Old Belfast Ghost Stories

Strange happenings in the streets of Belfast...

Just like the rest of Ireland, Belfast has a large number of ghost stories, often passed down for generations. 

Some years ago, the Glenravel Local History Project decided that some of these ghost stories needed to be examined and recorded, and a massive research programme began. We do not know if the ’ghosts’ in the following stories exist, but we can guarantee that the accompanying incidents actually happened... 

Strange Haunting in John Street 

John Street, demolished during the construction of Royal Avenue in the 1880s, connected Donegall Street to North Street. One of the old street’s country-type houses was said to have been haunted by the ghost of an elderly woman. It was claimed the ghost threw items of pottery and furniture around the back downstairs room, and on one occasion wrecked everything in the yard. One of the residents later claimed to have seen what appeared to have been an old woman walking up and down the back room, talking to herself. 

In May 1882 workmen laying new pipes and sewers discovered the bones of an old woman, which had lay buried for a number of years. The bones were removed and buried in the Union Graveyard and the hauntings were never heard of again. 

’Scottie Shoe’ at Grand Central Hotel

The Grand Central Hotel stood on the site now occupied by the Castle Court shopping centre at Royal Avenue. It was reputedly haunted by one of its original gas fitters, nicknamed ’Scottie Shoe’.  

During the first world war, the hotel was requisitioned by the British army. On the night of May 26, 1914, it was the turn of William Jenkins, the garrison’s commanding officer, to patrol the building. A short time later the men were alarmed by the sounds of Jenkins screaming in the upper floors, and discovered him lying at the foot of the stairs, nervous and was shaking.

Back at his quarters, Jenkins told them he had been confronted by the figure of a man moving towards him. Seconds later he knew that what he was seeing was not real as the lower part of the figure’s legs seemed to be through the floor.  

The Haunting Of Lucifer’s Match Factory

The Lucifer Match Factory in Millfield Place was the site of a notorious haunting. On Friday December 15, 1882, a spark landed among the drying racks and almost immediately engulfed the whole room in flames. The fire trapped and killed four children, including the daughter of the factory manager, employed to box the matches. 

When the factory was rebuilt and work commenced once again (with the word ’Lucifer’ dropped from the factory name), nearby residents were awakened by screams, which appeared to be coming from the factory. The screaming sounds were reported for a few years afterwards until the factory was demolished in the early part of the present century. It seems that when the factory disappeared, the screaming sounds disappeared with it.

A Sandy Row Ghost Story

The thoroughfare of Sandy Row is almost as old as the town of Belfast itself. In 1879 a coal porter named James Aitchison and his family moved into number 60 Sandy Row, and soon felt uneasy in their new home. The eight year old daughter slept in a back upstairs room and occasionally she wake up in the middle of the night screaming. When her parents rushed in, she claimed to have seen a strange man in her bedroom. 

When the Aitchison family moved elsewhere, the house was occupied by a labourer named Lowry. Carrying out repairs in his back yard, he noticed an elderly man standing at the bottom of his ladders. He called to the man and received no reply, but when he began to come down the elderly man disappeared before Lowry’s eyes. 

The house lay derelict for a number of years until, at the turn of the century, the Ashwood family converted it into a hairdressers. Workmen reported seeing the figure of a man in the backyard, but when they went out to investigate no one was there.

A 77 year old man named Corbett had lived in the house for much of the last century. Corbett was said to be ’doting’ and, due to his unusual behaviour, became very well known throughout Sandy Row. 

On Friday, February 11, 1876, his housekeeper’s son returned from work and as he was sitting down for a meal he inquired where his seat was. His mother informed him that Corbett had took it out into the back yard earlier to do something and that it must have still been out there. The man went out to search for the chair and saw it lying at the backyard wall. When he went to get it, however, he saw Corbett hanged inside an enclave on a crook in the wall. 

The Railway Ghost of Ballymacarrett

One November evening at the turn of the twentieth century, a signalman coming off duty on the Co Down Railway walked through dense fog on the railway track above the winding streets and entries of Ballymacarrett, east Belfast. The 7.30pm Bangor train had just passed along the line when he heard someone not far behind him, and eventually he could make out the figure of a woman approaching through the fog.

The signalman and young woman made their way back to the station together, where he bade the woman goodnight and signed off work, before making his way to the Aero Bar at Bridge End. 

Once in the pub, he recounted the story to other railway workers. One was startled to hear him say the woman had given her name as Hanvey, and told the company about an incident that took place in the area in 1896 when a local man stumbled upon the mutilated remains of a woman lying scattered over the rails of the junction. The body was later identified as that of Catherine Hanvey, a single woman of around 30 years of age who had worked as a domestic servant in a house on the Lisburn Road. 

The inquest verdict recorded, ‘That the said Catherine Hanvey, on the 21st February 1896, on the Holywood and Bangor branch of the Belfast and County Down Railway, opposite Central Street, Ballymacarrett, in the City of Belfast, came to her death from injuries received, caused by an engine and train passing over her.’

© The Glenravel Local History Project