While paranormal groups continue to spring up around the UK and Ireland off of the back of such television shows as Ghost Adventures, Ghost Hunters and Most Haunted, there is one group in Northern Ireland who have been working conscientiously and discreetly for almost a decade and have experienced more than these new groups could ever hope for. ANN MASSEY spoke with Hugh James, founder of County Antrim Paranormal Research Association (CAPRA) to find out more about their work, advice for new investigators and what they can do for anyone who thinks they are experiencing paranormal activity, just don’t call them Ghostbusters!
ANN: Can you tell us a bit more about CAPRA, how long it’s been running and your objectives?
HUGH: County Antrim Paranormal Research Association was founded 9 years ago, a group of like-minded people interested in researching and documenting any evidence of alleged paranormal activity. We have mixed views and opinions on what we see as the paranormal and trying to keep a healthy balance of views against experience keeps us grounded and focused.
CAPRA have built a solid reputation in Northern Ireland as a result of professionalism, discretion and not jumping on the ‘paranormal is cool and trendy’ bandwagon. How have you managed to maintain this during times of the television circus and popular culture making paranormal investigation entertainment?
Yes, it has become a very popular subject over the last few years due to all the media attention and we have seen a lot more groups now involved in the field of paranormal investigating. We at CAPRA don’t do public investigations, we never have. Look I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with that, many do a good job at explaining what they do and run it very well but I just feel that if you want to investigate seriously and document anything that may occur or record it is very difficult to do so without contamination of evidence in a public location with large groups of people. Having said that I understand the public are very interested in the subject and if it helps show what serious groups do, well that’s fine. When we do an investigation we always ask the client to join us but point out it isn’t like TV and can be very uneventful!
As well as looking for answers yourselves, you feel it is important to help families privately by investigating and don’t actively seek attention by publishing your findings on these nights, where others will happily disclose the results of an investigation. Why is this?
In our 9 years we have visited many locations and conducted lots of investigations, each one is different and unique and needs to be handled and set up differently. Part of that care and attention is the importance of trying to help families who feel they are having some sort of phenomena occurring. Firstly, it is very important to establish what actually is happening and to try and find rational, normal answers and provide reassurance. Most times we can do that and dispel the fears of the client.
If we do find something unusual at no point would we say ‘that’s it’s a ghost or spirit’ or whatever you want to call it – that’s just not done. We present any evidence we feel might be out of the ordinary that was captured on our equipment and back this up with a CD or DVD for them to hold onto. If it’s something that they may have heard or witnessed before and it’s of concern, we can take the matter further if we have to, calling on friends within the field who can help if needed.
As far as not disclosing any evidence to the public, it’s not about how many places you’ve investigated or who has put up the most on the media sites. If that’s what people are in it for that’s the wrong reason and sadly I feel there are many who are. Confidentiality is paramount in this field and you have to respect and understand that your credibility as an investigating team and your reputation are built on it. Our clients’ trust and confidentiality are a serious part of our business and nothing is released without consent.
What made you decide to become a paranormal investigator and what drives you personally to continue?
I have to go back more than 20 years to answer the first part of the question when I had no knowledge or interest in the paranormal but then had a personal experience of my own. I guess events like that just sometimes happen but it got me interested as to what it was we experienced and over the years I have researched theories. I believe now it was some sort of residual event along the lines of the stone tape theory.
As for what drives me, my interest and passion continue to grow as I search for answers to the strange things we continue to experience.
What has been your most terrifying experience on an investigation and why?
To be honest I’m not easily scared but on one occasion while we were on an investigation I did grab the sides of a table and my heart was pounding after one of the team asked anyone present to make a noise in the place it would like us to go next – within a few seconds there was almighty crashing and banging below us which we have captured on video, all of us jumping out of our skins. Yes, even we jump from time to time!
CAPRA are willing to travel into the South of Ireland to bring your expertise to locations. Of course there are many noted ‘haunted’ sites throughout such as Loftus Hall and Leap Castle – which of the famous ones would you like to investigate and why?
We have been to many locations in the south and we recently returned from Charleville Castle for a second time which was quite an experience. Enniscorthy Castle is a great location and we were made very welcome by Wexford Paranormal, a great team with great passion for the subject.
We are planning a trip to Leap Castle soon and the Hellfire Club is another very interesting place that we have been to a few times. We would like to do a gaol or two and feel the energy of the inmates awaiting their fates must be imprinted in the very fabric of the building and the fear those poor souls may have endured. I have a lot of interest in the stone tape theory and residual haunts.
You must have come up against clients who are convinced they have a ‘haunting’ and you have been able to collect evidence that proves a natural cause and in essence debunk their beliefs. How do you handle telling them and are they more relieved or disappointed? Do you have an example?
Yes, we have and to be honest we have to be very careful when dealing with cases like these. Most of the time when we do find rational explanations and are able to advise them, the clients are very happy and to know that they are in fact not dealing with something untoward going on and we get thanked a lot for our help and we are delighted to help them. You do however from time to time get ones who are let’s say a bit disappointed or those who were hoping for evidence for their own gain or have asked us to conduct a public ‘Ghost Hunt’. We tell them respectfully that’s not what we do and decline. That said, you always have to be very careful and keep an open mind to these cases and take in what people tell you regardless and have an element of trust.
How do you feel about labels pertaining to certain locations such as ‘ghosts’, ‘supernatural’ and ‘haunted’?
I never use the term ghosts and don’t say you have or haven’t a ghost. I also hate the term ‘Ghost Hunter’ or ‘Ghostbuster’. That is a defining statement when we don’t have a solid explanation for the anomalies we encounter. I mean, do we really know what these experiences are? I believe we are all made of energy and when the body dies our energy doesn’t. From that I guess our own faith or beliefs define what we call it, our spirit, our soul whatever, but I do firmly believe that the energy that we are all made from lingers on and has to take some kind of form.
Many newer groups seem to go straight for the latest high-tech gadgets without grounding and basic training in using old techniques or basic use of the senses. What is your opinion on this and what does CAPRA use?
When we first started I personally gave each of the group a manual of sorts from basic equipment and techniques and how to use them correctly and we all learned together. In fact, we didn’t carry out our first investigation for a year until we were sure we were confident with our knowledge and skills level.
We do have a lot of equipment we have built up over the years from a 9 channel dVr camera, wide angle cameras, camcorders, various audio equipment and environmental equipment as well as infrared and Broad spectrum lighting, lasers, sensors to name a few and Kieran from the Tech Team develops his own stuff too and is always trying to come up with new ideas that might be helpful in our tool kit.
When you are out in the field doing investigating for each case is different and always throws up new ways of doing things, there are no set pieces of equipment I feel that find what people call ghosts, but they do help with detecting certain changes in the environment. Logs of these can then show a pattern over time and help towards a conclusion along with audio, video and first-hand experience/ and logs and shows changes. Keeping records of all our investigations is vital.
I personally like some of the old methods used from way back and I really like the books by Peter Underwood regarding his work and the methods they would use.
Hands down though, he best piece of equipment any investigator can use and doesn’t cost a penny is your own senses. All of the group have had their own experiences and don’t need equipment to verify what was witnessed – we aren’t out to convince the world about our experiences, just to find answers for ourselves and our clients.
What’s next for CAPRA?
I will just make sure CAPRA continues with what we are all doing, we have a fantastic team now and I must say we are only one of a few that still have all its original members from day one. That just shows how loyal and committed we all are. We also have a few new members now who bring some great ideas, energy and enthusiasm to the group, I’m very proud of them and the future of C.A.P.R.A is very bright. I hope that the public will get to know of us and that we can reach out more to others who might need our help. Everything we do is totally confidential and is absolutely free. There is no charge for what we do – we do it to try and help others and to further our research.
As for me I know I will continue to investigate the paranormal and maybe I’ll never find the answers I seek until that day when my time comes – I guess I’ll know for certain then!