Behave yourself or the Flaherty sisters will get you, says guest writer DEBORAH CONTESSA, of a gruesome tale from Blackpool’s dark history!
A house once belonging to three sisters from Ireland, situated where Forest Gate meets North Park Drive, Blackpool, was renowned for being haunted.
Crying children could be regularly heard, along with pained screams of ‘Mummy!’ on the upper floors and attic tiny footsteps scuttled around.
During the 1930s the sewage pipes were dug up for replacement and a putrid mass of decaying flesh and scorched bone was discovered along with tiny teeth and clumps of hair.
The Flaherty sisters were thought to have fled back to County Cork and were never seen again.
The original house was gutted by a terrible fire in the 1950s and had to be almost completely rebuilt.
1926 was Blackpool council’s Jubilee year, it was also the year of the coal miners general strike. The strike was called by the TUC for one minute to midnight on 3 May. For the previous two days, some one million coal miners had been locked out of their mines after a dispute with the owners who wanted them to work longer hours for less money.
On that very day in 1926, Charles Kennedy, an upstanding young man, joined the Blackpool march supporting the Great Strike. Approaching Forrest Gate the procession thinned and Charles, along with his friend Christopher Herd, began knocking on doors in an attempt to rally support. But what they saw through the window of the house on North Park drive sickened them to their stomachs. Three women were beating a defenceless blonde child, slapping and pinching her as she cried out in pain. The two brave men forced open the front door in a valiant attempt to save the child.
Ruth, Flora and Emmeline Flaherty were furious at the intrusion and threatened to send for the police themselves! They explained the girl was a disturbed child who required strict discipline, one of many children they had selflessly taken in because their parents were unable to cope with their wayward behaviour.
The pals became anxious they might have overreacted and prepared to leave when they heard distressing moans from the rear of the property. Pushing past the sisters, Kennedy was appalled to discover about a dozen youngsters in various states of undress, some seemingly unconscious, tied up and covered in dried blood from what appeared to be cuts and slashes all over their bodies.
The men fled the dwelling in search of a constable (there were plenty around due to the march).
A police search of the property revealed an upstairs room ankle deep in human excrement and bags stuffed full of children’s clothing… but of the children and Flora Flaherty there was no sign.
The authorities began an investigation but in these troubled times records were rarely kept, the sisters, who professed to be nurses had enjoyed a previously good reputation and eventually the case was dropped.
Interestingly, in January 1927, Ruth Flaherty had her handbag stolen whilst walking to Stanley Park and the horrified thief turned himself in upon unveiling a small, pickled human hand inside! Unfortunately, he had fearfully tossed away his nefarious find and despite a police search of the area it was never discovered.
Shortly after, the women put the house on the market and returned to Eire. Leaving us with one of the darkest, most diabolical tales I have ever had the misfortune to recount.
There was no extradition between southern Ireland and the UK back then. This enabled the sisters to just slip into the background, no proper checks or details would have been recorded. I wouldn’t be surprised if they had continued their abuse.
Intriguingly, I was discussing this case with an elderly Blackpool resident, who although only having a vague memory of the event, did recall her parents threatening her with the words “You keep that up young lady and the Flahertys will get you!” if she ever misbehaved as a child!!
DEBORAH CONTESSA is a dilettante historian with a particular interest in all things dark and haunting, creepy and macabre. A taphophile tourist, graveyard detective, cemetery tour guide, paranormal enthusiast, interfaith minister, writer, artist and blogger. She is based in Blackpool, Lancashire and prefers her stories, ghosts and legends to have a local flavour. You can visit her website Beyond The Blackpool and follow her on twitter.