Poet Enda Wyley on writing ghost stories in Marsh’s Library with second year students from St Patrick’s Cathedral Grammar School, Dublin 8, as part of Dublin’s Culture Connects’ The National Neighbourhood on Dublin’s southside.
On a cold day at the end of January this year, I meet with a group of Second Year students in the foyer of St Patrick’s C.G.S – a secondary school wonderfully situated, nestled as it is in one of the most historic parts of the city and opposite the cathedral. But it is also close to the oldest public library in Dublin – one perfectly preserved since the early eighteenth century, with over 25,000 rare and riveting books.
I have a bag of pens and papers on my back and an idea burning in my head. We will cross the road and spend the afternoon writing in Marsh’s Library. There, sprawled on the floor by the beautiful oak bookcases and beside the ancient cages – originally built to house books and to allow the citizens of Dublin to read but not steal them! – we will write…. ghost stories!
My task as a poet working on The National Neighbourhood is to connect young people with the cultural gems of our city and to inspire them to write – and the atmospheric setting of Marsh’s Library seems the perfect place to do this. For here is no ordinary library. It is a haunted one!
First off, we meet with Julie Burke, the Education and Outreach Officer with Marsh’s Library. She gives us all a spooky guide through the library explaining how the founder of the library, Archbishop Narcissus Marsh, is said to haunt it in search of a letter sent to him by his niece Grace. She had been living with her uncle but when she eloped to Castleknock, he was outraged. A letter she sent to him, begging for forgiveness, was lost and Narcissus is said to walk the library from that day to this, searching forever for the letter from his beloved Grace. A touching end to this story is that Narcissus and his niece can be found buried side by side in the graveyard close to the library.
The afternoon light is now falling in strips of gold through the ancient windows and a gasp of air exhales around the old cages. To inspire the group further, I show a short film which has poet Peter Sirr speaking about the many layers of history in the city, the people who have moved through its streets and the possibility that the gentle presence of their ghosts may brush against us every day, without us even knowing it. This is an imaginative idea and one which gets us thinking about the many stories – ghostly and otherwise – that make up the city we live in.
By now, everyone feels ready to begin writing. But wait a minute…Was that a clink of a cage bar? Did a shadow just swiftly move passed us? We shiver a little but the writing begins, speeded on by everything the class has seen and heard.
I put music on to add more atmosphere to the ghost writing session and soon the students are a group of concentrating writers. There are no rules to writing, I say, let it flow.
And after a while, the pages all around begin to fill up fast – the new, chilling, spine-tingling stories asserting themselves on paper.
And then comes the most inspiring part of our ghost writing afternoon. Everyone puts their pens down and we relax, listening to some of the stories that have, remarkably, just been written. Time stands still for these few minutes as we all bend closer to hear. In fact, if Narcissus Marsh really does haunt the library, it feels now as if even he has stopped to listen too.
Tales of ghostly shivers and floorboards creaking, of creepy clocks ticking in the dead of night, of dropping temperatures, of chills running down our backs, sweat trickling down our spines…
And later, when I get home and read through the rest of the work, I find even more haunting tales to be moved, inspired – terrified by!
But above all, I feel very privileged to be the very first reader of the impressive ghost stories written by the students of St Patrick’s Cathedral Grammar School, one cold January day in the oldest library in Dublin, the ghost of its founder a friendly spirit close by, listening.
A key clinks, a cage rattles, a page rustles, a book closes – and Narcissus Marsh is gone, the letter forever unfound.
Enda Wyley, 2018.
With the National Neighbourhood, we want every neighbourhood to know and “own” their city’s cultural resources so we build cultural projects in community settings. We connect artists, groups and villages with libraries, museums and creative places to deepen their understanding of each other and themselves.
The National Neighbourhood spans the Dublin City Council region, and brings together Dublin City Council’s City Library & Archive, the area offices, the City Arts Office and Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane, in partnership with National Cultural Institutions (The Abbey Theatre, The National Museum of Ireland, The National Library of Ireland, The National Gallery of Ireland, The National Concert Hall, The Chester Beatty Library, The National Archives and The Irish Museum of Modern Art).0