The Irish Barrister and the Ghost, 1817

Edmund Lenthal Swifte, via Wikipedia.
Interior of the Jewel House, Tower of London, 19th century, via Canvas Prints.

There are few reports of members of the Irish bar witnessing a ghost, but the story of Edmund Lenthal Swifte, called to the Irish Bar in the early years of the 19th century, is the exception that proves the rule.

Mr Swifte, whose obituary in the Irish Law Times of 1876 records him as 99 years old at the date of his demise, four times married, and with twenty-eight children, the eldest of whom was 74 at the date of his death, had by 1817 forsaken the Law Library in the Four Courts for the post of Keeper of the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London, where he and his family lived in the Jewel House.  It was there that, on a Saturday in October of that year, in the middle of a family dinner, he first encountered the mysterious and unexplained.

In Mr Swifte’s own words, reproduced in the Cardiff Times of 25 December 1869:

“I sat at the foot of the table, my son on my right, my mother fronting the chimneypiece, and her sister on the opposite side. I had offered a glass of wine and water to my wife when, putting it to her lips, she paused and exclaimed ‘Good God, what is that?’ I looked up and saw a cylindrical figure like a glass tube, seemingly about the thickness of my arm, and hovering between the ceiling and the table.  Its contents appeared to be a dense fluid and pale azure, like to the gathering of a summer cloud incessantly rolling and mingling within the cylinder.  This lasted about two minutes, when it began slowly to move before my sister-in-law, then following the oblong shape of the table before m son and myself; passing behind my wife, it paused for a moment over her right shoulder (observe, there was no mirror opposite to her in which she could then behold it).  Instantly she crouched down, and with both hands covering her shoulder, she shrieked out ‘Oh Christ, it has seized me.’  Even now, while writing, I feel the fresh horror of that moment.  I caught up my chair, struck at the wainscot behind her, rushed upstairs to the other children’s room and told the terrified nurse what I had seen… Neither my sister-in law nor my son beheld this appearance… Following hard at held the visitation of my household, one of the night sentries at the jewel office was, he said, alarmed by a figure like a huge bear issuing from under the door.  He thrust at it with his bayonet, dropped in a fit and was carried senseless to the guard room.  I saw the poor man in the guard house prostrated with terror, and that in two or three days the fatal result, be it of fact or fancy, was that he died…”  

A ghost, a UFO, a folie à deux or something else entirely?  One way or the other, Mr Swifte remains a rarity – an Irish barrister willing to share his experience of the supernatural.  Any others?

Author: Ruth Cannon BL

Irish barrister sharing the history of the Four Courts, Dublin, Ireland, and other Irish courts.

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