The Life & Death of James Haddock
When did he live?
In the early years of the 17th Century, on the outskirts of Belfast lived a man known as James Haddock. Little is known of his life but he is famous for his activities in the afterlife. He is a man it seems, who would not let a small obstacle like death thwart his plans!
The Death of James Haddock
James lived with his wife Arminell (nee Welsh), and young son John on a farm leased from Lord Donegall. It was situated at Malone to the south of Belfast.
In preparation for the future, when renewing the rental agreement with Donegall’s land agent, James arranged for his son’s name to be added to the lease as well as his own. This would ensure that the farm stayed in the Haddock family. James paid the first sum of money that was due but unfortunately he died in 1657 before he had paid the final instalment. The agreement to add his son to the lease was never finalised.
The Lease Dispute
Not long after her husband’s death Arminell remarried. Her new husband was Daniel (some sources say Jacob) Davis, an executor of James Haddock’s will. The couple had a son of their own. After five years or so, Davis endeavoured to insert his own son’s name into the farm lease, so disinheriting the Haddock boy. He paid the money left owing by the dead man and thought the matter was settled.
James Haddock Returns
One night a close friend of James Haddock and a servant of Lord Donegall was riding home from Hillsborough. His name was Francis Taverner, described as a “lusty and stout fellow”.
As he was approaching Drum Bridge near the village of Drumbeg, his horse was startled and refused to go any further. A strange figure in a white coat appeared and identified himself as James Haddock.
The ghost claimed he had a matter to discuss with his old friend. Friend or not, Francis did not wait and urged his horse forward and galloped home at break-neck speed.
Taverner, no doubt, put the whole affair down to tiredness or imagination. However, the following evening he was accosted again by the same apparition.
This time Haddock pleaded with Francis to go to his erstwhile wife and tell her not to allow her second son’s name to be put on the lease at the expense of his son.
Taverner was in a quandary, he felt he could not approach the Davis’s with such a story. He would be the laughing-stock of the parish! But Haddock’s ghost would not give up.
Day and night Francis was tormented by the restless spirit of his departed friend. He could neither eat nor sleep and was worried sick.
Although Taverner’s wife never saw the apparition, she witnessed her husband’s severe agitation whenever the ghost was nearby.
Eventually Taverner felt he had to confide in someone. He rode to Belfast to the house of a trusted companion, a shoemaker named Pierce. He told him the whole sorry story.
However, while he was there, Haddock appeared again and threatened to “tear him to pieces” if he did not do as the ghost required.
With his ‘heart in his mouth’ Taverner went to Lord Donegall’s house the next morning. In front of some of the Donegall family and in the presence of their chaplain, Mr. James South, he related his strange experiences. The clergyman advised Francis to tell his former wife, Mrs. Davis, of Haddock’s appearance and offered to accompany him.
Haddock’s Story is Told
On route to Malone the pair stopped at the house of Dr Lewis Downes, the Vicar of Belfast.
The tale was retold. Initially the minister, not unnaturally, was dubious. However, on listening to Francis’s story and earnest expression, he became convinced that the man told the truth. He too joined the party to Malone.
At the Davis house however, Arminell and her second husband refused to countenance the request. The story of her dead husband’s ghost did not impress them in the slightest.
When Francis next saw the apparition, he reported on his failed mission hopeful, I am sure, that he would now be left in peace. However, Haddock was determined to ensure his son’s legacy and told Taverner he must deliver the same message to the executors of the lease.
Reaction to the Haddock Story
The tale of Haddock’s ghost was fast becoming the subject of gossip and ridicule, much as Taverner had feared. In fact, within a few days Francis received a note from the secretary of the Bishop of Down & Connor, Jeremy Taylor. He was summoned to the ecclesiastical court at Dromore.
Bishop Taylor was a renowned scholar and preacher. He had degrees from both Oxford and Cambridge and was famous the length and breadth of Ireland.
The Bishop and his chaplain Dr Rust, questioned Taverner at length about the supposed spirit. Finally, the Bishop reached a decision. He said that he “was convinced by the account given him both by Taverner and others that the apparition was true and real”.
That very night the ghost appeared again and Taverner told him of the Bishop’s verdict. Haddock promised not to visit Taverner again. Then in a flash of white light and “a most melodious harmony” the vision vanished.
However, the tale was not yet over. The case in the Bishop’s Court was unresolved. The frustrated ghost of James Haddock appeared again to the hapless Taverner. This time the spirit insisted that Francis take the case to the civil court at the next Assizes in Carrickfergus.
Taverner remonstrated that as he had no witnesses the case would be thrown out. Haddock replied that he would be present in the court room.
The Carrickfergus Court Appearance
On the day of the hearing the court room in Carrickfergus was packed with spectators. Taverner stood up and gave his account of events.
We are told that counsel had a fine time poking fun at the story. Ridiculing Taverner to the jury and the crowd with smug asides. He taunted Francis to produce his witness.
At this Taverner instructed the crier to call for the witness. The usher stood and three times pronounced “Call James Haddock”. On the third calling a mighty thunderclap shook the courthouse. A spectral hand was seen on the witness table and a disembodied voice rang around the room “Is that enough?”!!
The whole assembly were terrified and in uproar! Counsel and the judge were confounded and trembling. The shaken jury immediately announced a verdict in Haddock’s favour!
The lease was redrawn with Haddock’s son’s name reinserted. The document was sent to England, where it was signed and sealed by Lord Donegall. James Haddock appeared one last time to his friend Francis and thanked him for his help.
In due course Haddock’s son inherited the farm at Malone.
It is said that the defeated Davis left the court in disgrace. On the journey home he fell off his horse and broke his neck. He died by the roadside.
James Haddock’s Ghost – A True Story?
This ghostly tale of a father’s determination has passed down through the centuries and has become part of Belfast folklore.
Francis Taverner himself stood to gain nothing from the outcome and even risked losing his good-name and reputation. Also, the fact that so many reputable clergy believed the story seems odd to us today but believe it they did!
“The appearance of Haddock’s ghost to Francis Taverner was at the time vouched for as true by two contemporary bishops who inquired into it on the spot, and was also accepted and circulated as true by two other eminent divines. The case is, indeed, a curious one”.Classon Porter – Witches, Warlocks and Ghosts, 1885
James Haddock was buried in the graveyard of St Patrick’s Church, Drumbeg, County Down. His wife Arminell died 33years after her first husband and was subsequently buried in the same grave with her name added to the headstone.
Today the headstone lies flat on the ground in remarkable condition given that it’s age. However the headstone has it’s own story. Many attempts were made over the years, even with modern equipment, to position the headstone in an upright position, but during the night the headstone always falls flat to the ground again. It appears that Haddock remains as obstinate as ever.
Even today, local visitors to the graveyard report occasional fleeting glimpses of a figure moving near Haddock’s grave with no-one in sight as they approach the headstone…
Carrickfergus Castle is named for Fergus Mór, King of Dalriada (Dál Riata). His kingdom covered areas of north-east Ulster & western Scotland
The last witch trial in Ireland took place in March 1711 at the Old Courthouse in Carrickfergus.
St Nicholas Church has a fascinating history dating back to 1182AD with great architecture & design, beautiful windows and historic artefacts
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