TWO Skibbereen landmarks have created much interest in recent times amongst people investigating the supernatural.
Both the Eldon Hotel, in the centre of town, and Russagh Mill, on the outskirts, have been investigated by specially-equipped teams, who have been delving into their pasts.
The Cork Supernatural Society, which was established by Cork city woman Jackie Clarke some years ago, has paid a number of visits to West Cork in recent months, having heard that other similar groups had earlier probed the venues.
‘As a child I used to see things,’ said Jackie, explaining how her interest in the paranormal began. ‘I remember one day when I was skipping on the street, and I was attracted to a house across the road. I saw a woman at an upstairs window with black patches on her face and she was really terrifying. She was watching us, but when I said it afterwards, no-one else had seen her. I was told the house had been empty for a long time.’
She also recalls how, on another occasion, she had come downstairs to use the bathroom and saw the head of a child in the distance, and a mop of hair. Immediately afterwards, there was a loud bang, as if someone had run through the kitchen door and it had banged after them. ‘Sometimes I think it’s just people passing through [this world],’ she says.
Jackie hates horror movies or stories of possession, but yet she is strangely drawn to investigating the ‘back story’ of so many buildings around the country, and has made it an almost full-time hobby in recent years.
Her son, daughter and a family friend, travel together to examine various venues which may have stories attached, in order to see what they can find out.
In November, the Clarkes decided to visit Skibbereen and organised to spend time at the Eldon.
It is believed that a lady was burnt to death in a fire in either Room 28 or Room 29 of the hotel many years ago, but of course the hotel is best known for being the last place Michael Collins had lunch, before he set off on his fateful journey across West Cork in 1922.
A Hallowe’en event, entitled ‘Room 28 at the Haunted Hotel’, was held in October, and some of the creepy props were still in situ when the team arrived, lending a very surreal air to proceedings.
‘Sometimes nothing happens, but we use motion cameras and dictaphones, so we might not hear or see anything until we review the tapes afterwards,’ said Jackie.
The team overnighted in the hotel which, despite the name, has not had staying guests for many years. The CSS investigations involve them taking up positions around the room in the dead of night and doing ‘callouts’ – which are basically asking if there is anyone else in the room with them and, if so, if they wish to communicate in any way.
At one point in the night, a wardrobe door blew open in Room 28, making a loud bang which is clearly audible on their tape. The CSS uploads all its material – whether photograph, video or audio, to encourage discussion of the findings.
‘With the force, the door actually banged off the wall,’ claimed Jackie. When they played back audio tapes later, there appears to be a whisper in the background, which Jackie thinks sounded like ‘Go away’.
There was another whisper-type sound recorded later in the corridor, which her daughter felt sounded like someone saying ‘bastards’. ‘I guess he didn’t want us there,’ said Jackie, who admitted that at no time did she feel afraid.
Her son, Matthew, is convinced he heard ‘dragging noises’ in the corridor, which sounded like someone pulling suitcases along. This wouldn’t be inappropriate, since the hotel was the original stopping point for stage coaches in the area, when it opened first.
In April, the team also spent time in Russagh Mill, a well -known landmark on the Tragumna Road.
One of the cottages on the site appeared to have the ‘most active’ room, explained Jackie.
She had heard stories of bedclothes being pulled and doors opening on their own but on this occasion, the team only recorded some ‘unusual sounds’ which they could not identify afterwards.
There’s no doubt that Jackie and her paranormal-curious friends love their hobby. ‘We try to debunk stories too, and just see what we find.’
In the past year, the group have travelled to Sing Sing prison, Innisfallen Island, Duckett’s Grove in Carlow, and Blackwater Castle, as well as many other locations.
Their Facebook page, at Cork Supernatural Society, is choc-a-bloc with videos, photographs and comments on Ireland’s haunted houses and castles.
‘I’ve never felt threatened or even had a bad experience. I mean, I’ve never known a ghost hunter to say they were attacked!’ says Jackie.
For more, see Cork Supernatural Society in Facebook.