ANN MASSEY tells us why Peter Underwood was drawn to this particular Christmas Eve tale of murder, ghosts and a search for the truth!
Ireland is known for what we call “Crisis Apparitions” – that is to say, the appearance of a loved one either at death’s door or already passed through the veil. It is a warning, of harm done or an omen of ill fortune. The appearances can cross vast distances, however, in the case of two brothers, it was a link between the two counties of Cork and Waterford.
It was Christmas Eve in the Viking town of Waterford, during the reign of Queen Victoria. As the hands of his clock struck the witching hour, Eli Hayson was checking the house and heading for bed. It was a normal Christmas Eve, however, all that was about to change…
Eli lived along the waterfront in Waterford Harbour in a place called Scotch Quay – incidentally the surname of Hayson originates in Scotland. The quay is adjacent to the River Suir and while busy by day, it was silent this night as sailors and merchants were home with their family.
Footsteps echoing along the quay quickly drew the attention of Eli and he clasped his hand to his mouth in horror as he saw his own twin brother Jack running, mouthing “help me’ as three shadows pursued the man, gaining on him with every step. Eli watched as the assailants caught their prey and Jack disappeared from view.
Eli shook his head – his brother was aboard ship, due to dock in Cork Port. Despite the disbelief, he ran to the front door and threw it open, ready to provide his sibling with refuge and fight off his foes. Only there was no one there, the street was silent, the waters still.
The following morning a message reached the house. Jack Hayson had been sleepwalking on board his ship, fallen overboard and drowned. The official cause of death was “accidental drowning” and Eli spent twenty years searching for the truth about his experience and his brother’s suspicious death.
In the city of Cork, Eli had entered a public house for a few pints after a long day of work. Known to the area, the barman whispered to the remaining Hayson brother, that a man wanted to meet him to discuss Jack’s death.
He came face to face with an old man, who had recently lost his son. Tom had made a deathbed confession to his father, that he had witnessed the demise of Jack during his time as a Port of Cork Nightwatchman.
The very night Jack went overboard, the portworker had seen a small craft leave the harbour with three figures inside. Tom thought he was going insane with tiredness, as it appeared the figures had the heads of wild animals. He watched as they climbed up onto the deck of Jack’s ship and chase the young man down.
The sound of heinous laughter carried on the night breeze as Jack jumped over the side, fearing for his life. He struggled for just a short time and Tom saw him sink beneath the waves. The three removed what Tom realised were headdresses and they looked across the water to where Tom was standing. Terrified, he told no one until he was about to cross over himself.
Perhaps the men were part of some occult presence in the area, similar to the Hellfire Club and Jack was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Maybe Jack had fallen in with a bad crowd. Either way, the revelation led to more questions than answers. Regardless, Eli Hayson had witnessed the death and seen the ghost of his twin brother, some 76 miles away. A Christmas Eve never to forget.
Of course, if you find yourself at midnight on Scotch Quay in Waterford on Christmas Eve, you may see Jack for yourself…