This is a ghost story I heard from a distressed young man some few years ago in a pub in Dublin.
One cold, wet November night, sometime in the late nineteen fifties, a young man by the name Gerry Hyland was returning to his digs in Clonskeagh in Dublin. He was only short time in the city, he had left his parents and home in Tipperary to find work in the capital.
Having missed the last bus home, he was now having to walk the long and lonely road to Goatstown avenue where he was now living.
In those days the bridge over the river Dodder was the dividing line between the city of Dublin and the county. Because of this and for some strange reason, known only to the County Council, the streetlights were switched off at eleven o’clock at night thereby leaving this part of the world in total darkness. You could almost hear one of the councillors saying “Sure, what would anyone be doing out at that time of the night?”
After enjoying a few pints of porter in the local hostelry, he had stayed a bit longer than usual, therefore causing him to miss the “Ghost bus”, so called because it was the last bus of the night and only travelled back to the bus station in Donnybrook.
As he crossed the bridge, he cursed himself for lingering so late in the pub, as he was now soaked to the skin and barely able to see his way through the black night.
He passed Gilligan’s shop, standing silent and empty as it had done for years, as Mrs Gilligan the owner was long gone to her heavenly reward.
The shop had been a special place for the children of the area to gather on evenings after school to buy their fizz bags, penny black toffees, bulls eyes and bottles of lemonade, before heading home to do their homework, or not. But now all that was left of those days were the echoes of the laughing children and Mrs. Gilligan standing behind the counter counting her pennies. He looked over his shoulder as he crossed the road
But there was nothing to be seen.
He walked past Phillips factory and the high looming walls of the Masonic school for boys and the small ancient, dilapidated Henshaw cottages dating back to the Boer War now they were silent as the graveyard in Deans Grange where all of the occupants would eventually end up.
By now the pints of porter in his stomach were beginning curdle and the smell of stale cigarettes on his coat was beginning to make him feel sick. So he upped his pace, and hurried on, looking forward to a good night’s sleep ahead of him.
As he passed the lonely Clonskeagh terrace houses he thought he heard a small thin voice singing in one of its room’s and wondered who might that be?
On, on up the road he went, getting colder and wetter by the minute. He blew on his freezing hands for the umpteenth time, then plunged them back into his rain saturated coat pockets.
He was now in the countryside of County Dublin and if it was possible it seemed to grow darker and less inviting than before.
Then he heard behind him the rattle of a bicycle chain and the sound of rubber tyres crunching the lose stones on the road.
For some reason he began to feel nervous and uneasy.
He waited for the bike and rider to pass him by, but the cyclist seemed reluctant to do so.
He walked on wondering why this was so, then took a chance to look over his shoulders.
What he saw filled him with relief as he saw a large
Guard on a bicycle coming up behind him. The Guard seemed as wet as himself and in the gloom he noticed the pale drawn cold face of a man in torment.
Obviously not too happy to be also out on a night such as this. He dismounted stiffly from his bike removed his bicycle clips and looked at Gerry through blood shot eyes. “It’s only once a year” he said in a dry, weak voice, like a voice that hasn’t spoken in long time. “Cold night to be out Guard” said Gerry, but there came no reply.
In abject terror and now with an even colder chill creeping through his body he realised that the figure before him was not of this world, but from far away beyond the years with.
They looked at each other for what seemed an eternity but couldn’t have been more than a few seconds.
Then the apparition spoke once again through broken bloodless lips “It’s only once a year” it said.
With the smell of the grave on his breath.
And with that the it bent down and with a terrible lonely moan, replaced its bicycle clips, and slowly mounted its bike and began to ride away, his figure shimmering in what little light there was and soon to be engulfed by the, now, even colder night.
“God, that was weird” thought Gerry”
By now a very frightened young man.
He stood transfixed on the wet pavement wondering whether to walk on, with the fear of meeting the man, or ghost, ( which ever you believe) again, or head home by another safer route. In the end he decided on heading home as the better option, where a stiff drink of whiskey would help to calm his nerves.
But his night was not finished with him yet.
After walking a few yards or so up the road he came upon another shock. A bicycle lying in the kerb, with its frame broken and twisted, one wheel still spinning noiselessly. Gerry had enough of this craic and immediately broke into a shaky run with a terrible fluttering of his heart.
Later that night as he lay sleeplessly in bed, he pondered on what he should do. Should he tell someone and appear a fool, or relay the story to someone who might have had the same experience.In the end he decided to tell someone.
Which led to my meeting with Gerry in Ashtons pub sometime after.
When I entered the bar, I saw him sitting by the fire in the snug. He looked pale and tired, like someone who hadn’t had a bit peace for a long, long time.
I joined him at his table, introduced myself and sat down. I asked him what was his pleasure, “ A pint would be grand” he said so I made my way over to the bar and ordered two pints of plain and two balls of malt.
I re-joined him by the fireplace and set our drinks on the table. We both took our first draft of porter and sat back on our seats.
“Well “I said, “What’s the story”?
“Do you want a story”? he asked,” Well I’ll give you story, all right”. And he preceded to tell me of his experience on that fateful night.
About an hour later, sweating and shaken from the telling of his tale, he said “Well do you believe me or not”? and took another swig of his porter. I looked at him and asked if he wanted to hear the reason that might explain what he witnessed that night.
“I hope you can” he said “Because I haven’t slept in a week with the vision of the spectre spinning around in my head. Everywhere I look I see him”
So, I proceeded to tell him my story.
It was on another November night ten years ago I said that a lone guard from the police barracks in Donnybrook, not far from here, set out on his beat at twelve midnight.
It is said that he cycled up Beaver Row and then made his way onto the main road and on up past the high walls of the Masonic school. There wasn’t many walking the street that late at night, so he was taking it easy as he made his way.
Suddenly a car, driving at speed came up the Clonskeagh road. In his haste, the driver lost control and hit the guard side on, throwing him off his bike and hurdling him violently against the school wall, killing him instantly and sending his smashed and twisted bicycle further up the road to lie in the gutter.
The car didn’t stop.
It is said his ghost returns to the scene of the accident once every year on the anniversary of his death……. It’s a sad story but then his returning is “only once a year” as he is reputed to say.
The driver of the car was never found.
So, if you ask me if it is a true story then I have to say yes, it is.
………. The guard was my father.
HAPPY HALLOWEEN EVERYONE