Saturday 25 May 2019

Mystery skull found in 'haunted' mansion

Ralph Riegel

A HOUSE formerly owned by the Duke of Devonshire's estate is now the focus of a bizarre mystery as gardai attempt to confirm the identity of a human skull unearthed during renovation works.

The skull -- believed to be that of a young male -- was discovered underneath first-floor floorboards in a supposedly haunted house in Ballynoe in North Cork.

However, no other body parts were discovered -- just a pair of old-style hand-stitched leather shoes.

The grim discovery came just days before Christmas as the owner did preliminary renovation works on the Queen Anne-style house which was already known in the area for having a "spooky" reputation.

The new owner was doing ceiling work when, as he removed plaster and floorboard, the skull fell from a concealed ceiling storage space. The shocked man immediately alerted Fermoy gardai.

Detectives cordoned off the area and requested the expertise of Assistant State Pathologist, Dr Margaret Bolster.

Dr Bolster conducted an examination of the skull at the scene -- and it has since been removed for detailed laboratory tests to determine its precise age.

A garda search has been under way for more than a week in both the house and adjacent fields for further body parts -- but, to date, none have been found.

The State Pathologist's office will now liaise with University College Cork (UCC) archaeologists over tests on the skull.

Gardai hope that forensic tests and DNA analysis can indicate a cause of death for the individual involved -- as well as a timeframe for when he lived.

It is also hoped that tests can indicate whether the individual lived in Ireland.

Gardai have no indication that the individual involved died due to foul play -- but want to determine why the skull was hidden in a secret compartment.

Amongst the theories being considered are that it might have been used for medical studies -- or may even have been used for occult rites.

Gardai have now consulted local historians and genealogists in a bid to determine who lived in the house over the past century -- and whether anyone inexplicably "disappeared" in the vicinity since 1900.

To date, inquiries have focussed on a British doctor who lived for a period in the house roughly between 1910 and the early Twenties.

The man is thought to have returned to Britain and is not understood to have retained any contacts in the area

Ballynoe locals remained tight-lipped about the house's reputation -- but one local farmer confirmed that stories about bad luck, ill health and strange occurrences have circulated about that area for generations.

"Anyone working there cleared off once their work was done -- some people reckoned that there was something strange about the house and the fields. But I never heard any specific story about why that was," he said.

The house -- which was built in the late 18th century -- was once part of the Duke of Devonshire's Lismore estate but was sold off almost 100 years ago as his holdings were reduced.

The Ballynoe house was built by the Duke -- whose Cavendish family have had very close links to the Windsor Royal family for more than a century -- as a formal residence for one of his land agents. But the premises has been in private hands for more than a century. The house has changed hands three times in the past few years.

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