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Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)

"The Old Carlow Gaol"

Howlers at Halloween

Source:  Friday, October 27, 2000 : Carlow Nationalist & "Carloman"

Howlers at Halloween

Does Lucy Slye’s ghost still look down on the old gaol?

On that moment when her frightened body fell, when the rope tightened around her frail neck, what did Lucy Slye see? Or did she see at all?

Crowds baying for blood, innocent or not, roaring, cheering her drop to death. She must have been a frightened soul, looking down from the gallows with her misty teary eyes. More likely, poverty was Lucy’s only crime.   In the old gaol in Carlow, now Carlow Shopping Centre, the ghost of an unseen woman roams, caught between the world of reality and the other side. For this ghost, it is a lonely life.  Dominic Peel, owner of Cafe Le Monde, is one who has felt this ghost’s presence, and he is convinced that it is Lucy Slye’s spirit who haunts Carlow Gaol.

He has researched the details of this historic place, and he believes the “mysterious lady”, who frequents his premises, is the victim of a hanging, a person who garnered her last breath from the foul air in the hanging cell.  “It was not uncommon in those days (the late 1700s to early 1800s) that a person was hung for stealing food,” said Dominic, noting that it is a little ironic that she now haunts the shopping centre where his restaurant is situated.  Yet, Dominic has not felt any animosity from the ghost, who he described as “very playful”, although neither him or his staff will stay alone on the premises when darkness descends.

The first time Lucy came to the notice of the staff of Cafe Le Monde was when some papers disappeared. Nothing unusual about that. Only that they reappeared on a table two weeks later.  Still a little doubtful? As they do every evening, the staff brushed and mopped the floor, leaving the chairs up on the tables.  Next morning, the staff arrived in bright eyed and bushy tailed, only to find that all the chairs were on the floor, and rearranged.  There were other instances, as witnesses saw lights flashing upstairs from the ground floor. Indeed, Dominic told the story of getting “an eerie feeling”, as if being watched, while alone in his office one night. He left quickly.  Perhaps one of the most amazing stories recorded was when an order arrived late one evening and the chef decided to unpack and sort it out in the morning.  

However, when the staff came in next day, they found that the goods had been put away in the kitchen. The chef thanked another member for doing the work, yet all the staff denied undertaking the task.  Such deeds on the part of the ghost has left the staff unafraid, and indeed her presence in the shopping centre is often seen as a bit of a joke.  “Now,” said Dominic, “whenever anything goes missing, they say go and check with Lucy.” But they will still not stay after dark.  Dominic explained that the story goes that, before her death, Lucy put a curse on all successive governors of the old gaol that they would die young. Dominic added: “Thank God! I’ve seemed to have weathered the storm.”

If the ghost of Lucy Slye is trapped between the four walls of Carlow Shopping Centre for eternity, who knows? Certainly, from the historical evidence, the gaol has had a chequered history.  In an article entitled Carlow Gaol, writer Peter Thomas recounted the story of an English woman’s visit in the 1840s to Carlow, where she happened upon a hanging.  She described the hanging as “a scene of wickedness and debauchery” and noted that many of the drunken spectators were being sold alcohol by “women of doubtful morals”. What would Galway District Court Judge Garavan say about that?

Anyway, there are many horrific accounts of these hangings throughout history, with one priest protesting to the “noisy and boisterous” crowd to desist so the person being hanged could make their peace with God. Was Lucy Slye, believed to be the last woman hanged in Carlow Gaol, afforded this opportunity? Did she make her peace with God?

Maybe this is why this frightened, lonely soul haunts the old gaol, trying, seeking, yearning to find another route to the other side.


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© 2001 County Carlow Genealogy IGP