St. Stephen’s Green in Dublin is a source of all things supernatural, writes PAUL MOYNIHAN
In the heart of Dublin city lies one of the capital’s most picturesque amenities, St. Stephen’s Green. Officially opened to the public in the summer of 1880, it is the largest garden square in Europe, serving as one of Ireland’s foremost tourist attractions. Home to a number of wonderful works of art which include a memorial garden to WB Yeats and a sculptured bust of novelist James Joyce, it has paid tribute to Irish culture since its inception. When one passes under Fusilier’s Arch and enters the park, it feels as though the hustle and bustle of the vibrant city has vanished, only to be replaced by a far more tranquil atmosphere. However, this change in atmosphere is mirrored by a far spookier juxtaposition: a meeting place for the world of the living, and the dead. Tales of phantoms walking the pathways and surroundings of ‘The Green’ have been told for many years, attracting much attention from those hoping to catch a glimpse of a ghostly figure.
St. Stephen’s Green is overlooked by a number of Georgian townhouses. One of the city’s most beautiful buildings is Iveagh House, which now serves as the HQ of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Built in 1736, the building was originally two houses until Benjamin Guinness (grandson of Arthur Guinness, founder of Ireland’s famous beverage) bought them both and combined them as one mansion in 1862.
The house became well-known around the city for exhibiting a mysterious, miraculous vision every Holy Thursday. Witnesses to this splendid sight claim a cross would appear in one of the windows of the building. Crowds would gather around the Green to see it for themselves. The background to this interesting occurrence is debatable, but one story related to the house appears to be linked to the holy vision.
A young servant girl working in the house is said to have taken ill, and while lying on her deathbed, she requested the presence of a priest by her side. She was Catholic, and the family of the house were Protestant. They refused to allow a priest to enter. Her only comfort was her rosary beads in this hour of desperate need. She was caught praying, however, and her master grabbed the holy beads from her hand and through them through the window. Those who have seen the cross on the window believe this to be the reason for the sighting: perhaps the girl’s faith has lived on and shows itself in this fashion. It has also been said that the sacred sighting represents the spirit of Dermot O’Hurley, the Archbishop of Cashel, who was hanged nearby on the 20th of June, 1584.
Another far more frightening tale takes place in another house on the Green. This house stood on the west side of the famous park, and during its construction, a startling discovery was made. After the foundations had been laid, a storm arrived one night and completely waterlogged the building. The next morning, the body of a young lady was found floating in the building. After a number of years, the house was finally completed, but few people would remain in it. All of them claimed a sinister presence haunted the house, and the feeling of being watched was too strong to deny.
St. Stephen’s Green is also home to one of Ireland’s most famous hotels, The Shelbourne. Built in 1824, this famous Dublin landmark was the conception of Tipperary man Martin Burke. In 1965, the late Hans Holzer stayed at the hotel with his wife, the medium Sybil Leek. Holzer was one of the world’s most respected paranormal researchers, famous for investigating such high profile cases as The Amityville Horror house in Long Island, New York. The couple were in Dublin on a tour of the city’s most haunted locations when they bumped into one of the Shelbourne’s resident spirits. Staying in Room 526 (though some say it was Room 256), Leek claimed to have been contacted by a child spirit named Mary Masters. The child was crying, and said ‘I’m frightened’. Leek attempted to comfort this lost little girl, and felt the ghost sit upon her bed. She felt a soft material rub against her face and arm. When Leek awoke the next morning, her arm was numb, as though someone had been lying on it. The next evening, the girl revealed her name and told Leek that she was seven years old. Over the course of their stay, Leek would fall into trance and ask for her sister Sophie. She also continuously wrote the year 1846 on paper. Hans believed the girl was once a resident of a townhouse that once stood where the Shelbourne does, and that this year marked her passing.
Despite the now beautiful scenery and atmosphere of the Green, it was once a place of great despair for many. Up until the late 1700’s, most executions within the city took place here. Records of public hangings and burnings exist to this day. On Halloween night 1923, a Jewish man named Bernard Goldberg was gunned down outside the address at 95 Stephen’s Green. His brother Samuel narrowly escaped the attack. Two weeks later, another Jewish man was murdered in the nearby area known as Little Jerusalem. His name was Emmanuel Kahn, and he was just 24 when he died. It is believed that the two suspects fled the country and went to Mexico and America.
It seems St. Stephen’s Green has had as colourful and as dark a history as any haunted castle or mansion. The vibrant life it now breathes was once a centre of death, cruelty and even murder. The next time you visit the Green, keep watch for the spooks and spectres that still inhabit this picturesque source of paranormal happenings…