The Old Barracks

The Old Barracks
Ballyshannon, Donegal, Ireland.

Unless you’re a local, the chances of you even noticing this particular building on the main street in Ballyshannon would be very slim. Now divided into retail units and with much of the original character of the structure concealed, there is little to suggest that this was originally constructed as a military barracks and part of a crucial checkpoint overseeing movement in and out of Donegal via the nearby bridge.

For over 200 years, the building has been associated with a ghost referred to as The Green Lady. But there are conflicting accounts as to who she was. Was she the wife of a controlling army man, a daughter’s general or both?

The first of the more popular theories suggests that she was an officer’s wife who had attended a ball in defiance of her husband’s orders. On her return, an argument ensued and the angry man pushed his wife down the stairs, killing her in the process. It was said that she was wearing a green dress.

A second story is more elaborate and fanciful, but it was shared in a newspaper in 1897 so of course it must be true!

A young soldier by the name of Edward Finlay was stationed here in 1776. Finlay had an exemplary record and it would appear that he was quite easy on the eye too. His talent and his looks meant that he attracted the ire of his jealous superior officer, who forced him to undertake the most arduous of tasks. One day, Finlay and his comrades were stopped in their tracks when a beautiful woman in a silky green dress approached them and asked Finlay to leave his service and run away with her. Of course, the young man could not say no to such a beautiful woman. She presented him with a purse full of gold, and asked him to meet her at a nearby abbey at 7 o’clock the following evening. She then departed.

When word of this exchange reached the Major, he was furious and ordered that one of Finlay’s colleagues keep a watch on him and report back on his activities.

The following day, Finlay kept his word and met with the lady in green as promised. She revealed to him that she was the daughter of General Folliard and that she would arrange his discharge the following day so that they could be together. Shortly after the lady left, the young man was arrested and detained under the false charge of desertion. The presiding court took some pity on his plight, but based on the biased testimony of the soldier the Major had ordered to spy on him, they ordered that he be executed by firing squad.

Just after the guns had discharged, the lady in green appeared once more. General Folliard who had overseen the hearing and given the execution order collapsed to his knees, crying out “Merciful Heaven! My Daughter!”. It transpired that his beloved daughter, the lady in green, had passed away a month before.

The story continues that the Green Lady picked up her would be lover’s corpse and carried him away across the river. Folklore says that the two can sometimes be seen dancing by the river.

Another tale that is linked to the old barracks is that of the “The Goblin Child” – sometimes known as “The Radiant Boy”. There are conflicting reports as to where this happened, but it is believed that the strange event occurred here. A poem by William Allingham (1850) alluded to the experience and referenced “Silent, save the monotone, of the river flowing down, through the arches of the bridge, and beneath his casement ledge.” The position of the barracks to the nearby bridge would support this theory.

The story goes that, an exhausted Robert Stewart (later known as Lord Castlereagh), had retired to his room at the barracks following either a hunting trip or a military exercise. He recalled how he was awoken during the night, and from the light of the glowing embers of a fire that had been lit in the room, he saw the likeness of a naked child, silently emerging from the fireplace and crawling towards his bed. The startled captain watched as the figure grew and grew before him.

“on coming within two or three paces of his bed, it had assumed the appearance of a ghastly giant, pale as death, with a bleeding wound on the brow, and eyes glowing with rage and despair.”
(John Gibson Lockhart)

He was temporarily overcome with fear, but then arose to challenge the beast. The mysterious figure before him returned to his childlike form before turning and crawling back towards the fire.

The next day, Stewart angrily challenged others in the house believing they had pranked him. He was taken aside and informed that a “radiant boy” would sometimes appear in front of someone who would later ascend to high office. Unfortunately, it also meant that the witness would later die a violent death. Sure enough, Stewart later inherited the title of Lord Castlereagh and he did go on to achieve a position of power and authority.

In 1822, Lord Castlereagh slit his own throat, thus fulfilling the prophecy of an ascension to power and a violent death.

When suddenly Oh Heaven! the fire
Leaped up into a dazzling pyre,
And boldly from the brightened hearth
A Naked Child stepped forth.
With a total, frozen start,
A bound a pausing of the heart,
He saw. It came across the floor,
Its size increasing more and more
At every step, until a dread
Gigantic form stood by his bed.
Glaring for some seconds ‘space
Down into his rigid face
Back it drew, with steadfast look.
Dwindling every step it took,
Till the Naked Child returned
To the fire, which brightly burned
To greet it: then black sudden gloom
Sunk upon the silent room,
Silent, save the monotone
Of the river flowing down
Through the arches of the bridge,
And beneath his casement ledge.
This happened when our island still
Had nests of goblins left, to fill
Each mouldy nook and corner close,
Like spiders in an ancient house,
And this one read within the face
Intruding on its dwelling-place,
Lines of woe, despair, and blood,
By spirits only understood;
As mortals now can read the same
In the letters of his name,
Who in that haunted chamber lay,
When we call him Castlereagh.

– William Allingham, 1850


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