BY JOHN FITZGERALD
Matt the Miller is one of Kilkenny’s best known benign ghosts
Tradition has it that Matt’s mill was situated on the River Nore in the shadow of John’s Bridge. Tired of grinding corn, he experimented with home brew. He kept the best of the barley that arrived at his mill to use in the beer he was developing. Eventually, he chucked in the milling business and set up his world famous tavern.
His beer proved a hit with City folk and visitors. And he helped to ease the passing of condemned men from this world to the next: Before having the noose put around his neck, the convict was granted a jug of Matt the Miller’s ale. Matt was a jovial, big-hearted man who never had a bad word to say about anybody.
Men destined for the scaffold at Gallowshill, near Loughboy, loved his special brew. The final stop on their way to be stretched was Matt’s tavern. Before taking the drop, each rogue was granted a delicious treat: Fresh fish from the Nore, a few slices of home made soda bread, and a hearty jug of Matt the Miller’s ale.
And of course on the day that was in it (execution day), the hapless lads knew they would have no hangover in the morning.
It’s said that Matt’s ghost appears in the cellar bar of the present day Matt the Miller’s at John’s Bridge. His jovial laugh is heard, and he can be seen twirling his moustache as he rests on a beer barrel.
Locals believe he comes back to ensure that the rogues and revellers of Kilkenny are still being served good quality beer!
The Sleeping Sentry and the Wild Flower Lady
The ghost of a guard who served as a sentry has haunted Foulksrath Castle, near Ballyraggett for many years. It was due to be demolished in 1946 but locals, fair play to them, managed to save it. The 15th century Norman Tower House today serves as a hostelry.
It has a real medieval appearance and atmosphere, with its eight-foot thick stone walls, arrow-slit windows and, inside, its large imposing fireplaces and a spiral staircase that leads to the rooms at the top.
The guard back in the 15th century fell asleep one night when he was supposed to be keeping an eye out for possible intruders, or enemies, approaching the castle. For this neglect of duty, he was thrown from the battlements to his death.
On November 29th every year, his footsteps can be heard echoing throughout the old building as he patrols the castle in his endless bid to make amends for the lapse that led to his cruel demise.
In the 1980s, a workman passing by the castle at night heard groans of sorrow and remorse and loud footfalls from within. An eerie disembodied voice intoned: “I will always be alert. I will never fall asleep on duty again. Forgive me, kind sir”.
The sentry is not the only ghost manifesting at Foulksrath. A phantom lady can also be heard and occasionally seen as she shuffles about on a staircase. This is believed to be the ghost of a daughter of one of the castle’s original owners who was murdered. She haunts the room in which she was cruelly killed, but also ventures around into other parts of the castle/hostelry.
Her appearance is sometimes heralded or accompanied by the scent of beautiful wild flowers.
An American tourist who claimed to have seen the lady in the early 1990s described an eerie vision of beauty: “She was a lovely woman, a real stunner like the ones you’d see in those glossy magazines. There was a siren-like quality about her too…You felt drawn towards her, but felt that if you got too close you’d be whisked away to Fairyland. I took a photo of her but nothing showed up in it”.
In 1992, a BBC TV crew of professional ghost hunters called to the castle to see if they could find evidence of an otherworldly presence.
They did not leave disappointed. Their machines recorded a series of what the crew claimed were the eeriest and most ghostly sounds they had yet encountered at alleged haunted buildings in Ireland.
(These stories are from my 2005 book Kilkenny-A Blast from the Past, which is now out of print)