Sunday night, as the clouds drew over Belfast, a young lady stepped out of the shadows and introduced herself to the 30 or more locals and visitors alike, who were in Belfast for the legendry Belfast Ghost Tour.
Helen gave a small safety brief to the guests and took us on our way through the narrow streets and entries of a Belfast long ago. Off across Royal Ave and down to Cornmarket and the cobbled entries that were the hiding places of criminals and ghouls long ago.
Berk and Hare the notorious Scottish murderers who were believed to have committed a series of murders committed in Edinburgh over a period of about ten months in 1828. Were in fact locals.
The killings were attributed to good old ulster men, William Burke and William Hare, who sold the corpses of their 16 victims to Doctor Robert Knox as dissection material for his well-attended anatomy lectures.
From their method of killing their victims came the word “burking”, meaning to smother and compress the chest of a murder victim, and a derived meaning, to suppress something quietly.
Burke (1792–1829) was born in Urney, near Strabane, in Tyrone, After trying his hand at a variety of trades and serving as an officer’s servant in the Donegal Militia, he left his wife and two children and emigrated to Scotland about 1817, working as a navvy on the Union Canal.There he met Helen McDougal.
Burke afterwards worked as a labourer, weaver, baker and a cobbler. Hare’s birthplace has been given as Poyntzpass near Newry, or Derry. So its possible they too, were stalking the streets of Belfast before their gruesome deeds in Edinburgh!
Something of Hare’s origins and character are revealed in the following account from the Newry Telegraph of 31 March 1829.
“Hare was born and bred about one half mile distant from Scarva in the opposite county of Armagh and shortly before his departure from this country he lived in the service of Mr Hall, the keeper of the eleventh lock near Poyntzpass.
He was chiefly engaged in driving the horses, which his master employed in hauling lighters on the Newry Canal. He was always remarkable for being of a ferocious and malignant disposition, an instance of which he gave in the killing of one of his Master’s horses, which obliged him to fly to Scotland where he perpetrated those unparalleled crimes that must always secure him a conspicuous page in the annals of murder.”
The tour continued through cobbled covered “Plague pits” and lost cemeteries from long ago. Stories of Belfast’s chilling hangings at the Bank buildings and near Cornmarket, and ghostly going on at Belfast’s oldest pub.
Rather than give away all the secrets of Belfast’s past chilling, history, I shall leave it to “Helen” to beguile you with stories from yesteryear.
So if you want to spend an hour and a half in some very spooky parts of Belfast then try the Belfast ghost tours
For a fun night out in Belfast with a difference visit http://www.ghostwalkbelfast.com/