In my folktale collection Leaving Birds, the longest story ‘Peig’s Place’ evolved by combining three unique ingredients: personal experience, research into true encounters with ghosts, and the perfect superstition from Irish folklore to give this modern story its chilling twist. Along the way, I met the ghost who haunts ‘Peig’s Place’.
‘Peig’s Place’ is set on the Dingle Peninsula on the wild west coast of Ireland. I’ve been there twice, walking the Dingle Way and returning by car several years later. We stayed at Gormans Clifftop House.
Smerwick Harbour is open to the Atlantic Ocean and experiences strong weather and serious gales.
On the bare northern headland we found an abandoned two-storey 19th century house, overlooking the bay. It had two rooms downstairs – living room and kitchen – and two bedrooms upstairs. The kitchen had a hearth with a hook for hanging cooking pots over the open fire. There was no electricity and no plumbing.
This house became the setting for ‘Peig’s Place’. I could visualise it as I sent my modern twenty-something character Faith on a holiday from Dublin to discover it wasn’t quite what the brochure promised.
True Encounters with Ghosts
I started reading ghosts stories and discovered a true story set in remote rural Ireland. A young writer from Dublin told how he rented an old cottage to help him recover from some stressful events. He planned to work on his novel. He was dismayed to discover just how rustic the place was – no electricity and no plumbing. He set about preparing the oil lamps for the evenings and found his way through the bracken to the old well to collect water.
On the very first night the strange noises started. Someone was calling out a woman’s name. When the new resident went to the window, he could see a light at the end of the lane but on further investigation found no-one there. As these nightly calls continued he became seriously spooked. Eventually, after many sleepless nights, he spoke to a neighbour and unearthed a past tragedy. Was he hearing the calls of the father who lost his daughter and was still looking for her?
This story gave me an idea for the bare bones of ‘Peig’s Place’. The things that Faith encounters are entirely different, as is the past tragedy which is much more shocking. But this true story created a shape for me to hang my new ghost story on.
The Perfect Ingredient from Irish Folklore
Irish folklore is a rich source of superstitions and beliefs in the supernatural that still exist today. I read dozens of folktales and highly recommend Irish Tales from the Otherworldby Bob Curran. In this book, I encountered visits to the otherworld, family members stolen by fairies, strange rituals to engage magic and solve problems.
I needed to create an event from the early days of the old house, something dark and chilling that involved the original resident, a spinster named Peig. She wasn’t a witch but her lonely state inspired her to dabble in magic. In my research, I found the perfect ritual based on a bizarre kind of folk sorcery. The deadly results left not only a haunting that Faith discovers over 100 years later but a mystery she’s compelled to solve.
Sneak Peek of ‘Peig’s Place’
It was when I was suddenly awake that I realised I’d been dead to the world. What had woken me? A noise? The darkness was complete, and as I lay there straining my ears I had the strongest sense that something was in the room with me. Surely I could hear breathing, or was it just my own ragged breath? Then a weight landed on my legs and I almost cried out.
The lamp and matches were on the floor beside the bed, but just as I decided I didn’t want to see what was sitting on me, the weight lifted and the presence disappeared.
I exhaled loudly. Just the remnants of a dream. But I lay awake for a long time, wondering.
You’ll find ‘Peig’s Place’ in the folktale collection Leaving Birds. The three stories are:
‘The Girl with Golden Hair’: retold from a Russian folktale about lust and murder, with a magical twist
‘Peig’s Place’: a creepy modern ghost story re-imagined from a true encounter with a ghost and an Irish folktale
‘Polly’s Folly’: the possibly true crime behind a traditional English murder ballad
Discover the chilling power of folklore with Leaving Birds.