Halloween ambience. Photo: Courtesy of Gentle Melody

Halloween, ghosts, demons and hauntings galore!

Jonathan Smyth's latest Times Past column has a Halloween theme...

After recently watching a movie called ‘The Pope’s Exorcist’ based on the files of the real life Fr Gabriel Amorth, and starring Russell Crowe, I was interested to see if any similar occurrences were ever documented in the Cavan region or in some of the neighbouring counties. The Crowe film was set in 1987 and tells a story based on true events (although naturally heavily dramatised for the big screen) making it fascinating but somehow unnerving to watch.

As recently as 2022, an Irish exorcist gave an interview to The Guardian, published on June 9, 2022, giving an account of the experience of Fr Pat Collins CM, an Irish exorcist who had requested additional help for people, who as he put it, may be oppressed by evil spirits in Ireland and he called for the formation of a ‘deliverance ministry’, stating that ‘trained teams’ were ‘needed in parishes to fight evil spirits’.

He believed that secularism left people vulnerable to negative spiritual forces and that ‘deliverance ministry’ was more about healing the soul where emotional trauma and unnatural stress occurred but did not require a full exorcism. Fr Collins is a trained psychologist too and the Guardian noted that, in 2018, he spoke of people who worried about negative spiritual interference: ‘I think in many cases they wrongly think it, but when they turn to the church, the church doesn’t know what to do with them and they refer them on either to a psychologist or to somebody that they’ve heard of that is interested in this form of ministry, and they do fall between the cracks and often are not helped.’

Casting out entities is generally associated with the Catholic Church, which might lead one to ask if any of the Protestant churches perform similar exorcisms? As it happens, after some investigation, I did discover that priests in the Church of Ireland can perform an exorcism provided that their Diocesan bishop has granted them permission and for the ceremony only to take place following in-depth consultation between the bishop and his assembled team of experts, which include a medical doctor and psychiatrist.

A particular line from the movie stuck with me and to paraphrase the Crowe’s portrayal of Fr Amorth, he says: If there was no evil, there would be no need for a Church.

Sadly, there always remains a propensity for evil in the world and when you look back at history it is not difficult to discover terrible deeds.


Over the decades Halloween has gradually grown into a significant festival for all the family with children from the neighbourhood trick or treating, the pumpkin carvings, entertainment at the cinema, online sound effects and music, and shows on the television. The 31st October marked the end of Summer period and the transition to Autumn and Winter. It was considered a time when the curtain between our visible world and the spirit world was at its weakest thereby allowing spirits to cross over into our universe and this is a reason why many churches find the celebration of Halloween problematic.

The scarily titled book, ‘American Vampires: Their True Bloody History From New York to California’ by Bob Curran, was the least likely place that I expected to find a mention of County Cavan, but there it was, a tale of a vampiric entity from Blacklion.

In the story, we are told that a daughter of a certain family invited a spirit into the house, causing ‘terrible mayhem’ as it absorbed ‘the vitality from the family’. Fear gripped the family and the ‘man of the house’ went to fetch a retired priest who lived nearby who was known to have performed exorcisms. Following a serious struggle with the troublesome spirit, the priest managed to expel the demon from the house.

But before leaving, the priest told the man, that he did the right thing by calling him because, if it had been left any longer, they would be facing a situation that required ‘nine priests and nine bishops’ to shift the creature as its strength intensified.

The author Bob Curran pointed out that such a haunting was often simply put down to being a ‘poltergeist’. However, the ‘soul gatherer’, as he called it, may have escaped from an ancient local ‘iron-age earthworks’ before ensconcing itself in the cottage to drain its victims of their energy and leave them in a state of ‘intense lethargy’.

In True Irish Ghost Stories by St John D. Seymour and Harry L. Neligan we hear of certain ghost manifesting itself in the home of a Mr. M. at an undisclosed location in County Cavan. The spirit lived in the chimney during the day, causing a constant flow of soot to be blown across all the cooking utensils placed on the fire and, then at night, the sprite went into full action causing the family great distress, dragging some of them from their beds ‘by the hair’ and pulling them ‘around the house’.

The book adds that, ‘when anyone ventured to light a lamp, it would immediately be put out; while chairs and tables would be sent dancing around the room.’

The family’s nightmare only came to an end when they left the house and, on the eve, before they went, neighbours who called said they saw a ghost with a human body, which had a ‘pig’s head with long tusks’; while others could see ‘a horse with an elephant’s head’ and on its back was a ‘headless man’. Seymour and Neligan recount that seven priests along with the neighbours attended a station held at the homestead, which appeared to have had the desired effect, but not before a further creature was seen coming up the street. Be safe and have a pleasant Halloween.


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