THE  NIGHT  WE  PLAYED  AT 

COONEEN  CARNIVAL

by Ivan McBride

Ivan McBride played tenor sax with The Skyrockets and is third from right in this photograph. He now lives in Tasmania where he continues to play.

Cooneen is a small town in west Fermanagh. It is more famous for it's ghost than anything else.
 
Back in the 1940's a family had to leave Cooneen and emigrate to America to escape the wrath of this ghost which terrorised them and despite numerous holy men who exercised many exorcisms on their home the ghost refused to budge. Eventually the house had to be closed up and the windows and doorways were bricked up as was the normal practise in such events.  Whether this was to keep the supernatural in or to keep the curious and unwary out the result seemed to work OK.
 
As the years passed the tales of this haunting abounded.  Local drama groups staged plays about it and even the BBC's Wilfred Pickles narrated it on radio and scared the wits out of his listeners.
 
More years passed and by now it's the 60's.  The Cooneen Ghost had been forgotten about apart from a few old folk who spoke in hushed voices and turned an unusual pallor when reminded of the times this ghoul struck dread into every living creature in the town of Cooneen. Now that was only silly superstition and who could possibly believe those silly tales of ghosts and poltergeists. Certainly not the young, brave lions of the 60's and certainly not the clever men-of-the-world showband heads.
 
It was 1964 or 1965 when the Skyrockets played Cooneen Carnival.  I remember the carnival went on into early October, probably because the weather was fine or perhaps not to clash with a neighbouring parish.  On the night we played it was warm and when we finished for the night we packed up and loaded up the band bus.
Tea for the band had been arranged at the home of one of the carnival committee members and since the house was only a short way from the marquee we decided to walk.
 
After the meal  we left the house and we were standing on the road chatting and having a smoke.  One of the boys just remembered and said "Isn't this the town with the haunted house".  Our conversation immediately changed to the Cooneen Ghost. Someone said he knew where the haunted house was so we decided to walk to it since it was only a few hundred yards up the road.
 
Now as everyone who ever played in a showband knows there was always a few hangers on who travelled with the band. These were fellows who helped carry the instruments in order to get free admission to the dance.  In other words there were eight in the band and another four or five hangers on, so a fine body of twelve or thirteen brave men proceeded up the road in search of this ghostly house.
 
Eventually we reached the top of the narrow street which was poorly lit by a solitary, flickering, street lamp and there before us stood a large manor-like building silhouetted against a cloud covered moon. Two large pillars stood as sentries supporting a wrought iron gate which was half open as though it was inviting us in.
 
So this was the abode of the dreaded Cooneen Ghost. Was it really imprisoned behind those stark walls ?.  We ventured closer. Everybody was silent. A silence only broken by whispers of "Yea it sure looks spooky" and "Couldn't you imagine bats flying around it" and other such utterances as from a Vincent Price movie. A chilly breath of air  touched us causing some to shiver.  Silence !  One could almost hear the silence.
 
I remember getting a feeling of another presence apart from all of us.  The only way I could describe it is, if you shut your eyes tight and hold your hand about an inch from your face. Even though you can't see it you can feel it's there.  Well that's how I felt. I was scared, no, I was petrified. Nobody wanted to admit it, we were all petrified.
 
Then, suddenly someone started to run. Now, nobody wanted to be left behind so there was a frantic charge down that dark road.  Not only did nobody want to be left behind but nobody wanted to be last in the race to the safety of our bus. Upon reaching the bus we jammed each other in the doorway trying to get in and eventually everyone was in, the door closed, we were safe.
 
You know how your imagination can play all sorts of tricks ?  Well I put it down to a trick of my imagination when I felt certain I saw the ghostly figure of a woman move in the overgrown garden in front of that house. This was just before the stampede started down the road for the bus. I never said anything at the time because as I said I thought it must have been my imagination.
 
Many years passed and I was back in Enniskillen on holiday.  I happened to meet one of the boys from the Skyrockets. We talked about what we were doing now and soon the chat came round to the old times. We laughed at the thought of thirteen grown men running for dear life that night in Cooneen. That's when I said "You know Paddy I never told anyone this, but......."  He stopped me there and said..... "So you saw her too".
 
Ivan McBride 2004
Irish Showbands Archive 2004

 

 

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