Who stole the Irish crown jewels? Is there a secret tunnel in O’Connell Street? And did the word "quiz" originate in Dublin as the result of a bet? Urban legends are the funny and frightening folklore people share today. Just like the early folk tales that came before them, these tales are formed from reactions to events in the modern world, and reflect our current values. For the first time, Brendan Nolan explores the power of Dublin’s urban legend—murky stories whispered in classrooms and back streets, and ripping yarns passed on across the bar. Urban legends may be just exaggerated rumors, but they embed themselves into local folklore. The real question is, what truth lies behind them?
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About the Author
Brendan Nolan is an author, historian, and professional storyteller who also produces and presents Telling Tales. His previous publications include Dublin Folk Tales, The Little Book of Dublin, Wexford Folk Tales, and Wicklow Folk Tales.
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Dublin Urban Legends
By Brendan Nolan
The History PressCopyright © 2015 Brendan Nolan
All rights reserved.
THE SURRENDERED BABY
Dublin bus drivers are known for their courtesy and rapport with their passengers and a legend that circulates around Dublin city from time to time concerns a bus driver, well known for his affability, and a young mother with a baby in a pushchair.
Sometimes, the story of the surrendered baby and the bus driver is set in Ringsend. Now a quiet backwater of the city, Ringsend was formerly a place of considerable importance, having been for some 200 years the principal packet station in Ireland for communication with Britain. In August 1649, Oliver Cromwell, who had been appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland by unanimous vote of Parliament, landed at Ringsend with an army of 12,000 men, artillery and a large quantity of munitions. He passed through Ringsend on the way to victory over his opponents at Drogheda.
But, by the time Dublin Bus took over the local bus routes, all this excitement was long gone and few could remember what Cromwell looked like at all. Nevertheless, a single mother managed to stir up a great deal of excitement in her own way: by giving her infant son away to a passing stranger.
Most long-time residents of Ringsend know one another through family ties, school, work or other social interactions and the regular passengers on the passing bus service would know one another by sight, if not by name. Yet, on the morning in question, none of the witnesses were later able to identify the girl with the small child in a pushchair who waited silently for the next bus to arrive at the stop.
When the bus doors swished open the older residents stood back to allow the young mother to board. She removed the child from the pushchair and stepped on to the platform of the bus. Nowadays there is a security screen between the driver's seat and the public but at that time there was none. The mother smiled at the driver and handed him the baby, asking him to hold the infant while she lifted the empty pushchair from the footpath. Without thinking too much about it, the affable driver took the baby in his arms and began doing what most people do when handed a baby. He smiled at it and attempted to entice the child to reciprocate with laughter, a gurgle or a kick of the foot.
He did not notice that the mother was taking a long time to lift a now-empty pushchair on to the bus. The other passengers were still standing on the footpath, wondering what was going to happen next. Tiring of the inactivity, and wishing to be off about his business, an impatient pensioner informed the driver that the mother of the child was gone. Gone? Yes, she was gone and the pushchair was where she had left it. Not that the pushchair was of any interest to the bus driver who was now left with a child to mind and a bus to drive.
Unable to do both, he did the only thing possible: he contacted his dispatcher by two-way radio. Once he had persuaded his incredulous colleague that he was in fact immobilised by a small child, the driver asked all gathered within earshot if they knew who the young woman was? Nobody did.
The dispatcher rang the Garda who sent a two-person team to deal with the incident. They could not take the baby with them in a squad car so they contacted the health authority to ask what they might do with a baby abandoned on a bus on a busy day in the city. An ambulance was dispatched to collect the baby and once the child was taken into care, the bus driver was free to board his passengers and proceed on his route, if somewhat later than scheduled.
The pushchair was taken into custody by the gardaí and the streets of Ringsend returned to normal, though word of the strange abandonment of a child to a bus driver soon spread through the startled community. The story became even more bizarre when the young mother presented herself a few days later at a Garda station to ask for her baby back. She explained that she was a single mother and had been at her wits' end as to how she was going to make ends meet for herself and her child. To ease the pressure and to ensure the child was well taken care of and safe for a while, she thought it a good idea to hand the child to the bus driver who seemed kind and so would ensure the child would be looked after.
The legend recalls earlier tough times in Dublin city, when women gave up their children in the sure knowledge that they would never see them again. And so, in 1704, the Foundling Hospital of Dublin was opened to cater for children whose parents could not or would not care for them. Up to 2,000 children were received annually and to fund the place, income was derived from a duty on coal sold in the city. Coal was the principal means of heating homes in eighteenth-century Dublin and so a large revenue was derived from the levy.
Nonetheless, conditions in the Dublin foundling hospital were particularly bad. Of 52,150 children admitted during the thirty years ending January 1826, some 41,524 of them died. Dublin legends says that some of the unfortunate children were sped on their way by callous handling and a bottle containing a concoction to make them sleep their life away.
Perhaps the folk memory of those times leads people to share the modern story of the young mother who handed her baby to a bus driver and ran away, only to show up days later seeking custody of her child. She avoided bureaucratic paperwork in handing her child to a stranger, just as no complicated applications or certificates were required for admittance of a child to the foundling hospital.
Indeed, to facilitate the easy abandonment of a child, the parent, usually the mother, could commit a child without seeing another human being. A bell on a chain hung beside the door of the porter's lodge and when the bell was rung, a cradle was pushed out for the reception of the child. Once the child was placed in the cradle it was passed into the interior of the hospital, never to be seen, for the most part, by those outside ever again.
Once inside, the child was processed when a certificate was pinned to its clothes, stating its given name and estimated age. This information, with the date of reception, was carefully registered so the person who left the child could retrieve it if their fortunes changed: in the ten years from 1801 to 1811 some 567 of the children were reclaimed by their parents.
It was common for the parent to attach some identifying token to the child before it was placed in the cradle: a piece of coloured cloth was most usual. Though those who had no intention of ever seeing the child again might pass them over without any identifier at all.
Most children deposited were born out of wedlock and some were the children of prostitutes impregnated by clients; in the twenty-one years to 1796, 10,201 of the children sent to the hospital had diseases which proved them the offspring of prostitutes, according to the hospital's records. Despite this, entry to the hospital was not confined to children deemed illegitimate by reason of the circumstances of their birth, but was open to every offspring in want or distress.
However, in consequence of the recommendation of the Commissioners of Inquiry in 1829, gradual suppression of the Dublin institution began and its doors were closed to any further intake. This led to yet more stories about how desperate people faced up to the reality of their circumstance.
A clergyman reported that following closure of the hospital in 1830 he had been informed of two particular cases that were strange indeed.
In the first, a farmer was planting potatoes with his workers. He and his labourers went to dinner in the middle of the day, leaving a sack half full of cut potatoes on a cart. When they returned an hour later and shook out the potatoes for planting, an infant fell out from the bag. The ground was soft and the child was not injured. The mother was never discovered, nor was it ever determined how she had managed to put the child in the sack without being observed by anyone. The child was placed with a poor labourer's wife who had several children already, but who nonetheless took the infant into her family as one of her own.
The same clergyman, who seemed to have an abundance of such incidents in his parish, or was perhaps more attentive to the passing tale than others were, reported another incident shortly thereafter.
A cotter's wife went to buy some meal, leaving only a child behind to mind her own house. On her return, she was surprised to find a large bundle of dry ferns lying on the floor. Ferns burn easily, so she lifted them up to place them under a pot of potatoes as fuel, and was shocked to hear a child cry as she did so. On examination, she found an infant rolled up in the bundle of ferns.
On asking her own child if she saw anything amiss while she was away, she heard that a woman had come into the house with something wrapped up in a shawl. She asked the child to get her a drink of water and, while the child was doing so, the woman must have transferred the infant to the bundle of ferns.
While the household already had seven children in it, the woman took the abandoned infant in, only to see it weaken and die, despite her best efforts at saving it. Such was the high rate of infant mortality of the time.
At least the modern story resulted in the happy reunion of the mother with the child left for safekeeping with the bus driver in Ringsend.CHAPTER 2
THE MAN WHO NEVER WAS
Visitors to the city of Dublin, and in particular to O'Connell Bridge which spans the River Liffey, often pause to celebrate a man who never was and inadvertently salute a clock that went away. In fact, a great many people have their picture taken standing beside the plaque to Fr Pat Noise, a fictitious character who has become part of Dublin folklore. His plaque is set into the parapet of the bridge on the western side of the busy thoroughfare. The plaque was even the subject of debate in the city council when officials made to remove it and elected councillors voted to retain it.
The story began in 1994, when the National Lottery administration set aside funding to provide a five-year attraction in the river similar to the George Pompidou Centre in Paris. In Paris a visitor could place a small amount of money in a machine at the Pompidou Centre to purchase a postcard of the centre with a time and date stamp upon it, recording the moment the visitor stood there. Publicists for the National Lottery proposed that a digital clock be placed on the bed of the Liffey and would count down the seconds to the new millennium at the dawn of the twenty-first century, which would be some 119,757,600 seconds away from the first tocking of the clock on New Year's Day 1995. Just as in Paris, people would be able to purchase a postcard on the bridge showing the time they stood there.
It was to be a grand affair. The submerged clock would be surrounded by metallic-coloured carbon fibre, fixed on buoys from which loudspeakers would send out, every 30 seconds, recorded sounds of Dublin life. This was to include the rolling of wooden barrels on pavements, foghorns, seagulls' cries and the calls of Moore Street market traders extolling their wares.
However, the clock did not quite work out the way it was supposed to. It quickly earned itself the soubriquet of the 'Chime in the Slime' from bemused Dubliners, who could not see the numerals through the water once the flowing river got at it and covered it with something or other of its own making. The clock also stopped on a regular basis and, when restarted, chose its own countdown numbers to display – which did not always match the passing time of most Dubliners. Then it vanished altogether.
According to an official spokesman, this was to allow boats to pass over the spot, which was strange since boat traffic at that location at the time was not very plentiful. It was even suggested, irreverently, that a visiting stage magician had made it disappear as part of his stage act. Many Dubliners who had become used to saluting the clock on crossing the bridge wondered what had become of time in Dublin. But then, one day, it was back again, blinking upwards at observers on the bridge.
Nonetheless, by December 1996, it was time-up for the millennium clock. Slime had so covered it that seekers after the correct time would have needed to know where it was to see it. The cost to lift it up, clean it and lay it back down again was too much and so the six-tonne clock was removed to a warehouse, never to be seen in the Liffey again, though the millennium came and went without it, just the same.
Time passed and the saga of the clock was all but forgotten and then, in 2004, a new development at the same spot piqued the renewed interest of Dubliners. A plaque had appeared on the bridge parapet, laid in a depression left by the removal of the control box for the Millennium Countdown Clock.
This official-looking plaque commemorated Father Pat Noise. The inscription said he died under suspicious circumstances when his carriage plunged into the Liffey on 10 August 1919. Many believed it to be a legitimate commemorative plaque. Some even left flowers. A few said a silent prayer for the unfortunate priest.
The full text of the plaque reads:
THIS PLAQUE COMMEMORATES
FR. PAT NOISE
ADVISOR TO PEADAR CLANCEY.
HE DIED UNDER SUSPICIOUS
CIRCUMSTANCES WHEN HIS
CARRIAGE PLUNGED INTO THE
LIFFEY ON AUGUST 10TH 1919.
ERECTED BY THE HSTI
However, Father Pat Noise is a play on the Latin pater noster, which translates as 'our father'. Peadar Clancy was a Republican fighter involved in the War of Independence who was shot in disputed circumstances while in British custody in Dublin Castle in November 1920. The inscriber of the plaque misspelled his name. The HSTI was also a fictitious moniker.
The plaque remained in place for two years in which it did not attract overmuch attention by anyone. However, in 2006, a journalist asked questions of the City Council and the saga of the priest who never was began in earnest. A pair of brothers claimed responsibility for the hoax in May 2006. They said the work was a tribute to their own father, without saying who he was.
Dublin City Council swung into action with a declaration that the Pat Noise plaque would be removed, as it was unauthorised, which created more interest in the plaque than it had received up until then.
Tributes of flowers and messages began to appear at the spot on the busy bridge, as Dubliners, ever ready to oppose authority, even in the case of a memorial to a nonexistent person, paid their own respects.
Nonetheless, the following year, in March 2007, the original Fr Noise plaque was removed during official restoration work on the bridge. But if something was worth doing once it was worth doing twice, and a second plaque duly made an appearance on the bridge in the same spot. Then, the matter took a surprise turn, for when officials made to remove the replacement plaque, a city councillor tabled a motion to prevent them from so doing.
Councillor Dermot Lacey, a Labour party councillor for the Pembroke-South Dock Ward on Dublin City Council, proposed the motion that: 'This Committee agrees to discuss and supports the case for leaving the "Fr Noise" Plaque in situ on O'Connell Bridge.' Ultimately the Order was agreed by councillors to: 'Leave plaque in place or provide further report to Committee.'
And there it stands. The millennium was born without a ticking clock in the Liffey recreating the sounds of Dublin, and the plaque to a man who never was remains on the bridge for all to see, by order of the City Council.
One Dublin legend who really did exist was Blind Michael Moran who suddenly re-appeared on the streets of Dublin in the weeks after his reported death, in penury, at the age of 52 years. Michael was born in 1794 but was blinded for life by an illness when he was 2 weeks old. He became better known as Zozimus; his nickname was derived from a well-known poem at the time about St Mary of Egypt, who was living in the desert at the end of her life when Zosimas of Palestine was sent to hear her confession and give her Holy Communion. Then a lion was sent to dig her grave.
Zozimus was a bard who wandered the streets of Dublin reciting and selling popular poems and songs, many of which he wrote himself. Some of his rhymes had religious themes. Others were political or recountTed recent events, as a true troubadour might well do to remain commercial and relevant to his listeners on whom he relied for patronage.
In appearance he was much as others of his kind might have at the time: he wore a long, coarse, dark, frieze coat with a cape, an old brown beaver hat, corduroy trousers and Francis Street brogues. He carried a blackthorn stick secured to his wrist with a strap, both as an aid to navigation and as a deterrent to any youngsters or malcontents intent on mocking him or taking from him his hard-earned rewards.
He walked the streets of Dublin in all weathers in these tattered clothes, and this exposure to the elements was to cost him his life. In his last few years, Moran's voice grew weak and his income dwindled. Feeble and bedridden, the street performer died in April 1846 in a rented room on Patrick Street.
Excerpted from Dublin Urban Legends by Brendan Nolan. Copyright © 2015 Brendan Nolan. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
1. The Surrendered Baby,
2. The Man Who Never Was,
3. The Wandering Butcher of Summerhill,
4. Two Dead Children,
5. Climbing the Spire Looking for a Soda Water Well,
6. Hill 16 or Not Hill 16?,
7. How Old Am I?,
8. Saving the Park for the Deer,
9. Bloomsday or the Imagination Run Wild,
10. The Missing Heart of a Liberator and Philanderer,
11. The Headless Coach,
12. The Spring of the Murdered Priest,
13. Setting Fire to People,
14. Is Your Name Mary Masters?,
15. The Last Days of Cats,
16. Severed Bits of People,
17. Moving the Dead,
18. True Romance,
19. Putting a Cap on it,
20. Messiah and the Burning of a Witch,
21. Irish Crown Jewels,
22. A Tale of Two Swans,
23. Talking Ghosts,
24. The Cobbler of Ballyowen,
25. Warring Animals at the Races,
26. The Swallowed Tongue,
27. What's a Quiz?,