I AM DAMNED!
I have deliberately ignored, indeed refused these many years to write down this story my father told me as a teenager. How it made me shudder, leaving an indelible impression on me to the present day. He had heard it from his own father, and as to where he got it from, I cannot say.
The details surrounding the story are sketchy. All I can say is that the incident happened in Ireland somewhere on the Inishown Peninsula, that beautiful wind swept headland in the far North West, flanked on the east by the majestic Lough Foyle, and to the west Lough Swilly, surely the loveliest lough in all of Ireland. The peninsula itself is sparsely populated, dotted here and there with picturesque townships and villages, and bleak moors such as Barnsmore Gap, home only to the black face sheep and the falcon. A forbidden place as any for a hound's lair of Baskerville proportions. Along the northern part of the peninsula towering sea cliffs rise to six hundred metres, pounded constantly by the fury of the North Atlantic. Yes wild and beautiful is Inishown, much like its people, hardy, austere, and...superstitious. I mention superstitious, because it might in some way shed light on the story I'm about to recount.
I do not know the year, or circa this story belongs, nor the town, nor village. And for the reader's sake or, accusations against myself for being deliberately evasive, I shall mention the parish where the incident took place as being Roman Catholic, though this is not necessarily correct. There is a strong Church Of Ireland presence on the peninsula. The truth of the matter is: I simply don't know! It may be argued that such details should forever remain unknown to deter any investigative reporters, and that, as far as I'm concern is the way it should remain.
The story begins in late winter. A certain man of wealth and influence had died creating a dilemma as to where he should be buried. Not on consecrated ground was the resounding voice of the parishioners, even though he had been baptised since birth. But here was no ordinary man; here was a man feared and avoided by all. A wicked despicable man, a man whose cruel delight was to evict families from his lands if they fell behind in their rents, and then have the dwelling burned to the ground. But his wickedness did not stop with his fellow man-- animals and beasts of burden also suffered under him. Once he brought an emaciated horse to the village square, and there, shackled, beat the unfortunate animal to death in front of all. As to why? The reason was never given.
There had been attempts on his life, no doubt. In one case, a man deranged with grief having lost his wife and children to the elements after being evicted, entered the grounds of the rich man's mansion one night with knife in hand. Alas he was torn to pieces by the hounds, his body found in the fork of a tree where he sought refuge.
But now the wicked one was dead, and all were of one voice that he should not be buried in the cemetery adjacent to the chapel, nor that his remains be brought into the chapel to be prayed and blessed over. The priest understanding the feelings of his flock remained steadfast stating that no man had a right to judge another, and informed the undertaker that the coffin of the deceased be brought to the chapel, where it would remain overnight.
And so it was, placed at the foot of the alter within the confines of the wooden communion railing.
Early next morning the Sexton arrived to unlock the chapel. But try as he might was unable to push open the unlocked door. Something heavy seemed to be obstructing it. Entering the chapel by the sacristy, he made his way towards the front, puzzled as to what could be behind the door. Imagine his horror to find the coffin, left over night slammed up against it!
The priest was called immediately, and before long the coffin was back where it belonged--inside the communion rail. Both were troubled by what they had witnessed, and knew the implications if word of the incident should ever get out. The sexton gave a solemn oath to the priest that they wouldn't breathe a word of it to no man.
The requiem mass for the deceased was to be held that same morning at ten o'clock. The pews were packed; the little chapel, which held at best two hundred worshippers overflowed at the entrance.
Before commencing the service, the priest approached the coffin to sprinkle holy water inside and around it--a customary action. No sooner had he done so, when the coffin began to stir on its trestles. And then, before the startled priest and the horrified parishioners, the deceased rose from within to a sitting position and shouted out: "I am damned!" After having mouthed this explanation, it retained its sleeping position once again.
Pandemonium broke out. Men and women fled the pews in terror, others running from the chapel.
Eventually the priest approached the coffin to resume his sprinkling of the holy water, and once again as before, a stirring was heard coming from within. The deceased rose to a sitting position, and cried out: "I am damned!"
Whatever brave souls where left in the chapel, these now fled, leaving only the priest and the undertaker, the latter being called upon to close the coffin at once. After it was screwed down it was removed from the chapel.
Outside a large crowd had congregated, falling back in fright at the sight of the undertaker and priest carrying the cursed coffin to the cemetery, where it was meet at the entrance gates by an even bigger crowd, armed with sticks and hay forks. Here there was a stand off, for the town folk were adamant that no such one damned to hell by his own words would be buried in their cemetery.
Where he was buried is not recorded. But they say if you pass that unmarked place on a still moon lite night, and press your ear to the ground, you may hear an anguish cry coming from deep down below: "I am damned!"
End michael downes 2012