Boom Hall’s Ghostly Heritage

Nestled in a secluded setting on the banks of the Foyle, Boom Hall is a world away from the hustle and bustle of the city that surrounds it.  The eerie stillness and groaning of the wind through ancient trees, coupled with more than a few spectral sightings, has resulted in a reputation for otherworldly goings on.  Whether you believe in the supernatural or not, it’s tough not to get spooked when you’re alone at Boom Hall.  Stories abound about unearthly happenings during its history.

The Ghost of Captain Browning

During the 1689 Siege of Derry the Boom across the Foyle presented a formidable obstacle, which defeated many onslaughts until three merchant ships, the Mountjoy, the Jerusalem and the Phoenix succeeded in breaking it. There was a delirious welcome for the ships when they landed at Shipquay to unload their cargo, but unfortunately not for Michael Browning, Captain of the Mountjoy, who died in the battle to relieve the city.

The land known as Gunsland, on which Boom Hall was built is reputed to be a ghostly visiting place of the aforesaid Captain. When a mist lies over the water there have been sightings of a tall figure, of an almost transparent form, dressed in a dark blue tailcoat with gold braid. 

Little is known of Captain Michael Browning although he was a native of the city. As Captain and owner of the 135 ton merchant ship 'Mountjoy', he traded between Derry and various cross-channel ports. He married local woman Jane Rankin in 1662 but they had no children. It seems likely that he was chosen for the Relief expedition because of his familiarity with Lough Foyle and the Port of Londonderry.

When the Boom was attacked, he was given the most dangerous position. As the Mountjoy struck the Boom he was on deck, sword drawn – but during the exchanges he was shot in the head by a musket-ball, fired from the shore, and died instantly.

It is said that his wife Jane watched from the shore, from the site of Charles Fort, believing that she would see her husband soon, but it was not to be. Although buried in St. Augustine’s Churchyard within the Derry Walls, could it be that it really is his ghost that is reputed to walk along the river on the land known as Gunsland in search of his wife, to fulfil a promise that he would return ?

The Ghosts of Alexanders Past

Because of the many changes of ownership it is difficult to pinpoint who the spectres that haunt Boom Hall may be, but a number of tales involve the Alexander family, who established the residence in the first instance in 1779. 

One story involved a girl who was a relative of the family. She had been sent to stay with the Alexanders in an effort to remove her from the unsuitable attention of a young groomsman employed in her own home in England. Love being what it is, the young man followed her and hid out in the stables where they had secret trysts.

When their romance was discovered, the girl was locked in an upstairs bedroom and the young man banished. The girl pined for her lost love and a few weeks later there was a fire in the bedroom.  The family frantically fought the flames, terrified that the young girl under their protection would die such a horrific death, but when the flames were eventually extinguished the body of the young girl was not to be found.

  

Stories started to circulate that her ghost was seen at the top of the house. A servant at the time said that the young lady appeared to her and whispered to her. After several failed attempts to understand the whispers she felt herself being taken gently by the hand to the stables where she found a brooch belonging to the girl. The servant immediately gave it to the mistress of the house and she took it as a sign that the girl had eloped with her young man.

 

Some years ago a group of people were visiting the ruined hall, and they were adamant that in the gloom of the late afternoon a shimmering form of a young woman appeared at the aperture where a top window once was.

More recently, around Hallowe’en 2015, a photo taken by local man emerged and appeared to show a ghostly apparition (pictured) lurking at the edge of that very same upstairs windows.

An even stranger story came to light when William Alexander’s anecdotal notes were discovered. William was the 3rd son of Sir Robert and Anne Alexander and according to these notes, he married Martha Waller in 1793 and had four children (3 sons and a daughter).  The youngest, Waller, was born in 1796, just a year after his brother Robert. The two boys had the freedom of the extensive grounds of Boom Hall and often played in the front area. When he was eight he visited his grandparents in Drogheda and his parents were delighted to hear that he was enjoying himself immensely.

 Some weeks into his visit, his paternal grandmother, Anne Alexander, who lived with her son’s family in Boom Hall, was descending the stairs and happened to look out of the window. Waller was playing and running around the front lawn. Anne rushed downstairs to see him, delightedly calling to Martha about how happy she was to have Waller back home. Martha looked at her strangely and answered that Waller was still in Drogheda. The old lady decided to say nothing more but had a very uneasy feeling about what she had seen. Two days later the terrible news arrived that Waller had suddenly been taken ill and died at the exact same time when old Mrs Alexander had seen him playing on the front lawn of Boom Hall.

 When researching her book “Haunted Derry” local author Madeline McCully interviewed Miss McDevitt, the last person to reside at Boom Hall - she was an English and Latin teacher at Thornhill College (then known as the Convent of Mercy Grammar, Thornhill).

When I returned to teach in the school in the 1970s, Miss McDevitt, although retired, was often called upon as a substitute teacher. In the mornings she caught the school bus, since it passed the gateway to Boom Hall. In the afternoons I usually gave her a lift home and was invited in to have a cup of tea. Because I had heard that Boom Hall was haunted I initially refused, but later, after some persuasion, I did accept out of politeness. My initial impression was that it had a very gloomy interior with several rooms off the square entrance hall. The wide staircase on the left leading to the first floor was partially in shadow and dust motes floated in the light rays from the landing window.

The dark wooden bannisters cast warped shadows on the flagstones covering the hall. Miss McDevitt lived mainly in what she called the morning room, which looked out over the river. The room must have been beautiful in its day with the high ceilings, the ornate cornices and chandelier, but at that time it looked weary for the want of necessary maintenance and a heavily carved sideboard dominated it. She admitted that she had neither the will nor the means for the upkeep that the house needed. I did not stay too long on the occasions when I accepted her invitation. Every time the hall echoed to the sound of our footsteps I almost prepared myself for the ghostly appearances for which the house was famed.

 When I questioned Miss McDevitt about its reputation as a haunted house, she replied: “Of course it is. They keep me company. There’s no need to fear the dead. It’s the living that will do you harm!”

 Skeletal remains, believed to be of soldiers and citizens who died during the 17th Century sieges, were found in land belonging to the wider Boom Hall Estate when the foundations of a new church, St Peter’s Church of Ireland, were being dug.   All of this history adds to the reputation of Boom Hall and its lands being one of the most haunted parts of Derry.

 

                           Plaque commemorating Capt. Michael Browning at St.Augustine’s Church

The 1891 Tragedy on the Foyle at Boom Hall

 the1891tragedyonthefoyleatboomhall.docx

A Beautiful Stranger

abeautifulstrangerstory.docx