I was sleeping in the volunteers’ room at Charleville Castle. There was no-one else in the building and I woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of the door opening and the pitter-patter of little feet.
I knew there had been an eight-year-old girl who’d died in the building back in the 1800s. I said: “Harriet, I’ve just gone to bed and I’m very tired and I have to get up early in the morning. Thanks for coming to visit me but I’ve got to get some sleep.” And with that, I heard the little feet pitter-patter away, the door close and the sound of her going down the hall. That was a very profound experience.
My interest in the paranormal started with experiences I had as a child. My twin brother and I used to experience night terrors. We’d hear noises in the family home and get a very heavy feeling that someone was watching us. I’d hear growls and on one occasion an alarm clock flew across my bedroom.
Most people who get involved in paranormal investigating do so because something happened to them and they want answers.
That’s definitely the case with most people involved in the Paranormal Research Association of Ireland, which I now run and have been with since 2006. We consider ourselves open-minded sceptics. We don’t use mediums or psychics – we don’t ridicule them either – but we come at investigations from a logical, rather than a spiritual, point of view.
One of the biggest misconceptions about the job is that we make money from our investigations – we don’t. I’m in negative equity with my equipment and the most I’ve got out of a private investigation is a nice biscuit and a cup of coffee. This is a hobby for me – my day job is in security at Dublin airport – I do it because I have an interest and because I want to help people.
There’s sometimes a level of confidentiality and discretion involved in doing an investigation because not everybody wants people to know what’s going on. We don’t drive up in big black jeeps, there’s no ‘ghostbuster mobile’ with logos all over it! I actually don’t like the term ‘ghostbuster’ because we’re not ‘busting’ ghosts, we’re not capturing them or sending them away – we’re trying to capture evidence and help people get through whatever traumatic experience they’re going through at that moment. First I talk to the person and ask what they’re experiencing and get them to write down everything that happens over the course of a week. I’ve been trained by the same people who trained the New York City Police Department in interview techniques, so I can usually tell when people are starting to embellish a little or when they’re genuinely worried.
The next thing I do is look for a natural cause. In one house in Tullamore, the family were experiencing night terrors, nausea, headaches and waking up seeing hags. But it turned out they had a metal girder running down the middle of the house and the house wasn’t grounded properly.
Electromagnetic fields can alter your brain chemistry, make you feel ill and see things that aren’t there. Electricity was running through that couple’s walls and causing an EMF bubble around their bedroom – once they got an electrician in to properly ground the house, everything stopped.
In another home, the people were hearing a rattling in their closets every night. But the hot and cold water pipes weren’t fastened to the walls and a couple of brackets from Woodies fixed that! In 99 cases out of 100 you need a plumber not a priest… but it’s that one per cent that keeps me going.
In an investigation we’ll use infra-red lights with cameras, a CCTV system that can monitor in complete darkness and equipment to monitor electro-magnetic fields. In one house, we recorded the clear sound of a baby crying when there was no baby there or in any house nearby.
There are plenty of haunted locations in Ireland – Charleville Castle, Loftus Hall, the Hellfire Club – but you can’t really say one is more haunted than the other because these things don’t happen every night. You could go months without capturing anything then one day see someone running behind you.
There are different types of visitation – ones where the entity will interact with you (like the alarm clock that flew across my bedroom) and others that play back like a tape recorder – they don’t interact and they can’t hurt you. Although any paranormal investigator will tell you: it’s the living you need to watch out for, not the dead. I’ve never been hurt by going into a location and looking for ghosts and I’ve been visited by a few now.
There’s not too many things that will hurt you, but it’s not unusual for a spirit to project their last moments and I’ve known people who have gone into a location that used to be a jail and felt like they were being strangled.
Often when people have a visitation, that spirit is just looking for validation that someone knows they’re there. One of the biggest things you can do to calm activity is just acknowledge the visitation and reclaim the house, saying: “This is my house, you don’t live here anymore and I’d like you to leave.”
It’s not like what you see on TV or cinema. A lot of the time I’m sitting in the dark and it’s really boring! At the moment, I’m going through nine hours of audio tape. I’ve been doing it when I can over the last week and I’ve still six hours to go.
Of course, you run into people who think it’s all nonsense. I had one gentleman come on an investigation because his girlfriend dragged him and he thought it was all hooey, but two hours later he was shaking and converted!
I don’t buy into the belief, that many cultures have, that the veil between the spirit world and the living is lifted at Halloween and that means more activity. The time of year, even the time of day, doesn’t matter. I’ve captured evidence when it isn’t even dark out.
People have been asking for years why there’s no conclusive proof of ghosts and the answer is: I don’t know. Some would say it’s because there is no such thing as ghosts but then how do you explain the paranormal? Everything that is outside the range of normal?
There’ll always be naysayers and that’s fine. But I can guarantee if you’d experienced what I’ve experienced, you’d change your mind.
In conversation with Chrissie Russell
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