Whilst Dublin and Ireland are known across the globe for stunning scenery, friendly people, live music, and having “the craic”, there is a dark underbelly to numerous locations across the city and the country. We're going to focus on Dublin City Centre for some very spooky and creepy stories!
St Stephen's Green
It may be a beautiful spot in the heart of the city, adored by visitors and locals alike, however, this area has quite a dark and unexpected history. Not too far in the past this spot was well known for public executions in the 18th Century. Think Game of Thrones. Shamed by the public, floggings, hangings and burning to death were common sites on what is now this idyllic spot. Historians believe that there were approximately 244 people hanged here between 1780 and 1795. We have accounts from one such execution in 1773. A Mrs. Herring had been convicted of murdering her husband and was subsequently burned alive on the Green. She was placed on a stool something more than two feet high, and, a chain being placed under her arms, the rope round her neck was made fast to two spikes, which, being driven through a post against which she stood, when her devotions were ended, the stool was taken from under her, and she was soon strangled. When she had hung about fifteen minutes, the rope was burnt, and she sunk till the chain supported her, forcing her hands up to a level with her face, and the flame being furious, she was soon consumed.  Sylvanus Urban, The gentleman’s magazine, and historical chronicle, Volume 43 (London, 1773), 461
On the doorstep of Pearse St and Grand Canal is Misery Hill. Growing up just around the corner, it is a place I heard of many times in many different stories, all of them dark and gruesome. Much like Stephen's Green, one would not expect this polished and refined area to have a bleak and dark past. Back in the 18th Century, taking a walk through Misery Hill it would be a common site to see a leper who could not find refuge in the leper hospital by Townsend St, or the hanging corpses of criminals in this area. A warning for all sailors to see the fate that would await any trouble makers. Mac Tomáis states
“they were left hanging in chains for a period of six months to a year.”
Quite the vicarial image to support an apt name of Misery Hill. One such instance of corpses left to hang as a warning is the gruesome and fascinating case of two pirates: Gidley and McKinley whose bodies were left to hang in 1766. These pirates had murdered 8 innocent people including children, fueled by their lust for great riches. Having landed in Ireland and making their way to Dublin, they were quickly arrested, executed, and left to hang by Misery Hill as a deterrent to others. In 1765 off the coast of Tramore a half sunken ship appeared. Upon inspection no crew or souls were found on board. Close by a piece of embroidery belonging to Kathleen Glass would be found, indicating this was made on her 10th Birthday. Kathleen’s father was an explorer and privateer, who had been imprisoned in the Canaries. In an attempt to save him, Kathleen and her mother traveled to the Canaries, where meeting Captain Cochrane of the Earl of Sandwich, they secured passage to England for George and themselves. George escaped from prison and the family boarded the Earl of Sandwich destined for home, never imagining the events that were to unfold. Aboard the ship 4 members of the crew realised the vast wealth carried by the Glass family. Fueled by their lust for wealth they would plot to take what they desired. These were Peter McKinley, George Gidley, Richard St. Quintin and Andres Zickerman A plan was set out to kill everyone on board, make it look like the ship had sunk, and take the coins. On the 30th November, the two main conspirators, McKinley and George Gidley would attack and kill the captain as he did his rounds, throwing his dead body overboard. The same fate would befall the rest of the crew George, presumably, awoken by the noise and commotion, realising a mutiny was occurring, would find his sword to fight. What lay hidden in the darkness were the pirates, ready to pounce. They attacked George, killed him, and disposed of his body in the sea. The pirates’ attention then turns to Mrs. Glass and Kathleen. They would not meet the end of a sword or blade, but would be thrown overboard to freeze in the Irish Sea. Having committed these horrific and coldblooded murders, the plan was to sink The Earl of Sandwich and leave no trace of these evil deeds. The pirates made their way to shore on a long boat, having to throw coins overboard to stop the boat from sinking. Upon reaching shore, they would further bury most of the 250 bags of Spanish Dollars. The only thing left to do was line their pockets with as much wealth as they could carry.
Wealth in hand they headed for New Ross however they made numerous mistakes on the way by splashing the cash and drawing attention to themselves according to Waterford Treasures
“They bought round after round of ale, paid for with crisply minted silver dollars, they gave Mrs. Glass’s jewelry to a lady who kept a nearby inn, they gave jewels and 36 silver dollars to the maid in the same inn, they had a purse of 1200 silver coins stolen and barely noticed, and when they went to the local money-changer to exchange their coins to Irish currency, they forced him to draw every last piece of gold in town to do so.”
When the half sunken ship was found, indicating the wealth that may have been on board, along with the embroidery belonging to Kathleen, suspicions were soon raised of foul play.
McKinlay and the pirates, having left a trail of evidence and suspicious behaviour, were tracked down quickly, arrested and charged.
In March 1776 they were hung in St. Stephen’s Green and later their bodies left to hang by Misery Hill!
St Michan’s Crypts and the stolen head
In what may seem like a plot from a Hangover movie the vaults of St. Michan’s church were desecrated and the head of an 800 year old Crusader stolen. This incident took place in 2019. St Michan’s was originally founded in 1095 and is the oldest parish church on the northside of Dublin. Below the church are burial vaults containing the mummified remains of many of Dublin’s most influential 17th, 18th and 19th century families. It is from here that the theft took place. Accounts from a tour guide at the church reveal the extent of the damage. A lock on the Hamilton family vault was damaged and one coffin, at the bottom of a stack of three others, was broken with parts of the coffin on the ground. The 300 year old mummy of “the nun” some of the bones were broken and the head was set at an almost 180 degree angle to the body.
Another mummy had been turned to one side in its coffin and the crusader’s body was decapitated and smashed up. Another skull which had been placed on a coffin was also missing.
Fortunately the heads were returned by the culprit who admits that he “does not find this funny”. He left the heads in a bag with a note saying “Sorry RIP”.
The culprit, a 36 year old man claimed he was “out of his head” on Alcohol and Xanax. He claims that he woke up in the vaults, thinking that he was dreaming. He later awoke again in the city centre with two skulls in a bag.
In the end, this 36 year old was sentenced to 28 months in prison.
If you want to hear more creepy and gruesome stories of Dublin remember to check out our Dark Dublin Tour!