The Ghost of Skryne Castle (Terrible Tales from Ireland Book 1)

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The Jumping Church Mystery! Pat Cusack lived here with his elderly father and later with his wife Agnes. The Cusack family had transferred from near Drumcondra in north Meath to the richer pastures of Skryne with the Land Commission. There was a Republican streak in both father and son. In the mid-fifties Pat went missing quite often and was reputed to have been involved in the s IRA Northern Campaign, blowing up bridges, with Sean South of Garryowen. If we look to the left here we have splendid views of the Hill of Tara and everything in between.

To the right we can clearly see the Mountains of Mourne, some sixty miles away. At the bend, behind a heavy growth of tall trees, is the former Protestant Rectory, home to the Talbot family [and later to the Willis family ]. When the Talbots lived here we, as children, were regular visitors and I well remember having nettle soup as a treat.

Sisters Beryl and Cyril lived here at the time with their elderly mother. Beryl later married Stuart Murless, horse trainer and brother of Noel Murless, trainer to the Queen; they went to live at the Curragh Stud. The Talbots sold up in the Fifties and went to live in Sandymount. Mother was then aged one hundred and wrapped up comfortably in the back seat of a Volkswagen Beetle.

When Waring Willis and his family bought The Rectory they substantially renovated the house and created a modern horse yard. This set the hill alight at the time with all the locals having had a bet on Muir.

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Resuming our journey downhill, not now as steep, the pony breaks into a trot for a mile or so until we arrive at Lismullen Church. Today only the bell tower remains but in the Fifties it was in good condition, in use, and had a beautiful feature which very few people knew about: A Harry Clarke stained glass window. In the s the rector, of what was known as the New Church, was Rev L. The window, The Ascension was one of the last windows to be completed and installed by the stain glass artist Harry Clarke before he died in I remember it well, as children we sat there on many Sundays, fascinated by the coloured lights pouring through.

The window depicts The Crucifixon with Mary standing at the foot of the Cross, Jesus rising with Lazarus from the dead, surrounded by awestruck onlookers and a cripple man Jesus is about to heal. An image of a male figure wearing a blue cloak is a self portrait of Clarke.

Before we leave the church I must tell you of the Sunday school classes we children attend here on Saturdays! The clergyman was Mr Benson who lived in the Rectory at Kentstown; he was very old and nearly blind. He wore two pairs of spectacles, and used a magnifying glass as well to read the Lessons. Along the road shortly after the church, on the left, is the back gate to Lismullen, then the home of Sir Robert Dillon and his wife Synolda, now an Opus Dei centre. Sir Robert, Bobby to his many friends, was Godfather to my sister Caroline, born in , and a good Godfather he was too!

Each year, and still on the last Sunday in June an open air service was held at St.

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Sir Robert and his knighted ancestors are laid to rest in a vault in front of the Steeple on the Hill of Skryne. The school was Preston School, at The Square, now long gone. There were twenty six pupils, thirteen boys, thirteen girls, thirteen borders and thirteen day-pupils! We now turn the pony and head back uphill. At the fork we take the level road to The Five Roads. From Skryne down by the Five Cross Roads.

As far back as Bundy had played football for Skryne. They knew, and were well known to, everyone, having worked for years on the roads for the council with their own horse and cart, repairing potholes. My mother recorded them, they talked about how their father remembered the famine and how when they were young they had no use for money — they grew their own food and swapped and bartered for most of their other needs.

They spoke of how they remembered the horse and sheep fairs at Skryne and how, in the nineteenth century, army officers from opposing armies in Europe came to Skryne to buy their horses. My sister Netta tells a story of when she was very young at school how the teacher asked the children where they got their milk from.

Tony Watters is the butcher here and he is waiting to transfer his business to a new, purpose built premises, complete with electric walk in fridge, at Oberstown. Now we turn the pony and start to climb up the final few paces to the top of the hill. We lift the latch and enter into the grocery shop, the small bar with open fire is to the left and on our right is the ring room. Before settling down let us first take a stroll down the yard. Below the back door is the oil store, from here they sold, in two gallon cans, petrol for motorcars and paraffin oil for lamps, cookers and heaters.

The Ghost of Skryne Castle by Sessa Raven

Opposite was the bottlings store and garage — Jimmy always kept a good car as he ran a hackney service. Next was the pigsty where they reared three or four pigs and fed them with the porter slops from the bar — the happiest pigs in the parish! Behind all this was another magnificent garden, a well stocked half acre or so incorporating a small lawn near the house with a rope swing hanging from a tall tree. Jimmy was known as The Yankee, a name given because he was born in America and came home to Skryne with his parents as a child. Jimmy was said to be as old as the century, and was well known to have played a part in the War of Independence.

He died in the early Eighties. As a child I have good memories of helping Jimmy in the bottling store. Double X was similar to the stout we have today and Single X, which had a green label, was much weaker and of course — much cheaper. In the bottling store Jimmy soaked the empty bottles in a large open tank then washed them one by one with a wire bottle brush before placing them upside down on a spiked stand to drain. The bottles were then filled directly from a wooden barrel with a brass tap while having a white enamel basin on the floor to catch the spillage.

One of my most vivid memories is that of the bonfire lighted a top of the steeple when Meath won the all-Ireland football championship in Our first diversion is to turn in through the castle gate and head up along the avenue. On the left is a two-story house, home to the Oakes family. His wife Finnola Murray was a member of an extended farming family from near Kilmessan. The five Oakes children were roughly our ages so we all grew up together. Two of the their uncles; Kevin and Frank Murray from Sligo and Navan respectively had their own light aeroplanes and quite often flew over at weekends when we kids had great fun guessing — is that Uncle Frank or Uncle Kevin?

Mr Oakes made a tape recording with my mother in the mid-sixties telling tales of his growing up on a farm in County Meath at the turn of the century. He talked about going Christmas shopping with the family to Dublin on the train from Kilmessan and how, on the homecoming, being met at the station by the pony and trap and having to make their way back to Croboy in the black dark.

We crack the whip and take off down the avenue, lined with mature beech trees, where each spring, wave after wave of snowdrops and golden daffodils appear. As we drive, on the right, we can see a very fine example of a ha-ha which is a type of boundary fence used instead of a paling or hedge. A wide ditch is dug sloping on one side and faced with a wall on the house side, all underground so as not to interfere with views across the lawn fields. This ha-ha, which has a wooden fence added later on top, is [still] in excellent condition.

We turn the slight bend and the castle comes into view. As children we picked the snowdrops and daffodils by the thousands, tied them with raffia in bunches of ten with a few leaves, cut the bottoms evenly, placed them in boxes of five dozen and off they went to market in Dublin — that was our spring harvest! The perfectly level tennis court springs out on the front lawns.

As youngster if we wanted to play tennis — as we did very often, we had to cut the grass. In the early days this was undertaken with a push cylinder mower with one child on the handle and two pulling with ropes out front — no problem, we got through it quite quickly! Because we had so much grass my mother had the idea that we should keep a goat, so; she joined the British Goat Society BGS , obtained all the information on different breeds of pedigree goat and eventually opted for a British Saanen, a pure white, hornless breed and great milkers.

The kid cost five pounds and the transport another fiver.


All went well and it came that the goat had to be serviced. The smell of the billygoat was to be had in the car for weeks after. My mother, never one to lose an opportunity, later organised with the Bessons to have my twin brothers, Robin and Peter, taken on as commis waiter and commis chef respectively. They got on well and within a year they both won a hotel competition, with a prize of a trip to Rome — where they even had an audience with the Pope!

Early in the Fifties my mother turned her hand to weddings at Skryne Castle. In those days wedding breakfasts were breakfasts. The marriage took place at 8. Breakfast consisted of a good fry with fresh eggs, homemade brown bread and marmalade finished off with hot tea and wedding cake — all done by noon. Then the music and dancing started, usually with a good accordion player accompanied by whiskey and bottles of stout, which the party brought in, as we had no drinks licence.

The bouquet was thrown by three and everyone was gone home by four! Netta Hickey, Bridie Farnan, Mrs. Fleming, Mrs. Reilly, Caroline Hickey and Mrs. Nixon — The wedding team c. Joan and my mother were to become lifelong friends. The weddings at the castle were very professionally run by a highly skilled team led by my mother. All had been trained in the big houses of the good old days and knew their stuff — they worked hard and had a lot of fun.

We children also took our turns on duty. Afternoon tea consisted of; cucumber, tomatoes and egg sandwiches, sponge cake, homemade biscuits and hot tea. We could do it with our eyes closed - all for three shillings 12 cent! As we all know, timing is everything, so, one of us boys was placed on lookout duty with binoculars, to watch out from the top bedroom window, across to Tara, where the parked bus could be seen. Bus ahoy! Was the call as the bus left, kettles on and short white coats donned as we all spun into action?

A tiny corner of the front hall acted as the shop where we sold postcards, The Legend of Tara, mineral drinks and very popular hand painted pottery with Russian and Celtic designs from the studio, at Collon, Co Louth, of The Count and Countess Tolstoy, descendants of the Russian writer. They later moved home and studio to Delgany. He was very Russian with a long grey beard and she wore long flowing dresses.

As we turn the pony now in front of the castle I am reminded of the day our mother arrived home from an auction with an outside-car, or sidecar, without a horse! Dolly the cart horse with side car and children in front of Skryne Castle c. We had years of enjoyment with the sidecar. At weekends we could borrow Dolly the cart horse from the farm yard at the back and squeeze her in between the shafts. Craigie of Merville Dairies later Premier kindly lent us a horse and jarvey, complete with hard hat, and off we all went dressed in bainin pullovers with bainin caps with baubles - we even won a commendation for our effort!

On another day at another auction my mother bid another tenner and had a baby grand piano knocked down to her. This time it was the auction in Corbalton Hall. The piano was too big to go through the doors so we took it in through the window of the big room. The big room was relatively small and the piano took up a whole corner so while Dermot played the accordion his drummer took the high spot — atop the baby grand piano. This would have been around the same time as Dermot, then in his mid-twenties, was at the height of his career playing Gaelic football for his native County Louth including, in , as centre forward, captaining the Louth team to All-Ireland victory.

We, and half the children of the parish, took lessons on the baby grand piano with Gypsy Murray. Mrs Murray came, with her husband, Fintan, from near Bective, in their twin windscreen Morris Minor car on Wednesday afternoons to give the lessons. Soon Mrs Murray graduated to adult dancing classes on Wednesday nights in the big room. The sessions were extremely popular, teenagers and twenty somethings - as many boys as girls, came from far and wide.

I remember in the Matt Talbot hall in Skryne Fr. We drive out the gate from Skryne Castle and head downhill. Brian Smyth was the Master of Skryne School, a short stocky man who always wore a good three piece suit with a watch and chain in his waist-coat pocket. Sadly both Mrs Smyth and Mrs Seagrave died young. It was a single story cottage in poor condition and he rebuilt it, much as is today, including the installation of a bathroom — unusual at the time.

On Saturday nights there was a queue up and after all the children were bathed the Parish Priest and the Curate would arrive, complete with towels and soap, for their baths. We move along now at leisurely pace looking out over the hedges and immediately on our right we come to the Skryne Lawn Tennis Club. A vibrant club with two grass courts and a small pavilion where on some summer Saturday nights, from our top floor bedroom window, we can hear the music from the tennis hops wafting across the field.

We all watched with pride those great matches in the Eighties. Here Mrs Fogarty, our local mid-wife, lives. She drives a car but more often does her house calls by bicycle. Mrs Fogarty delivered my two younger sisters Netta and Caroline into the world. Caroline was born on April 2nd.

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The day before, the cot was on the landing waiting for the new arrival and our mother was confined to bed when we three scheming boys came running in excitedly, shouting; the new baby has arrived, the new baby has arrived. In fact, when the new baby did arrive the next day, we learned where new babies really come from — Dr Murnane brought her in his black leather bag!

Stephen, the youngest boy, lived in this house up until recently.

Mrs Kelly nee. Allen of the wedding team at Skryne Castle, came from Castletown at the foot of the Hill of Tara, she had worked in Dowdstown House, now Dalgan Park, in the early part of the century, with the Taylor family who came to settle at Dowdstown after The Battle of the Boyne. Dowdstown was very much an Upstairs - Downstairs house and Mrs Kelly, as a very young girl, was very much Downstairs. She related all her experiences to my mother in a tape-recording made in the Sixties.

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  5. John Joe was gassed in the trenches during the First World War and suffered terribly from a bad chest. One of his ventures, in the Fifties, was to have a very long it seemed so to me as a child field ploughed, harrowed and put into trenches. He then let it out, drill by drill, for families to grown their own potatoes. My mother availed of this and I have, not so fond, memories of seeding, weeding and digging! Stephen once told me how, as a youngster, he would bring the hen turkey in a box on the back of the bicycle, some ten miles, to Ashbourne to visit a pedigree turkey cock - at a cost of half a crown 10 cent.

    Only the best of produce in Skryne for Christmas! The valley at The Riggins is where we went tobogganing as children - when we had the snow. The valley is a continuation of the hill down and up at the Corbalton road. We had one proper toboggan and an assortment of wooden trays and sacks. A minor problem was the river at the bottom of the slope! So we always had to have two children on duty to catch and stop the speeding sledge. His uncle Michael had endeavoured to defend Erskine Childers Senior prior to his execution. In he was made an English High Court Judge.


    Belvin Hall was burned by the IRA in and immediately rebuilt. I last met James when my mother brought him and his wife Anne for lunch with my wife, Nora, and I to Finnstown House Hotel at Lucan which we then owned and ran. He died in Navan in A short distance along this road by The Riggins would bring us to Cushinstown, one time home to a young Peter McDermott, the great Meath footballer, the man in the cap.

    Peter once recalled giving a young two year old, Cathal Haughey , lifts on the handlebars of his bike. Peter went on to be a champion of Meath football in the Forties and Fifties and Cathal went on to be; one C. Cathal, the story goes, rode his pony to school however Peter McDermott remembers Cathal as having a long way to go to school and taking a donkey which he left all day at the house next door to the school.

    Pat and Annie are laid to rest on the slope at sunny side of the Steeple on Skryne. I remember as a very small boy visiting with my mother and sitting in the very old kitchen in front of a wide, black range.