Stories behind the book: haunted houses and pirate smugglers in Sligo

Posted by Nadia (Assistant Librarian) 28 January 2010 at 11:00

I am truly fascinated by the history behind a book. I always wonder what places the book visited, what people it encountered, what adventures it went through. I love investigating beyond the mere content of the book, looking for apparently insignificant clues (or evidence, as a detective would say) scattered over the book: a signature of a previous owner, a handwritten date, a note by the binder, a bookplate, etc. Oh, how many enchanting stories a book could tell!

Report title pageOne book in particular recently captured my attention: A report of the proceedings at a public investigation before a Surveyor-General of Customs, into certain charges, preferred by the merchants of Sligo against Richard Holmes then collector of that port, 1821.
This book tells two different stories, somehow entwined together.

One story is about a gang of smugglers discovered at a public enquiry in 1820 arising from a quarrel between the merchants of Sligo and the collector of the port, Mr. Richard Holmes.
One of the merchants involved in the inquiry was a man called John Black, a successful smuggler. Mr. Black resided at Elsinore Lodge, where items were smuggled off ships entering Sligo Harbour. It is believed an underground tunnel still leads from Elsinore Lodge to Dead Man's Point, where the ships docked.

What did the inquiry find out? Was Mr. Holmes acquitted of all the charges? Did Mr. Middleton, a witness of Mr. Holmes', save the man? I'll leave it to you to discover the end of this story.

The other story
is told by a note handwritten by the owner of the book on theMiddleton note front endpaper reading "W[illlia]m Middleton, Elsinore, Rosses Point, Sligo".
Yes, Middleton, a descendant of the witness! Yes, Elsinore, the same Elsinore originally built and occupied by John Black, the smuggler. What a coincidence! This book was purchased by William Middleton, who made Elsinore Lodge his family home.

Elsinore was also the summer home of Jack and William Butler Yeats, who spent many a summer there with their uncle and cousins. "My name is Henry Middleton / I have a small demesne, / a small forgotten house that's set / on a storm-bitten green" wrote William Butler Yeats.
The house was also believed to be haunted by the ghosts of smugglers tapping on the windows at night.

Elsinore Lodge is now a dilapidated house, but the book has made its way to Dublin. It is safely guarded by the staff in the RDS Library, where it continues to tell stories about smugglers, pirates, the Yeats brothers, secret tunnels and ghosts.

 


Comments

Pietro says:

...No words....also I love to know the old property of my ancient book!! Every old book has an history over the book...I think

Posted on : 30-01-2010

Pernilla Pearce says:

Hello Nadia. Thanks for your blog. Sorry I'm confused as to whether you accessed the book about the 1830 enquiry between Sligo merchants and Mr Holmes or whether you work in the library. Either way you can probably answer my query. I'm the GGG granddaughter of the smuggler John Black who built Elsinore Lodge and would like very much to view and read the book you're referring to. Is it available to read inside the library but not borrow? Thanks

Posted on : 17-02-2010

Nadia says:

Hello Pernilla. What a surprise, a descendant of John Black! I both accessed the book (as a matter of fact, catalogued it) and work in the library. The book is available only for consultation in the library and it can not be borrowed.

Posted on : 17-02-2010

Jack Rigby says:

Hi guys, my name is jack and my mothers family is from rosses point, im doing quite a large project on elsinore lodge for my construction studies class. I have a full history of the property, john black was a smuggler and after his trial that you speak of his house (Elsinore) and his land were both confiscated. The Middletons bought the house in later years and were infact relative of the poet William Butler Yeats and his brother the painter Jack B Yeats. Yeats stayed in the house (which was his grandparents, the middletons holliday home) both he and his brother spent all their childhood summers there. In later years the house passed onto henry middleton Yeats' cousin who was a recluse. Yeats mensions his cousin and Elsinore in a poem also. The house was later bought my the Yeats country hotel and was inhabited by employees. This was in the 1950s and according to friends of my grandparents the employees soon refused to go into the the house after violent hauntings.

Posted on : 25-06-2010

Nadia says:

Hello Jack! Thanks a lot for all the information on Elsinore Lodge! If you don't mind, I'll pass it on to Pernilla Pearce who's researching her family history. So it is true, the house was haunted! :)

Posted on : 28-06-2010

Pernilla Pearce says:

Hello Jack. That's fascinating. I would like very much to read your project on Elsinore Lodge if that's ok with you? Do get in touch via Nadia as it would also be interesting to hear about first hand accounts of the lodge in the 1950s. I plan to go to Rosses Point next year to see what remains of the house, and to take in what looks like beautiful sea views. Good luck with the project.

Posted on : 30-06-2010

Nadia says:

Hello Pernilla. I gave Jack your email address. I'm sure he'll get in touch with you very soon. At this stage I have to visit Rosses Point too! I'm very much fascinated by your stories.

Posted on : 30-06-2010

Jack Rigby says:

Pernilla If your interested in some good photos of the remains of Elsiore simple type elsinore lodge into google and go to the second heading when the page has loaded. Its very plain from the outside, but what is left of the interior is very interesting. A few panneled doorways, high scirting boardy and some original plaster moulding have survived. Even the basement room can still be accessed thou the house has partially fallen in and filled it. it is the basement that was supposedly where the underground tunnel was which brings me on to my next story...

Posted on : 01-07-2010

Jack Rigby says:

pqrt 2: A friend of my grandparents, who now works in the Yeats museum in Sligo town, was caught in a rainstorm while going for a stroll on the beach in the 1950s with a friend of hers. The friend was an employee of the Hotel and was aquainted with some of the staff living in Elsinore, so, they took shelter in the house. While they were there she decided to explore the basement (which has to be accessed from the exterior of the house in the courtyard which is sandwitched between the house and the old stables to the rear). She descended the stairs into the pitch black basement and heard a shrill scream! Frightened out of her wittts she bolted out of the basement, ran from the house and refused to ever go back again. I myself dream about the house, there honestly ins't anything remotely spectacular about the building but it is haunting. Thats the only word I can use to describe it, I have some poems also that I have written about the place if your interested :)

Posted on : 01-07-2010

Nadia says:

Wow Jack! That is a story!! I so have to go to Rosses Point now! Thanks so much for sharing this story with us.

Posted on : 02-07-2010

Pernilla Pearce says:

Hello Jack yes I would like very much to read poems you have written about Elsinore. It's obviously inspired you a great deal. Hopefully you have my email from Nadia? By the way, what's the theory about who/what is haunting the house? John Black (I feel sorry for him he was clearly attached to his house too!), other previous owners, the rather odd loner that Henry Middleton seems to have been from the Yeat's poem about the place? Many of John Black's direct descendants were writers including his grandson Ladbroke Lionel Day Black who wrote murder mysteries that might be just up your street.

Posted on : 14-07-2010

Pernilla Pearce says:

Yes I agree thank you for sharing the story. It seems the house may have ghosts. Do you know more about who people think these ghosts are? The smugglers? Former resident Henry Middleton who seems to have been an odd recluse from Yeat's poem? And if I may add myself to your poem list I'd like very much to read some about the house.

Posted on : 19-07-2010

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