The Old Lady of Dame Street Enniscorthy, County Wexford, goes by the official title of ‘The Athenaeum’ and is arguably the most haunted theatre in Ireland. ANN MASSEY reports…
Dating back to the 19th Century, The Athenaeum is the purpose built town hall and theatre is unique among haunted hotspots, as there are no recorded deaths to have taken place on the premises.
The Enniscorthy town centre location is bursting with so much paranormal activity, that some paranormal teams are booked in back to back and others struggle to secure a night in one of Ireland’s most supernatural venues.
So what is it that draws the living and the dead to a small community theatre in the heart of Ireland’s Ancient East?
Why is The Athenaeum haunted?
For a start The Athenaeum is adjacent to 13th century Enniscorthy Castle, which has a history of bloody battles dating back to the Norman invasion and was leased by the poet Edmund Spenser in the 1580s.
Under the direction of Father William Fortune, the town hall and theatre was built by the people for the people in 1892, with the addition of the stage in 1896.
It was the location for a 1901 rally by Douglas Hyde of the Gaelic League, one of the most influential societies to promote Irish culture including music, dance and of course, the Irish language, which had suffered at the hands of English rule.
In 1916, The Athenaeum was the Headquarters of the Enniscorthy Volunteers during the Easter Rising under the instruction of James Connolly.
They had been charged with the task of securing the railway line to prevent enemy reinforcements reaching Dublin and also took a strategic defensive position on nearby Vinegar Hill, the site of a previous uprising and main rebel camp in 1798.
Theatre also a war room, hospital and morgue
The theatre was converted to include a war room, hospital and morgue, until a peaceful surrender by the volunteer force under the orders of Padraig Pearse from his prison cell on 27 April 1916.
Today, The Athenaeum is still a working theatre and also home to the County Wexford 1916 Museum and Archive, yet the spirits of the past are still the driving force within the 127 year old building.
Seany Power is a Director of the theatre and part of Slaney Paranormal Investigators and spends much of his free time in the theatre as both a preserver of history and seeker of the supernatural.
Seany is not surprised that so many paranormal teams are vying for time in the haunted hotspot.
He says that anytime he is in the building his name is called like an old friend and that the entities within the theatre walls will soon let you know if you are not welcome.
The voices come from priests, children, domestic staff and 1916 volunteers, not all of them amiable.
Activity prevails most in the theatre auditorium, dressing rooms, shower rooms (including claims of evil manifestations) stage and in particular, the museum itself.
Doors banging, shadow figures, lights switching on and off, audible voices and physical interaction, this County Wexford location has it all.
Seany’s most unnerving personal experience is in the museum.
“Doors were banging, the atmosphere changed and all of a sudden we just heard ‘Mama.’ No equipment was needed, it was as clear as anything to the naked ear.”
I went along with my team Irish Paranormal Investigations, to find out if The Athenaeum is as haunted as they say.
As always, we entered as healthy sceptics, however, it wasn’t long before even the hardiest among us was beginning to think there was more to this theatre than its innocent façade suggests.
We started in the gallery of the auditorium along with our guest and gadget expert Bryan Byrne.
The reason we chose this as our opener was because of the bizarre events and dark energy encompassing us during our walkthrough.
Ghost hunting at The Athenaeum
Equipment had been set up and indeed triggered, but it wasn’t necessary.
Our own eyes and ears were registering cries and dark shadows, as well as the group feeling an overwhelming sense of dread.
Particular seats were burning and the hardiest among us were forcibly moving chairs.
Continuing our investigation, we left the auditorium behind, but on the staircase we heard the deliberate bang of a door above us, aggressive and controlled as if we shouldn’t have left, crying out for attention.
Base Camp was in the former morgue and flickers and strange sounds were plentiful.
Nonplussed, we continued down to the ground floor with a view to investigating the museum, stopping to look at the security cameras in the office.
We stood transfixed, as we saw the silhouette of a man pass purposefully across the front of the upper staircase and elevator.
Turning, we looked at each other in astonishment- all were accounted for in that room. Who was at the top of the stairs? We raced up and found no one.
In the museum we mentioned to some of the team that on a previous visit, the motion sensor lights in the hall would turn on during questioning on cue.
We had also demonstrated the way the lights were triggered in normal circumstances and a physical body has to pass the sensor for the light to come on.
As the session began, the room visibly darkened.
Before long the lights in the hall were turning on as if someone was walking along the corridor, exactly as the question was asked “if you are here turn on the hall light”.
We heard the sounds of dragging furniture above us, conversations in the darkness not of our own making and I was driven from my seat at the table.
A place where Irish men planned their fight for freedom. Despite being Irish, could my English accent have made them angry?
It was when we turned to directly address the angry priest as Sean had described, that events became more sinister.
The sounds of moving furniture increased, whispered conversations continued.
A marked drop in temperature
There was a marked drop in temperature and Dominic felt heavy breathing on his neck.
While the reading in the room was much lower than it had been, the area around Dominic’s neck steadily increased in temperature until he commanded ‘stop’ – and everything returned to normal.
We decided to return to the auditorium and make use of the Spirit Box. The walls seemed to draw in and things felt edgy once again.
Random words came through as one expects with this device, however as we reached the peak of the devil’s hour, the atmosphere changed considerably so we asked should we not be there.
A deep male voice boomed over the box “Time to leave.”
So we did.
A visit to The Athenaeum theatre is not be missed, just understand the performance you experience may not be the one you expect and the audience sat beside you? Well they may have been there longer than you think…