Halloween haunting in Limerick

Jennifer Cremins, Sinead Houlihan and Anthony Kerrigan of Ghost Eire conducting a paranormal investigation in Friars' Gate Theatre, Kilmallock. Pictures: Brian Gavin Press 22

HAUNTED Limerick Post reporter Alan Jacques gets into the Halloween spirit as he joins a team of ghost hunters during a paranormal investigation at Friars’ Gate Theatre in Kilmallock.

Jennifer Cremins, Sinead Houlihan and Anthony Kerrigan of Ghost Eire conducting a paranormal investigation in Friars' Gate Theatre, Kilmallock. Pictures: Brian Gavin Press 22
Jennifer Cremins, Sinead Houlihan and Anthony Kerrigan of Ghost Eire conducting a paranormal investigation in Friars’ Gate Theatre, Kilmallock.
Pictures: Brian Gavin Press 22

I WAS having a rough week. Life had thrown me an unexpected curveball and I was having enough difficulty dealing with the living, not to mind bringing the undead into the equation.

As I made my way out to Kilmallock on a mid October evening to join a team of paranormal investigators in Friars’ Gate Theatre, I was sure I would be the only haunted entity present.

The only spirits I wanted to be around were of the distilled alcoholic variety.

I was not in the best of shape myself and was more in need of a consoling hug and warm bowl of soup to thwart my woes than mingling with sorrowful phantoms more preyed upon than I.

Moments after landing in the town, I got my first taste of the macabre as scowling witches and grinning ghouls stared me down from a rack of Halloween masks outside a discount store.

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The only hint of spine-chilling activity evident on my arrival at Friars’ Gate Theatre was a sign outside revealing that Irish singer Tommy Fleming had performed at the intimate venue the previous week.

Get behind me Satan indeed!

Once inside the doors of this delightful 130-seater arts centre in the heart of medieval Kilmallock, I was greeted by the warm, welcoming smile of manager Caoimhe Reidy. It was just what the doctor ordered.

The theatre, nestled on both sides by old castle walls, is a place where life and living is celebrated through music, art, drama and film. I was skeptical about the likelihood of phantoms lurking in such a vital and cheerful space.

However, Caoimhe, who has worked at the venue for 13 years, tells me she is keeping an “open mind” about tonight’s investigation.

“I have never encountered a ghost in the building but I do move more quickly when I’m locking up at night,” she admits.

Suddenly the theatre doors burst open and Ireland’s answer to Ghostbusters enter the fray.

Ghost Eire, led by husband and wife Anthony Kerrigan and Jennifer Cremins, are laden down with flight cases filled with expensive equipment including night vision cameras, Electromagnetic Field (EMF) meters and motion and temperature sensors.

They look like a touring rock band.Ghosteire paranormal investigate_07

Anthony, complete with blonde Mohawk hairstyle and stringy headband, has already visited the venue to carry out preliminary tests and claims he has pinpointed hotspots of activity between the seating and the stage. He is excited about tonight’s investigation.

“We think, because of the many historical locations in close proximity around Friars’ Gate, that we will get something,” he predicts.

The team of four, who have investigated the paranormal for the past six years, keep salutations to a minimum, as they are eager to press on. These hip looking spook hunters have pursued spectres across the country from Valentia Lighthouse to Spike Island, Ballinamuck, Loop Head and Limerick’s Frank McCourt Museum.

After giving them some time to set up on the stage, I am surprised by what meets me when I enter the theatre. An Ouija Board is placed on a table centre-stage, but what really has me flummoxed is the strobe lighting and smoke machine.

Are they setting up for an indie disco?

All we’re missing now is a blast of instant floor-filler ‘Where’s Me Jumper’ over the venue’s sound system.

“We are going to experiment with lighting and a new type of talking board never seen before. We will also be introducing Gregorian chant music for a vigil. Because of the location and the area, the spirits might find this an attraction,” Anthony explains.

“We are using all our senses, all the capability of the equipment we have and devices we use to achieve spirit contact. We block the history out of our minds and if there is a haunting at a location we try to discover a reason for it happening.”

With the stage set, the lights are dimmed and the curtain is ready to rise on the elusive supernatural spirits of downtown Kilmallock. But will they give us a performance to remember?

Ghosteire paranormal investigate_04The Ghost Eire crew takes their places around the Ouija Board.

“Dear spirits we are not here to harm you. We are here in communication with the greatest respect,” Anthony declares.

He then proceeds to ask a series of questions while team members Jennifer and Sinead sit around the board with their fingertips over a small glass.

“What is your name?” he asks.

A moment later the glass slowly starts to move. A, Sinead reveals, is the first letter.

The glass moves again. This time to the letter E.

There is no further response to the question.

“What is the year in your religion?” he asks.

More purposeful moving of the glass this time and the answer is clearer too.

“1680,” comes the reply.

“1680, is that correct?” Anthony enquires.

The glass swiftly moves to yes on the board.

When asked where it comes from the word “Balmwab” is spelled out.

When asked the colour of its clothing, “black” comes the reply.

“What drives you to manifest?” the paranormal investigator wants to know.

“Love,” is the answer.

“Do you feel anything when you manifest?”Ghosteire paranormal investigate_08

“Voice,” comes the response.

During a second set of questions the team uses a manifestation board. Around the outer rim of the board are category headings that allow the team to decipher the type of spirit they are dealing with. It is used in the same way as the Ouija Board and includes headings such as alien, faerie, poltergeist, demonic force and residual energy.

The one that knocked me for six when I spotted it on the board as the team were setting up was vampire.

“Vampires?” I asked dumbfounded.

“You never know. People drank blood years ago,” I am told.

Make of it what you will, but the pace certainly picked up during this vigil. The room filled with an intense, almost claustrophobic, energy.

“What category of spirit are you?” Anthony asks.

The glass moves faster now. “Angel spirit guide,” comes the board’s quick reply.

“What other categories are here with us?”

The glass is now spinning frantically round the board like a helicopter blade rotor and even the experienced ghost hunters appear shaken by its eerie motion.

The glass does not stop on any one category, leaving Anthony to suggest that all categories are now present.

He asks how many spirits are with us in the tension-filled theatre.

“Eight”, comes the reply.Ghosteire paranormal investigate_06

“Are you protecting us?” he asks.

An immediate “yes” is given.

As the investigators leave the stage ashen-faced and visibly shaken, they discover that their fancy electronic equipment stopped working midway during this experiment.

“Interesting” was the word that sprang to my own mind but, as entertaining as I found this spectacle, I was not ready to climb down off the fence.

At the interval, several of those present for the experiments were animated and excited by what they had just witnessed.

One woman claimed to have felt a pressure on her head and smelled burning while the paranormal investigators were at work. Another said she felt the temperature around her rise rapidly during the experiment.

It was quite the show so far and that’s for sure.

After the break, the spirits were treated to a pop quiz of sorts.

Tobacco cards featuring images of stars of stage and screen from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century were laid out on the manifestation board. Anthony then invited any phantoms present in the room, alive during this timeline, to spin the wheel!

“Which personality do you admire?” he asks.

After a couple of indecisive spins around the board the glass finally lands on a card with an image of French actor and singing star from the 1930s, Maurice Chevalier.

“Which actor are you attracted to?”

This time the glass stops on a picture of American actor and comedian from the same era, Jack Oakie.

When asked which actor it was most familiar with in “love roles”, Randolph Scott, again from the 1930s, came the reply.

For the final act, the handful of spectators present, myself included, were invited onto the stage to take part in a séance.

This is when things really started to get “interesting”.

We sat in a circle round a small table on the stage with our fingertips lightly touching.

The smoke machine blasted out a thick trail of fog, which added to the spooky atmosphere in the darkened theatre.

It was show time.

Anthony called to the spirits to approach us and make their presence known.

“Make a sound or move the table if you are with us.”

Moments later one woman gave out a light shriek as she claimed to be experiencing a cold chill on her neck and lips.

Again the investigator beckoned the spirits closer.Ghosteire paranormal investigate_13

The woman to my left cried out that she felt something squeezing her ribs.

Anthony castigated the spirits and suggested they find a more appropriate way to make their presence known.

Whether it was the smoke machine or the dramatic scene unfolding on stage, I don’t know, but I struggled to breathe through most of the séance. I felt as though the living breath was being sucked right out of me. It was not pleasant.

The woman to my left then felt pressure pushing down on her little finger. I experienced it too.

Anthony then asked the spirits to move the table in front of us as a sign they were with us.

I could feel a slow surge of energy coming up through the palms of my hands. The table was moving.

This small wooden piece of furniture emitted a light humming vibration that all present experienced. It vibrated for the duration of the séance.

The show was almost over, but there was still time for an encore.

Invited guests were sent back to their seats as the experienced ghost hunters stood around the small table to see if they could get a more climatic reaction for a finale.

“We are leaving now in a minute, this is your last chance,” Anthony indicated.

With their hands pressed on the tabletop it started to move slowly before petering out.

“Cad is ainm duit?” he then asked as Gaeilge.

This time the table rocked fervently from side to side like a bucking mule.

It was quite a sight. The frantic movement continued for about 30 seconds before coming to an abrupt halt.

The curtain had fallen.

It was some night and it certainly took my mind off my own woes. But what did I make of it all?

I wasn’t sure.

What had I just witnessed?

I couldn’t make up my mind whether it was hocus pocus or something truly otherworldly.

I wanted to believe, but maybe that was the problem. Then again, maybe that’s all I needed to do.


Ghosteire paranormal investigate_11

So what happened?

I SPOKE to Anthony Kerrigan of Ghost Eire a couple of days after the paranormal investigation in Kilmallock to see what he had uncovered.

He is convinced that there is “definitely” a ghostly presence in Friars’ Gate Theatre. His wife Jennifer, who claims to see ghosts, felt a source of two women in the theatre while she was mirror gazing, also known as ‘scrying’.

A form of communication with the dead, a medium gazes into a mirror or crystal ball to bridge our world with the spirit realm.

One of these women, I am told, was “heavily burned”, which Anthony feels could account for the burning smell and change in temperature in the theatre.Ghosteire paranormal investigate_01

He can offer no explanation to why all their electronic equipment cut out during one particularly hair-raising experiment and is still trying to figure that one out.

I also asked him about the breathlessness I experienced during the séance.

“Yes the breathlessness can happen. The lady beside you Marie was feeling tightness around that area too. So there was quite a sensation of burning sensations around,” he tells me.

A photograph captured during the séance on Ghost Eire’s night vision camera reveals a strange white light directly behind where I was sitting on the stage.

“It’s on the top right corner of the picture. It’s a white light with a smaller black light in the centre and a blue outline,” Anthony explains.

What is this light?

The experienced ghost hunter is still not sure.Ghosteire paranormal investigate_03

It could have something to do with the strobe lighting and smoke machine, he suggests, but the jury is still out on that one.

Ghost Eire were still going through their data at the time of going to press and Anthony promised to get back to me with more answers as he found them.

For now I was left with only my own experience from what was a truly mystifying night in Friars’ Gate Theatre.

As I pondered Ghost Eire’s newest findings the words of Salman Rushdie came to mind.

“Now I know what a ghost is. Unfinished business, that’s what.”