Halloween’s upon us yet again, so Catriona Laverty decided to write the ubiquitous scary feature. Things didn’t quite go to plan…
I’ve always wanted to go on the Dublin Ghost Bus tour. Call me sad – others have. But there’s something fun about pretending to be a tourist (you’d have to pretend to be a tourist wouldn’t you?) and visiting all of Dublin’s crazy scary places. Unfortunately I could never find anyone in my pool of friends who shared the opinion, or indeed who didn’t just laugh and rather swiftly change the subject to magnanimously ignore my social faux paux (sic). Good friends though.
So as it went, I’ve managed almost six-and-a-half years living in Dublin, and have only caught fleeting glimpses of the magical purple bus as it zoomed past me Harry Potter-style with no one else caring or noticing.
And then it hit me. Not the bus, obviously, but the only legitimate way I could board that bus without being the laughing stock I had always feared I would. The wonderful world of feature writing. If I was to write an article about experiencing Dublin from a tourist point of view, and if said article were to appear around Halloween, then what other medium of transport could deliver such the ideal package? None, and so with absolutely no one to have to sell the idea to, I set to work.
Working, in fact, meant relaying my epiphany to a good friend on gchat – all epiphanies should be run by someone before being publically broadcast; it saves face and possible execution. She suggested I bring a pig with me.
Yes that’s what I thought too, but according to herself, there is an extraordinary group of ordinary guys in Ireland called PIGs – Paranormal Investigation Guys. Well that just sounded cool. And so I was introduced to Mark Guerin, an Irish paranormal aficionado and part-time PIG.
Mark informed me there was a new ghost tour of Dublin called the Fright Night tour, which would only be running until 31st October, and which had promised much more scares and fun than the regular tour according to their website. Sold.
And so everything had fallen into place for this feature, and a sneaky fulfilling of an early twenties dream. Suitable scary Halloween experience – tick. Recording device to capture all my Yvette Fielding moments – tick. Extra batteries to capture all my Yvette Fielding moments – tick. Paranormal expert – tick. Awesome London old style black double decker bus – tick. Three tickets for said bus (good friends deserve tickets) – tick. Lets roll.
Around five minutes in to the tour, we knew something had gone horribly, but not scarily, wrong. It may have been the group of extremely drunk students up the front (we cool kids sat waaaay down the back), or it may have been the awful acting of Esther, the gravedigging tour guide. It simply may have been the fact that as we zoomed towards the Phoenix Park, ‘Esther’ was murdering some rather famous Dublin ghost stories courtesy of a mash up worthy of Mr Shu, and telling them in the least spooky way I have ever seen. This was not looking good.
Beside me, Mark was filling in the gaping plot holes and pointing out some rather interesting paranormal hotspots we had sped right by. With less that ten minutes gone on the clock, I was hoping ‘Esther’ would break her microphone over one of those students’ heads and be carted off by the ‘Peelers’ she was constantly referring to. All I really wanted though, was to hear what Mark was trying to tell me. Meanwhile, Good Friend was bemusedly taking pictures.
Fortunately there was a long enough reprieve from the dross up the front of the bus for Mark to tell me about some of the places he had visited in his work. We had passed one building in the city centre where all the staff had separately reported strange goings-on in the form of noises and ghostly sights. The PIGs had stepped in to investigate. One sighting in particular had turned up a chilling revelation. Staff in the office had reported seeing the head and torso of an elderly man in pyjamas asking “what’s going on?” Mark and his guys had then discovered the very little-known fact that the building had been used as a hospital many, many years ago. I asked him if he believed the staff had seen what they’d said; he replied that when they compared the stories of all the different staff, they’d all seen similar things, and just not told one another for fear of ridicule. In short yes, he did.
But that was where the evening turned icky again. For we had reached the park, and ‘Esther’ was now warning of the dangers of banshees who inhabited the Phoenix Park trying to lure people to their deaths with combs. I think ‘Esther’ may have gotten her stories mixed up with eighties news reports, but I didn’t want to burst her bubble.
We were ordered NOT to look out the window: in fact we were ordered NOT to look out the window so many times that I began to wonder if ‘Esther’ had just seen someone she knew outside and didn’t want to be spotted with a group of…well. It was at this point that ‘Esther’ contrived a rather ridiculous plot device involving a mirror, her sidekick ‘Seánín’ and a poor unfortunate named Walsh. (Apparently Banshees like the name Walsh. You read it here first folks.) When Ms Walsh stated her name, Esther had a mini-conniption and ‘Seánín’ was instructed to get the mirror. Now, we’ve all seen Buffy, and threfore know that vampires do not have a reflection, the same is apparently true for those possessed by banshees. Ms Walsh did have a reflection thankfully, but in a dramatic twist, it turned out that the driver’s name was also Walsh and, in an unfortunate timing incident, the bus ground to a halt about 45 seconds later. ‘Esther’ needed to “check it out” she said, “if you find a comb don’t be picking it up” she said, and “whatever you do don’t look out the window” she said. “Le sigh”, I said.
When we did in fact look out the window, we saw that we were in a dark and rather isolated area of the Phoenix Park, this looked good for some proper scaring. Mark, Good Friend and I were convinced that someone on the bus would be soon finding a comb down the side of their seat or on the floor. (Well, it later transpired that Mark was hoping some sort of hydraulic comb would be released outside the bus to dangle spookily in front of the windows, his expectations had clearly not suffered as mine had from the first 20 minutes of this spectacle.) At the very least I had hoped there would be some of the infamous banshee wailing and maybe ‘Esther’ would don a cloak and go haring about outside the bus. None of the above.
A banshee did come up to the top deck, we’re to this day not certain if it was ‘Esther’ or ‘Seánín’ but either way it was crap.
And so with the most golden of golden opportunities missed in the park, we headed for Glasnevin cemetery. According to Mark, this was quite the coup for the tour. No one had ever been allowed to take tour groups into the cemetery after hours for a ghost tour, and a little of my hope was rekindled.
Once inside the graveyard, we were greeted by two other characters as ‘Esther’ and ‘Seánín’ needed a drink presumably. ‘Maurice’ and, eh…‘Digger’ were to take over for the graveyard part of the tour. To be fair to these two lads, they did a good job in acting their parts, but their stories were still wholly unscary. The led us along to a few graves and told some half-hearted yarns about how the people had died. In fact at one stage he was retelling the chilling story of the woman buried in the grave before him, when according to the headstone there reposed the soul of a man named John.
The atmosphere it had to be said, was ruined by the drunk students, who in a fit of unashamed knackerishness began to drink even more in the graveyard. The highlight of the graveyard tour was the trip to the famous round tower in Glasnevin, and a walk around the crypts at its base.
While following ‘Maurice’ through the narrow moat we discovered to our patent non-horror that one of the crypt doors was open. I thought this may be the moment the tour would redeem itself, and Mark was rather optimistic too, Good Friend was a mix of amused and cold. ‘Maurice’ regaled us with the tale of the priest who had inhabited the crypt and warned us not to go looking for him. Then he led us back to the main gate. As we walked, I was watching out for ‘Esther’ the frenzied zombie priest and her vicious flesh-eating attack I was sure was about to happen, but it never did.
Rather than learning about paranormal Dublin, Mark and I were now engaged in conversation about the shortcomings of the tour, and the half-hearted way it had been constructed. Even that conversation ground to an abrupt halt though when we saw the horror that awaited us on the seats of the bus.
The return leg of the journey was ghastly, scary and stomach churning. To the tune of ‘Wild Rover’ ‘Esther’ and her posse belted out the gravedigger’s song. “Eye roll” Good Friend said. “Shakes head” Mark said. “Make it stop” I said. And then it did.
As we prepared to leave the bus, Mark engaged in a spot of shameless self-promotion, telling people about the Dublin ParaCon which he and his friends are organising.
We decided to head for a spot of dinner nearby, and during the course of the meal, stumbled upon another way for me to fulfill my dreams of learning about scary haunted Dublin, and writing a scary feature. And it will be deadly.