Beware Ireland's Death Coach

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PAUL MOYNIHAN profiles the harbinger of Ireland’s haunted highways and byways – the dreaded Death Coach!

The Death Coach from the Disney Film, Darby O'Gill and the Little People
The Death Coach from the Disney Film, Darby O’Gill and the Little People

What is the Death Coach?

ONE of Irish folklore’s most frightening tales is that of the death coach.

Known in Ireland as the Coiste Bodhar (meaning silent coach), this terrifying entity is said to be a harbinger of death for those who see it, or for those closely related to the unfortunate who happens to come across it.

The folklore surrounding the coach states that once it enters this realm, it cannot return to the land of the dead without a passenger.

In typically-terrifying fashion, the driver of this phantom coach is said to be a headless horseman.

Many people claim to have seen the death coach throughout Ireland over the years.

One such man was Michael Noonan, who witnessed the coach while travelling by horse in the south of Ireland.

He described the spooky sighting as being completely silent, black, and drawn by six black horses.

The coachman, Noonan said, was also dressed in black.

Disturbingly, his head and the heads of the horses were missing.

The coach passed by him at speed, as the horseman whipped the horses.

Noonan’s horse appeared frightened, and within seconds, the phantom coach had disappeared.Noonan, shaken and frightened, returned home and put his horse out in the field.

He retired to his bed, putting the evening’s events behind him.

The next day, while looking out at the roadside in front of his home, he saw a local man known as Madden riding his horse hysterically down the road.

Noonan inquired what the matter was, and Madden exclaimed that his master had taken ill and needed the help of a doctor.
Michael ran to see the local midwife, who lived close by, in order to fetch medical supplies.

But it was too late, and Michael Noonan knew that the death coach had claimed the life of the man.

Another well known report of the death coach occurred in County Limerick.

In the early 1800s, a man named Ralph Westropp was nearing his final days in his beautiful countryside home.

Death Coach
The Death Coach from the Disney Film, Darby O’Gill and the Little People

While waiting for the doctor to arrive, Westropp’s sons claimed to have heard a thunderous sound coming from the front of the house.

When the men investigated, they witnessed a dark coach coming to a stop in the front yard.

Assuming it was the doctor, the sons waited for him to emerge from the coach.

However, the coach stormed down the path towards the gate, which was closed.

Needless to say, the apparition disappeared.

The gatekeeper claimed to have seen no such thing, and a few hours after the doctor’s arrival, Mr. Westropp passed away.

Be it a mirage, a vision, or a figment of the imagination, there is no denying the frightening folkloric effect that the death coach has had on the landscape of Irish storytelling.

It is still a story passed from generation to generation, and one that will live on far beyond those who have the misfortune of witnessing it.

Watch Darby O’Gill and the Little People Banshee and Death Coach Scene


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