St Audoen’s Church is located a few moments’ walk from Dublin’s Christ Church Cathedral. The original church was constructed in 1190, with embellishments added on by the great and the good over the course of several hundred years. It is now the last remaining medieval church in the city of Dublin, and it remains active as a parish church.
The church stood fast during times of historical and social turbulence. In the 18th Century, the area of the city surrounding it was referred to as “Hell”. This name was attributed due to rampant incidents of violence between local gangs, and the concentration of taverns and “houses of ill-repute” in that area. Located at the base of the church steps is the last remaining gatehouse which formed part of the Dublin City Wall. These gates were referred to by many as the “Gates of Hell”. It is said that many a battle took place between gangs in the area and that the victors would hang their opponents at the gates as a warning to others. This could well explain why those passing through the archway often feel a presence here.
A well-known figure who is said to walk the grounds of St Audoen’s Church is a businesswoman by the name of Dorcas Kelly (known as Darkey Kelly). The old story goes that – among other things – Dorcas ran a brothel known as the “Maiden Tower” just off Fishamble Street and that she became pregnant by city sheriff, Simon Luttrell – a member of the infamous Dublin Hellfire Club. Dorcas demanded financial support from Lutrell, but this was denied, and he accused her of witchcraft and of sacrificing her unborn child as part of a satanic ritual. More modern research has since discredited this story.
Another version portrays Dorcas as a serial killer. She had been accused of the murder of John Dowling – a shoemaker, but some sources suggest that she may have been responsible for the deaths of at least five men. Assorted body parts were allegedly discovered hidden under the floorboards of her brothel, but given the time and the absence of credible, impartial records, it cannot be confirmed whether this was true or embellishment to enhance her notoriety or an attempt by the authorities to justify the persecution and destruction of a powerful woman in times where gender equality was non-existent. Whichever account of her life and her demise was even partially true, Kelly was subjected to a brutal public execution in January 1761 in the area now known as Baggot Street. Accounts claimed that she was hanged until nearly dead (essentially throttled) and was finished off by being burned alive.
It is Darkey’s spirit that is believed to appear on the ancient steps beside the old church, heading towards the Gates of Hell. Known as “the green lady”, she has been witnessed by many people over the years and has inspired many a local tale.
As an aside, Darkey’s ghost is also said to haunt a pub that bears her name and which is located on Fishamble Street – near to where her brothel would have stood all those years ago. Many guests at the lively bar have reported hearing strange noises, witnessed objects moving of their own accord, and felt the sensation that they are being watched. Given that Kelly was executed and denied a Christian burial, many believe that her soul would not be at rest so it is little surprise that she is said to “get around”.
Another popular story relating to St Audoen’s Church features Thomas (“Buck”) Whaley, who oversaw the second incarnation of Dublin’s Hellfire Club and who (if stories are to be believed) committed even more vile atrocities than the original. However, in this tale, Buck arrived at St. Audoen’s Church seeking absolution. While at prayer, it is said he saw the devil himself moving up the aisle towards him and that he fled the church – and the country – in terror, never to return. He died in 1800 aged 34.
Aside from the green lady, several other paranormal encounters have been reported on the grounds of the old church. A group of nuns claimed to have encountered the ghosts of lepers, while other visitors have seen shadowy figures around the Gates of Hell and heard the sound of footsteps when there has been nobody there. Many also claim to have sensed that they were being watched, not only while walking outside, but also while looking around the interior of the church itself.
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