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!
One 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 the 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.
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