactly what is out there.