Thursday 23 May 2019

Mallow mystery of the doll in the wall

Macabre doll found embedded in 200-year-old wall

Bill Browne

The public has been asked for help in trying to solve the mystery of a perfectly preserved doll, believed to be up to 200 years old, that was discovered by workers during demolition work at a shop in Mallow town centre more than two-decades ago.

Finbarr Murray, a Cork-based photographer originally from Mallow, said a friend of his was working in the Bridge Street building at the time. 

"As the builder was knocking one of the walls a few blocks fell out and there was this wooden doll just standing there looking at him," Finbarr told Patricia Messinger's C103 Cork Today programme. 

As the building's owner said he did not want anything to do with the doll, the workman offered it to Finbarr's friend who has kept it since.  

With no real access to the internet at the time, Finbarr and his friend went through the phone book in an attempt to find somebody who might be able to tell them more about the mysterious figure, where it came from and how it might have ended up in the wall. 

"One lady did photograph and measure it, but we never heard from her again. The funny thing is that most people did not want to touch it or be near it. For some reason it seemed to scare people as if it had some sort of sinister vibe," said Finbarr. 

He did admit that the hand-carved wooden doll, which is about one foot tall and has wire wrapped around its neck, was "a bit freaky looking."

"The building was roughly 200-years-old and when it was built somebody obviously went to the trouble of putting that doll in the wall. What we can't figure out is who put it there or why," said Finbarr. 

"At first we though it may have an Egyptian theme. But, we did find out that they have similar types of dolls in Kenya. The mystery for us is that if someone copied that, where did they get the design from 200-years ago?"

With no further leads uncovered Finbarr's friend stored the doll away and it lay almost forgotten for more than 20 years. 

"From time to time she would show it to people, but most of them did not want to touch it or have it in their home. One lady said that when she looked the doll in the eyes she felt like it was trying to speak to her in a language she could not understand. Other people just flat out refused to even look at it," said Finbarr.

"We would mention it to people every now and again, but really never gave too much more thought about until recently. I took a photograph of it and put it up on my website and social media and the reaction has been incredible."

He said one intriguing line of thought was that it could be linked to the word 'piseog', an old Irish custom often used to ward off evil spirits from a building or farm. 

"I looked the word up and my understanding is it came into common use about 200-years ago - around about the same time the building was originally built. There is also a theory that it may have come from an African missionary, which could be just as likely," said Finbarr.

One caller to the show asked if it could have been in any way linked to voodoo. "That's the thing, people either get no feeling at all from it or a strange sense of unease and that they want nothing to do with it. I would be interested to know what other people make of it," said Finbarr. 

"Ultimately, I would love to hear from someone who might be able say where the doll came from and why it was deliberately buried in the wall of the building," he added.

Anyone who may be able to she some light on the mystery can contact Finbarr at