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Tom Colton, a medium and minister of the Spiritualist Union of Ireland, who cleanses houses of spirits.Photograph: Alan Betson and Eric Luke
Owning a home can be terrifying for all sorts of reasons, but what if your scares before bedtime aren’t financial but spectral? When things go bump in the night who do you call? Meet the real-life ghostbusters who check out paranormal activity, writes ALANNA GALLAGHER
FIFTY-YEAR-old Patrick McGuire is a banker who grew up in a haunted house in Dublin. As a child he complained to his mother about being kept awake by a presence.
“She saw him quite a few times … a person walking across the hallway,” he explains. “One day we had a house guest who said she was psychic and asked for permission to walk through the house. She said the property had a spirit and that it was protecting the family. She pointed to a formal room that we never used where she indicated that a duel had taken place. During the fight a man had been killed.”
There was never any malice, McGuire says, it was just a fact of life in the home he grew up in.
The malevolence we expect from haunted houses is apparently the stuff of Hollywood fiction, yet one exorcist, who doesn’t want to be named – a practising Catholic priest – has noted “a huge increase in people needing deliverance. Their lives are absolutely miserable. They don’t want these spirits.” One family he worked with had to flee a new home because there were so many reported happenings.
Demand far exceeds his ability to supply spooked homeowners with counsel, he says, adding that the service is free, but church donations can be accepted.
Deliverance ministry is what exorcism is now called, explains the Ven David Pierpoint, Archdeacon of Dublin. He is very matter of fact about the subject and even admits to having had it done in his own family home in Phibsborough 10 years ago after a presence in the property became “more annoying than dangerous”.
His daughters referred to it as Casper the Friendly Ghost. “The TV would switch itself on and off, even if it wasn’t plugged in, and lights would flick on and off even if there was no-one in the house.”
Reporter Mick Peelo covered this on RTÉ’s Would You Believe series.
“He noted a whispering voice that was audible on the recording but hadn’t been there while the film crew was in the house,” Pierpoint explains. This was before he had the house exorcised. “There’s been nothing since,” he says.
Co Down based Darren Ansell is the founder of the Paranormal Study and Investigation Ireland group. During the course of his public investigations for television and radio shows he has experienced what is called electronic voice phenomena, where voices are audible on recordings only. He says he and a colleague saw a vision or apparition while recording a show for BBC Radio Ulster in Richhill Castle, Co Armagh.
What do homeowners do if there’s something strange in their neighbourhood? Go to your local rector or priest, says Pierpoint. “We can help. There are a number of people trained to deal with these issues. With haunted homes you’re often dealing with the spirits of the dead although it is also possible to be possessed by an evil spirit.”
Find out if a traumatic occurrence happened in the house in the past, he advises.
Can househunters engage someone to detect if there is anything untoward in a house before they buy?
“Anyone who leaves a house for this reason leaves it up to the next person to find out,” says the exorcist, and it’s a practice he doesn’t agree with. “If you know the property is disturbed you have an obligation to mention it. They can then decide whether to buy it or not.”
It’s not exactly a selling point, says agent Peter Kenny of Colliers. “I can’t imagine it would add to the value of the property. If the house was haunted and I was selling it, if I could I’d just avoid the subject, but if I was asked straight out I’d have to answer the question.”
John O’Neill of REA Celtic Properties in Bantry, Co Cork, believes in turning an alleged negative into a positive. “Ten years ago we made a feature of the fact that a gate lodge of an old estate was reputedly haunted. We focused on the historical aspect of the house and on the hearsay that a coach had been seen passing the house and a relative allegedly seen walking the grounds.” This was in 2002 and as a result the story garnered international interest.
Several years later, at the start of the downturn, things were going bump in the night at another property on his books. “We didn’t make a feature of it in that sale,” O’Neill says. “With any house over 100 years old, you always look for the interesting historical angle: did Michael Collins have a pint there? Did George Bernard Shaw, who spent time in Glengarriff, stay in the property? A ghost would fall into the same category of interest provided the ghost was of the Casper variety – that is to say friendly.”
But not all are friendly. Some houses have been built in places where tragedy occurred, says Tom Colton, a former accountant and father of four who is now a medium and minister of the Spiritualist Union of Ireland. He has cleansed some 120 houses including some that weren’t selling. One was a property that had been built on a field where a teenager had died by suicide and disturbances were troubling the occupants.
He encourages househunters to follow their instincts when viewing properties for sale. “Use your sixth sense to connect with that internal radar, that feeling or sense of things not being quite right. It is your body telling you something.”
Having your property cleansed is good for business believes the owner of a small business in the south east. He regularly calls in a dowser or site cleanser to his pre-1800s premises to rid it of what he calls “negative energy” or “geopathic stress”.
He also had a site cleansed before he built a house on it. “In the same way I would get a surveyor to look over the structure, similarly I wanted to get the property cleansed so that it was emotionally sound.”
One such site cleanser is Martin Flanagan. He describes geopathic stress as: “A disease of the earth, a contamination coming from water lines, from mineral contamination or from the people in the property.”
It can manifest itself in several ways, he says. “If a room is cold that is a sign of geopathic stress. Or if strange things happen, such as lights coming on when you’ve switched them off, or heating coming on by itself.” Where properties have been built on the sites of ancient graveyards or maybe have had something violent happen in them, it “distorts the energy in the house”, he says.
In Sweden and parts of Germany some councils require a geopathic stress test before granting planning permission. Ghosts are not always a bad thing though. Castle Leslie hotel in Co Monaghan has made its resident spooks a selling point.