The grounds of St Mary’s Abbey, Glencairn, located in the Blackwater Valley about three miles upstream from Lismore, County Waterford, have a very interesting and exciting past, dating way back to 1619 when Sir Robert Boyle had Ballygarron Castle built on the land.
The castle (which had been pillaged) and surrounding lands were obtained by Richard Gumbleton (II) of Curraglass in 1695 who rebuilt the castle, adding a house – part of which is still, to this present day, in use as the Abbey’s guest house.
In 1776, the fifth generation Richard Gumbleton, who lived at Ballygarron, married Frances Anne Hamilton, and this is the point at which the story of the ghost of Glencairn begins.
The newlywed couple inherited Ballygarron (which was renamed Castlerichard) in the same year that they got married. The pair were deeply attached to the house and worked hard to improve and expand the buildings, building terraces and underground passages in the lands surrounding the homeplace.
It is believed that Frances contracted TB and was advised to move to a warmer country to improve her symptoms, which she did. It seems that France was her chosen destination, but after a short time she longed to return home to Glencairn, however was not well enough to travel. Her dying wish was that her heart be buried in her beautiful home at Castlerichard in the Blackwater Valley.
True to her wishes, when she died her heart was embalmed and sent back to her Irish home in an urn. This was placed on a shelf in a small room, called the Deed Office where it remained for 80 years undisturbed, until a number of strange events took place in the late 1800s.
By then, the house at Castlerichard in Glencairn was owned by Colonel Gervase Parker Bushe, Frances’ grandson. Around 1871, the domestic staff at Castlerichard complained of hearing footsteps in passages and on the stairs and said they had seen a weeping woman with a gaping hole where her heart should have been.
Colonel Bushe dismissed their reports, but many of the staff refused to sleep in the quarters and it is believed that many staff even left the place of work as they were too frightened.
On one occasion, a guest who was staying with Colonel Bushe, Mr Hewitt, had claimed to have seen a vision of a lady dressed in white and recognised her as Frances Anne Gumbleton from a portrait he had seen in the house.
Bushe then came to the conclusion that the hauntings must have been caused that the restless spirit of his grandmother and decided that her heart should be buried, as she had requested.
He called his agent, Mr John Seigne, who travelled from Kilkenny for a burial ceremony. In the late evening time, the urn which contained her heart was taken from the shelf in the Deed Office and Mr Seigne led a torchlight procession to the walled garden, where he and Colonel Bushe buried Mrs Gumbleton’s heart in a grave understood to be located at a corner of the 13 foot wall.
The mysterious noises and apparitions were never heard or seen since and the grave has never been identified.
Thanks to Alex Heskin and to the nuns at Glencairn Abbey for their assistance in bringing this story to light. More information can be found in ‘Glimpses of Glencairn’ (Sr. V.G.Kelly, ocso) which is available at the Abbey.