BY JOHN FITZGERALD
For almost three decades, the John Locke Inn on Callan’s Green Street achieved notoriety as one of the most haunted houses in Ireland. A number of ghosts, demons, and poltergeists appear to have taken a shine to it.
From at least the early sixties, people calling to, or residing in, the building, were disturbed, mainly at night, by loud rapping noises and an eerie banshee-like wailing.
Jackie Dunne, a talented Jack of all Trades who did occasional work at the inn, had several brushes with the supernatural. One winter evening in 1967, he was hammering nails into a piece of wood in one of the upstairs rooms when he thought he felt something touch the back of his neck. He looked around and there was the figure of a tall man in 19th century clothing. Jackie asked him what he wanted, but the man just smiled and whispered: “Keep working Jackie, your time has not yet come.”
With that, the stranger faded from Jackie’s view and disappeared. Jackie ran downstairs to tell people drinking in the bar what he had seen and heard. Some of them laughed, but others felt that there was something not of this world in the house, as reports similar to Jackie’s had been circulating in Callan for years.
The ghost waved at Jackie from the entrance to the building on another occasion as the tradesman passed by on the opposite side of the street. Or so Jackie claimed.
Philip Lynch of Mallardstown had a strange experience at the house in the mid-1970s. He had just shown a local milkmaid the way to her room upstairs when he heard an unmerciful racket. The noise seemed to come from the landing. Rushing downstairs, he noticed that a clotheshorse he had seen just half a minute earlier had been overturned and the clothes scattered along every step of the stairway.
“I’ll never forget what I saw that night”, the well-known historian told me. He may have witnessed what psychic researchers today call Poltergeist (Noisy Spirit) activity, which involves the abrupt or sometimes violent movement of physical objects by non-physical beings or energy forms.
Drinkers in the bar section downstairs had unnerving encounters with the ghost also, or so it seemed. One seasoned drinker claimed that a glass of whiskey leaped out of his hand and smashed against a wall. Other men swore that an invisible drinker was draining their glasses before their very eyes.
A visiting salesman claimed that a terrifying demonic entity materialized in front of him at the entrance to an upstairs room that locals associated with the ghost. The salesman, who was heard to shout “Oh, Jesus Mary and Joseph” by people in the bar, told disbelieving revelers that the “thing” he saw had to be the Devil himself or one of his top demons.
He described a dark figure with black flapping wings and glaring eyes. It smelt of ashes and burnt toast, he swore, and he was convinced that the thing was evil to the core. The whole atmosphere in the room was one of pure terror, he claimed. This man, who said he had never been so afraid in all his life, ordered a double brandy to calm his shattered nerves. Other guests claimed to have witnessed the demon form in the late 1970s.
A succession of proprietors was kept awake at night by persistent rapping and the frightful moaning of disembodied voices. A creature resembling a Leprechaun appeared one night, according to a local guard’s wife who was attending a get-together at the inn. She was on her way back into the bar from the toilet when; she claimed; a stocky little man dressed in green and wearing a red hat handed her a sprig of shamrock.
She thought this peculiar, as St. Patrick’s Day was long past. When she thanked him for the gift, he raised his hat and vanished into thin air. Trembling with the fright, she re-entered the bar and told stunned drinkers what she had seen.
At one point, a Catholic priest on holiday from America blessed the house in an effort to persuade the ghost, or ghosts, to leave. The entity seemed to take a break for a while…but then resumed his haunting. The good priest died shortly after blessing the John Locke Inn.
Towards the end of inn’s lifespan local wits tried to make light of the haunting; though even they seemed uncomfortable in the telling of their yarns. According to one joker, the ghost took a break from haunting the inn one day and dropped into a well-known pub in Mill Street. The startled publican greeted him, frozen to the spot with terror. The ghost said eerily: “I’ll have a pint of ale and a mop, please.”
The John Locke Inn, by then unoccupied, was burned to the ground in the summer of 1980. A group of locals standing on the opposite side of the street outside Finnerty’s Hotel (partly visible on the left in the photograph) thought they could make out the form of a tall, sad-looking grey-haired man in the midst of the billowing smoke, and in the flames that lit up the sky over Green Street.