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Dublin: 12°C Tuesday 20 October 2020
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These are some of the oddest true Irish tales you'll ever read

Very strange indeed.

ALLEN FOSTER MUST be some guest to have at a party. An author and researcher, he has found some of Ireland’s strangest true tales, and delights in telling them.

His new book (which is his eighth), Foster’s Historical Irish Oddities, is a compendium of stories from all over Ireland, like the one about a sleepwalker who fell 15ft without blowing out his candle; the fortune discovered in a Belfast piano; and the Wicklow terrier who brought down an eagle.

“I have literally read hundreds of books and newspapers looking for odd stories and tales of remarkable people,” Foster, the author of a number of books, told TheJournal.ie.

We have a selection of some of the weirder tales here for you to enjoy this Bank Holiday Monday. Hungover? Your head might hurt a bit more after reading these.

The man who packed himself into a trunk

On the morning of 1 October 1941 a porter working on the North Wall Docks in Dublin upended a large case that had been accidentally turned upside down the night before when it was being unloaded from the ship Slieve Bawn from Liverpool. The porter thought it was his imagination when he heard tapping coming from inside the crate. He listened carefully and it started again. He tapped the case and received an answering tap from inside. He called other porters to help and the case was quickly opened.
The men were amazed to find a hysterical semi-conscious Frenchman upside down and encased in a large plaster cast. The frantic man was brought to Jervis Street hospital. There he identified himself as 40-year-old Maurice Carcassus de Laboujac, an artist with an address in London. M. de Laboujac’s paintings were due to go on show in Dublin, but he was unable to obtain the necessary visa, so he arranged to ship himself inside the crate to a Dublin art gallery on Molesworth Street. The Frenchman planned his trip carefully and had a plaster cast made which fitted his body and prevented him being buffeted too severely in the packing case. He spent four days en route from London to Dublin.
Everything had gone to plan until a careless dockworker unloaded the packing case and left it upside down with its occupant standing on his head and unable to do anything about it.

The shower of fish

shutterstock_163078589 Source: Shutterstock/Boltenkoff

 

At about 10am on 23 April 1900 there was a shower of small fish in the bog close to the coastguard station at Kilcredane, County Clare about three hundred yards from the sea. Several men were working in the bog at the time and reported the unusual occurrence to the officer in charge of the station. He investigated and found about 150 fish had fallen from the sky. They were young sand-eels (Ammodytes lanceolatus), which frequent shallow water near the coast at that time of year. The bog was west of the Shannon and the direction of the wind was north-north-west, force 2. It was a fine day, the sky was clear and the wind blew steady.

Coloured hailstones

Coloured hailstones have sometimes fallen. RA Mullan, a solicitor from Newry, was driving a gig near Castlewellan, County Down on 7 May 1885 when he was caught in the middle of a hail shower. Some of the hailstones were red. The colour pervaded the substance of the stones, and on melting, it stained Mullan’s fingers.

Escape of a thief

shutterstock_301233881 Source: Shutterstock/www.BillionPhotos.com

The daring ingenuity of an Irish thief who fell foul of the Greenock police made news in January 1880. When caught the man feigned a comatose state. His ruse did not fool the Greenock police surgeon and a state of consciousness was quickly induced. The thief was transported to the town where, it was alleged, he had committed a robbery, and jailed there to await trial. He soon escaped the jail and fled. A few days later he was caught red-handed and taken into custody, but not before some hard blows had been exchanged between him and the constables. Bleeding from the mouth as a result of a whack from a baton, the Irishman was brought before a police surgeon who did not know his tricks.
The cunning thief pretended to be dying, and his acting was so convincing that the surgeon really believed the thief had died in front of him. After laying out the ‘dead’ man in the mortuary, minus his boots, the surgeon hurried off to report the fatal assault by the police. The mortuary was attached to the police station and the surgeon left the door ajar. After the surgeon made his report to the ranking officer the policemen involved in the assault were detained. When this officer and the surgeon returned to the mortuary to examine the corpse it was gone! The Irishman had made another escape.

A shock to the system

In February 1773, 14-year-old Anne Mulligan of Roxberry went to visit a neighbour’s house one evening and returned home that night having completely lost her voice.
She remained that way until May 1777, when friends brought her to Dr Connell of Bunnoe, Cavan. Dr Connell was known as the ‘mad doctor’ on account of his unusual methods, and his treatment of Anne showed how unorthodox he was.
The doctor heard her story and examined the girl, then brought her into his dining room and locked the door. He sat her at one end of the table, then sat opposite. He began by distorting his features in ‘a shocking manner’ intended to frighten the girl. After some time he jumped up, grabbed a dagger that was hanging over the mantelpiece, and ran at Anne, swearing that he was going to kill her. She dropped to her knees, begging him to spare her life, then fainted. On coming to she completely regained her speech and never lost it again.

All excerpts courtesy of publisher Gill & Macmillan. Foster’s Irish Oddities is out now in all good bookshops, priced at €12.99.

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