Irish tales of Terror: Jim McGarry

Having found a different toad I thought it’s time to review this Irish collection. Incidentally, it must have a look-in as the most inappropriate cover as there are no toads in Ireland; I have it on good authority that they were banished by St Pat.

IRELAND — the land of legend, where pixies, ghosts and witches are a part of life. From this isle-of storytellers comes a hair-raising collection of sinister, eerie tales by such masters of mystery as Sean O’Casey, Shane Leslie, Sheridan le Fanu and W. B. Yeats.

Introduction – Jim McGarry
Jim gives the game away in a short introduction, mostly telling us that there is a factual basis for some stories and Ireland is a ghostie kind of place. One of the problems with this collection is that it plays on ‘Irish’ and ‘ghosts’ and mixes up fiction with apparent fact. Makes it slightly difficult to firstly, believe the supposedly historic ghost stories and secondly, to enjoy the tales. Having said that, there are some true stories that are more horrible than the others and there are a couple of hidden gems particularly Shane Leslie – The Diplomatist’s Story.

James Reynolds – The Weeping Wall
Reynolds begins the anthology with a story of wall in castle Scrinzy in Poland. Miss Considine, a lovely Irish girl, marries a Polish Cavalry officer having met him at the Dublin horse show. His family has a grim and awful history of dark doings in the past There’s a wall in the castle that weeps every time someone is about to die in horrible circumstances and, in an ‘oh gosh really!’ fashion, it spells out their name. It can only be seen by the family. Similarly to most traditional Irish love songs, everyone dies. It’s a well told tale but marked like a number in the anthology with a kind of catholic undercurrent. By this I mean the people that believe you can get cured at Lourdes have a a set of naughtier friends who believe you can also do nasty things with ritual objects and the like. It’s not the fact that you possibly can do this witchcraft stuff – it’s the credulous reaction to it that makes the collection a bit ‘Dickensian’.

Sean O’Casey – The Raid
O’Casey belongs to the world of literature and by line two of this story of a British raid in 1920 in an Irish slum we know we’re not going to like it. The Irish and Welsh and perhaps to a slightly lesser extent the Scots have a love of words for words sake. For me, this often tends to get in the way of a good story. If you compound it with an uncomfortable tale of the Black and Tans abusing the Irish you are left with something that is utterly horrible but not horror.

Patrick Bardan – The Warning
Bryan MacGuire loves a beautiful Irish farm girl then changes his mind and troupes off with a slightly more middle class one. – Generally an awful mistake in a land with access to potent spells and witchery. It’s a sound enough short story of witchcraft.

Jim McGarry – The Clonmel Witch Burning
This is the last recorded case of witchcraft in the Western world (although that may have now changed with the introduction of some African witches in the UK) For sheer awfulness the brutal and horrific killing of a young girl by her family makes utterly sickening reading.

Shane Leslie – The Diplomatist’s Story
Here is an absolute gem, five star story about a reticent diplomat whose social skills get him invited to every gathering – but he won’t go to one house. A lesson in story telling for anyone. Absolute must read.

W. B. Yeats – The Sorcerers
Yeats is probably my favourite poet and every reading of his work tends to confirm my belief that he was a genius. His prose doesn’t send any tingles along the spine but this account of a meeting of naughty Irish dabblers is a fairly straightforward depiction of the occult and its dark side. Certainly makes you look at the local baker in a new light.

James Reynolds – The Headless Rider Of Castle Sheela
Another thoroughly good and well evoked tale of a bad horseman who ultimately gets his comeuppance. It’s highly descriptive and somehow has a real feel of authenticity.

J. S. Le Fanu – The Dream
Not my favourite Fanu. This story about an ill man is one of the ‘oh gosh really!’ brigade with all sort of moral overtones and unlikely coincidences and the price of naughtiness – in this case a drunkard reforms and then makes the classic error.

William Carleton – Wildgoose Lodge
Rather than reading this tale by Carleton you’d be better served looking here: for a true account.

It’s a horrible story.

Jim McGarry – The Island Magee Terror
Possibly the last witch trial – interestingly better documented here than in Irish records as they were burned in the civil war.

Charles Maturin – Melmoth The Wanderer
Very good story about a miser and his poor nephew. The descriptions leading to the denouement of the poverty of the nephew and the miserliness of the uncle are extremely well executed and the dying scene has an absolute ring of authenticity. I was too thick to work out what the ending meant but nevertheless enjoyable stuff.

There’s a bunch of myths and legends scattered throughout and they make better reading than a few of the stories.

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