ballyshannon, donegal, irish newspapers online, ireland, irish history, irish literature, irish famine - Linking Canada and Ireland - Linking Canada and Ireland

Ballyshannon's Green Lady and Other Ghosts

As one who grew up in a house that had a resident ghost, I have often wondered why other people have a fascination with what they term the paranormal. In a previous work, "The Kindly Spot", I chronicled the attachment of a banshee to a neighbouring family in the Purt of Ballyshannon. Now, thanks to Denis Noel, a provincial archivist in New Brunswick, one of Canada's maritime provinces, the story of Ballyshannon's Green Lady may be told anew, as recorded in a New Brunswick newspaper more than 150 years ago.

The New Brunswick Reporter and Fredericton Advertiser
Vol.III Fredericton, Friday, April 16, 1847

Note: The following sketch was published three or four years ago in one of the Provincial Newspapers; but as we can claim it without the charge of plagiarism, we yield to the wish of a friend for its republication. The present impression contains one of two additions.

The Green Lady
A Legend of Ballyshannon
by the Editor

Sometime about the beginning of the year 1776 there was stationed in the little town of Ballyshannon, in the North of Ireland, a regiment of the line, remarkable in no other way from the many gallant corps that had preceded and followed it, except in these two points: - namely, that its Commanding Officer was one of the most hard-hearted and brutal men ever privileged to wear a sword - and that it contained one of the finest looking fellows, - if our information is correct - that ever wore the uniform of a private.

For some cause or other which has never fully come to light, the Major - for such he was by commission - took a particular pleasure in exercising a despotic degree of harshness towards poor Edward Finlay, whose good looks and still better conduct seemed only to ensure, and as it were concentrate, the envy and austerity of his Commander, who himself, a very diminutive and ordinary man, looked upon all personal accomplishments in others as so many tell-tales of his own deformity, and never failed to make war against them accordingly.

To Finlay, an extra drill, or a series of laborious duties, were mere trifles, although frequently singled out from his companions for such performances, but when he had the mortification of being pointed out in the ranks day after day, and exposed as a specimen of all that is unseemly to military equipment and science, his very heart sickened; and the prospect of years of slavery, rather than of honourable service, threw him into despair. He had frequently tried to volunteer on foreign service, but in these attempts he had been foiled by the superior influence of his commander, and at the time when our legend commences he had almost given himself up to the idea of remaning a slave for life.

One morning while the Regiment was on parade, and just as the Major had concluded a severe reproof against our hero, a young lady, habited in a green silk dress, passed rapidly down the front rank, and casting by the way a look of supreme contempt at the Major, she stopped in front of Edward Finlay, and in a quick yet distinct voice, addressed herself to him, while the Major and the rest of the officers, as well as the men within hearing, were rivited as if by magic to their respective stations.

"Edward Finlay" she said "are you tired of your life in this Regiment" The blood rose to Edward’s head while he answered in an audible voice " I am."

"Would you wish to exchange the discipline of the army, and the tyranical authority of yonder officer, for the soft fetters of a woman’s love, and the obligations of duty resulting from the same?"

"I would."

"Meet me at seven to-morrow evening in the Abbey."

The last sentence was uttered in a low whisper, and presenting him with a well filled purse of gold, she disappeared in a moment at the barrack gate.

It were needless to attempt a description of Edward’s feelings, or to recount the vast multitude of questions and surmises showered upon him by his comrades, just as their envy, curiosity or friendship prompted them: but he could give them no answer save that they knew as much of the matter themselves as he, that he did not recollect having ever seen the lady before, and that he would certainly conclude the whole scene to be only a dream were it not for the gold, which remained to give a strong demonstration of its reality.

"Begorra yer a lucky man Edward" said one, "to get sich a fine hape of goold, and the purty green lady into the bargain. I hope you’ll do the dacent thing wid yer ould comrades, and that you wont go away widout trating every mother’s son of us."

"Ye’ll maybe buy a commission yoursel, Finlay," said a Dumfries man, commonly known among the men by the congnomen of ‘thrifty Jock,’ "and Ise hoping yon braw leddy will be mair carfa o’ her siller when she bestows it a’ in the right place."

During this affair the little Major stood speechless, and almost ready to burst with passion. The first use which he made of his returning powers was to order the men to retire immediately to their quarters; and choking with ungovernable rage he withdrew himself in order to plan how he might prevent the seeming good fortune of private Finlay. A few moments afterwards he was alone with Terry McPhelim, a desperate fellow who bore the rank of Corporal in the Regiment, and who, it was whispered, had obtained his promotion by means which, although not very honourable to the service, had nevertheless propitiated the good will of the Commander.

"Terry," said that officer, "did you hear the concluding whisper of that woman this morning on the parade?"

"Anan your honour?"

"Did you hear what the woman whispered to Finlay this morning?"

"Musha’n troth your honour, it's meself that did’nt, but I guessed it entirely."

"And what did you guess?" returned the officer.

"Bedad I’m after thinking that she tould him to desert your honour, and to run away wid her."

"Your right by _____ ," was the Major’ response, "you’re a clever fellow Terry, and I’ll make a man of you. Mind me, you must follow that fellow, but at such a distance that he wont suspect you the whole of the time until you detect them together. You must creep in some way near them unobserved. You must listen to every word of their treason, and then tell me the whole of it. But if you should think that there would be time enough to lead me to the spot, you must fly and let me know where they are, that I may be a witness of the fellow’s villany. McPhelim! Here’s a guinea."

"Long life to your honour. I’ll ferret them out if they should hide themselves twelve turf deep in the bog of Allen." So saying Terry withdrew, leaving his superior in rather better humour than he had found him.

The Major’s orders were faithfully obeyed, and when Finlay separated himself from his comrades in order to go to the Abbey, he was traced at a distance by the wily corporal who was determined that on this occasion he would earn his money.

It was one of those nights so frequent in the "Island of Saints," when the moon as it is struggling between heavy dark clouds fitfully throws her light upon the earth, and then in a moment withdraws it again, like some haughty and highborn damsel who has detected herself smiling upon some humble suitor; and then, as if angry at her own condescension, hastily puts on one of her gloomiest looks in order to put a stop to any further familiarity. Thus, while Edward passed on, an occasional glimpse of his red coat enabled Terry to pursue his footsteps until he at last disappeared behind the Abbey wall.

The village, (which takes its name from this old ruin) is situated about a half a mile from the outskirts of the Town, and is inhabited principally by fishermen, whose families during the summer cultivate such vegetables as will command the readiest sale in the Town. It is supposed to be a place of uncommon sanctity, as it contains a ‘Holy Well,’ and the aforesaid ruin, which (to speak the truth) at present presents nothing more for the research of the antiquary than a single fragment of wall, well covered with ivy, and which, if it were not for the numerous traditions of the natives, might be easily mistaken for the gable end of some old castle "where lords, not friars, spent the giddy day."

Be that as it may, it afforded sufficient place and solitude for young Finlay to meet the Green Lady, who immediately joined him; and also for McPhelim to creep along unobserved until he could discover the retreat of the lovers.

"You have been true to the time, Edward Finlay," said the lady, who was dressed exactly as she had appeared at the Parade; "and I have only one request to make of you, which is a very natural one considering our situation. It is, that you approach not any nearer to me than you now stand during our present interview. Remember on your peril that you conform to this wish. Now tell me what I can do to relieve you in your present circumstances."

"First may I ask to whom it is I am indebted for the friendly act of yesterday, and for the more than friendly words which have brought me here this evening?"

"Please, soldier," retorted the lady, "you have not yet known me long enough to warrant you using any language save that of caution and friendship. I will, however, answer your question. I am the daughter of General Folliard who owns yonder large building down by the warren; but I do not reside there at present."

"But lady, you yourself at our first short meeting, and in the presence of hundreds, made use of the word love."

"If I did", replied the lady,"you must remember that I coupled it with another. Are you willing to assume the responsibility attached to my favour if conferred on you? Are you willing to forsake the world and to share alone with me the happiness of one sole attachment, unequal tho’ it may be, now and in future?"

"Methinks", said Finley, "that your terms are far from being hard. To be redeemed from my present bondage is to me a great consideration; but coupled with the thought of possessing the only one who has ever seemed to take an interest in my welfare, I cannot for a moment hesitate. I am yours on your own terms."

"Very well’, said the lady, "you may now withdraw. To-morrow I will take means for getting you out of the army."

At this moment a dark cloud concealed the moon, and when it had passed over Finlay looked up, but the green Lady was gone.

"You are my prisoner", roared out the enraged Major, who now stood at his elbow; and in a moment Edward found himself secured in the cold embrace of a pair of handcuffs. The truth is, that although we have taken upon ourselves to report the above conversation, not one word of it was heard by McPhelim who had at the first ran off at full speed for the Major. A party of soldiers had followed, and in half an hour Edward Finlay was the sole occupant of the dungeon beneath the guard house.

It is impossible to conjecture how Edward Finlay spent the night. He was ignorant of the nature of the crime for which he was confined and, like some wretch in the cells of the Inquisition, he reflected more upon the probable sort of treatment which he might receive than on the cause which led to his imprisonment. He knew well the brutal character of his accuser, and although he thought it quite natural that the daughter of General Folliard might possess a good deal of influence, he yet knew not how such interest might be used on his behalf without an infringement of that maidenly reserve and modesty which a woman of fine education and high connexion would, of course, value more than her life, and which must suffer dreadfully in the event of a public declaration of her passion.

At nine o’clock next morning agreeably to the summary course of justice as administered in those, days, the prisoner was brought to trial.

The reader may have anticipated the nature of the evidence elicited on the occasion. McPhelim swore that he saw him in the act of changing clothes with a country-man, and likewise forming plans necessary to facilitate his desertion: and further, that he had caught him while in the very act of making his escape. The Major said little, but confirmed Terry’s evidence.

The Court pitied the poor prisoner, and several of the officers expressed some doubt relative to the truth of some part of McPhelim’s statements; but the extraordinary appearance of the woman on parade the preceding day, her conversation with Finlay, and above all the conjecture that after all it might be a man in woman’s clothes - (this was the Major’s opinion) - these circumstances put together induced the Court to pronounce sentence against the prisoner; and that sentence was--‘Immediate death!’

I should have mentioned that old General Folliard attended at the Court Martial. He was dressed in deep mourning, in consequence of the recent death of one of his family. He took no part in the proceedings, but in consequence of the extraordinary exigencies of the times - it being a little previous to the breaking out of the Irish Rebellion - he confirmed the sentence, and the poor soldier was led forth for immediate execution.

"You had bether lave yer money to yer comrades, Edward", whispered McPhelim, "for faix I’m thinking you wont be after wantin it ’fare you're goin."

The Regiment was drawn out to witness the execution, the firing party was ordered to prepare for their painful duty, and every thing was in readiness for the fatal word which was to consign Finlay to another world.

There is something awfully impressive in the scene of a military execution. Preceded by the mournful dirge and muffled drum, the marked victim of death is marched forth under an escort, to a spot selected for the fulfillment of his sentence. The whole disposable force of the Garrison is there awaiting his arrival, in close columns, forming three sides of a square, into which he is led; and by the side of his coffin, which is laid in some instances within a few paces of his grave, he stands pinioned, while the rigid paraphernalia of military etiquette is proceeding around him.

His crime, his trial, and his sentence, are next read in the deep and gloomy silence, where not a movement is made, not a voice raised, save that which seals as it proceeds the last scene of his mortal destiny. This dreadful ceremony accomplished, a slight movement is heard as the soldiers selected as his executioners, file past, taking their station with loaded muskets within six paces of their doomed comrade, who now kneels down, supporting his pinioned arms on the lid of that coffin which is so soon to receive him.

His spiritual comforter kneels beside him, and in that way which he deems the best, exhorts him to repentence, and encourages him to trust in Him "who gave his life in a ransom for many", who died, "the just for the unjust," that he might purchase salvation and eternal life for those "who truly repent, and unfeignedly believe his Holy Gospel."

The poor victim has now heard the last word of comfort or sympathy which he is ever to hear in this world, - the Minister of God takes his final leave of him; - his eyes are bound - not to hinder the dying soldier to look death in the face, but to prevent his last look from affecting his executioners.

The signal is given - the guns discharged - and what was a moment before a living, breathing man, tortured with despair and apprehension, is now an inanimate piece of clay from which the yet warm blood pours forth in numerous torrents as he lies extended by the side of his coffin.

The parade ground in Ballyshannon is situated on the sloping bank of the Erne Water, a large river which flows from a lake of the same name, forming one of the most beautiful sheets of water in the whole country. After passing slowly thro’ the dark and narrow arches of the slovenly bridge, which at that time scarcely afforded accommodation for two wheel carts to go abreast, it continues its course until it comes in the vicinity of the parade ground, where, all at once, the whole river, being about two hundred yards wide in this place, is precipitated down a fall of about twenty-four feet, presenting a spectacle to the eye, which when once seen can never be forgotten.

At this moment the eyes of the whole Regiment were directed to another object; - leaning over Finlay, and clasping both his hands in hers, her slender form and womanly attire presenting a strong contrast with the bold and masculine forms around - there stood the green lady!

A faint scream from another quarter now broke upon the stillness of that scene. General Folliard had just fallen to the ground, and with the wild exclamation, ‘Merciful Heaven! My Daughter!", lay insensible on the grass.

She had died about a month before.

Meantime the spectre bride, clasping Finlay in her arms, flew about half way across the river, and descending a little above the falls sat with her lover for a moment on the surface of the water as it rushed on to the fall. It was but a moment. Then both floated sublimely over the brink of the watery precipice and were lost forever in the awful whirlpool below!

"But what became of the parties?"

General Folliard slowly recovered and lived for several years after; the Major died with the fright, and shortly after Terry McPhelim was drummed out of the Regiment, the command having devolved on the oldest captain.

Often does the fisherman in the calm moonlight of that lovely climate see, or fancy he sees, the forms of the soldier and his betrothed, playing strange gambols on the surface of the Erne Water; and it is further said that she has lately changed her green dress for a white one. But the older inhabitants deny this latter opinion, remarking at the same time that, should it get credence, the next report might lead to a belief that the supernatural appearance was nothing more than a heap of white froth -- an idea too absurd to obtain credit.


The name Folliard in the newspaper account is suspiciously like that of Folliott, a planter family granted usurped lands in the area which is the setting of the story. Further research may be required.

It should be added that Mr. Noel concludes his e-mail to which the article is attached with these words:

"A number of New Brunswickers can trace their ancestry to immigrants who left from Ballyshannon during and before the Famine."

No doubt their ancestors carried the story of the Green Lady with them.

The version in the New Brunwick newspaper differs only in minor detail from that prevalent in my youth, when the lady's reappearances were associated with a particular building known as The Barracks, on Main Street, just north of the bridge spanning the River Erne. It should be noted that The Barracks housed the town's only wholesaler of spirits. Sceptics may choose to make their judgments on this fact alone. But a word of caution to readers--when dealing with the paranormal, choose wisely!

J. Ward

Home | About | Canadian Vindicator | Literature | Gallery | History