A ghostly tale of the lonely lights of Cloyninnie
The shops in this country town are stuffed to the gills with ghoulish goods this Halloween. But some ghost stories are not so much spooky as supernaturally sad. Such is the case with this piece of local folklore that was foreshadowed when a neighbour mentioned it following a tragic local drowning, with an elderly local later filling me in on the details.
It concerns a beautiful young girl called Jenny Butterfield, whose earthly remains from over a century ago lie beneath one of the ancient "trees of Cloyninnie".
Jenny was an only child whose mother had died giving birth to her. Despite this, she led a happy life, at one with the flowers and small animals of her home and the surrounding fields. Until the stereotypical evil stepmother entered her life, turning it into one of brutal mistreatment.
According to legend - a local, Kate, who was 80 years old back then, having been born in Famine times - recalled how the stepmother's final explosion of rage erupted when she returned home early one day and found Jenny dancing around her room instead of drudging downstairs as ordered. A thrashing of savage intensity ensued. That night, Jenny climbed out of her bedroom window and disappeared.
Searches were mounted. Jenny's father walked the country, half-mad with grief. But it was all in vain. Until a girl skating on an ice-covered pond that Christmas Day started screaming: "Jenny Butterfield! I saw Jenny Butterfield looking up at me!" Sure enough, the ice was smashed and Jenny's perfectly preserved body was lifted out. "She looked as if she was in a peaceful sleep," said old Kate, who was at the pond that day.
Those were ignorant times, for though there was no evidence that Jenny had taken her life, the parish priest denied her a plot in consecrated ground. But the farmer who owned the land where Jenny had collected flowers, blackberries and mushrooms agreed immediately to her grief-stricken father's plea that Jenny be buried in that wild and beautiful place. And there on the sunny side of Cloyninnie the little girl was laid to rest.
But sometimes late on summer nights, or during the cold frosts and fogs of winter, the elderly local remembers sitting at an upstairs window with his sister and seeing "strange lights playing and shimmering around the pond where Jenny had drowned - like little glow-worms or fireflies. Then the glims used to all gather and melt into a light about the size of a football. This strange apparition would drift away over the stooks of corn and the tram-cocks of sweet-smelling hay, towards the little grave under the chestnut tree."
Many locals testified to seeing these phenomena, which became known as "the lights of Cloyninnie". But nobody was ever afraid of them - "because we knew it was only little Jenny's soul, going back to that almost forgotten grave under the kind, sheltering trees in Cloyninnie".