The River Foyle is wide and beautiful and has certainly earned its place in history. The famous siege of 1698–99 finally ended after 105 days when the boom across the river was breeched by The Mountjoy, a ship under the command of Captain Browning.
In the nineteenth century the city was thriving, served well as it was by the River Foyle. Alongside it were a shipbuilding business and docks from which people sailed to Scotland, England and further afield to America and Australia. Train lines ran along both sides of the river, moving people and merchandise to the east and west of the country. To facilitate the budding shirt industry there was a network of roads close to the river.
One such street was Mitchelburne Terrace, on the Foyle Road. This was a small row of houses named after Colonel John Mitchelburne who was made governor of the city during the siege in 1689 and later founded the first club of the Apprentice Boys in 1714. It faced directly onto the Foyle Road and on the opposite side the railway wall separated it from the river.
A woman who settled in England in the 1930s after her marriage to a Londoner owned one of the houses. Unwilling to sever her link with Derry she kept ownership of her house but rented it out. It had several tenants over the years but none stayed long. Whether or not she knew that the house was haunted, she kept her own counsel.
A young married couple who had lived with the wife’s family for a few months after their marriage were delighted when they were told that they could rent the house. They couldn’t believe that they had a house to themselves, unlike many other young married couples at that time; they redecorated it, bought new furniture and settled into married life.
The husband worked shifts and his wife was often alone in the house. At first she thought that the coldness she felt on the stairs and the uneasiness she often experienced were caused by her being in an old house in a strange area. Often, when her husband was working late, she slept on the sofa in the living room because she had a creepy sensation that when she went upstairs someone or some sinister presence was watching her. She kept her thoughts and feelings to herself, unwilling to appear foolish to her new husband and convincing herself that it was just her imagination. When she did finally tell him he made light of it and refused to believe her story until one night he was alone in the house.
On that weekend she had gone to visit her sister in Donegal and at midnight her husband locked up and began to climb the stairs to their bedroom. When he was halfway up he had the same peculiar feeling that someone was staring at him and waiting for him on the landing. He ignored it and as he opened the door to their bedroom, two other doors crashed open. Suddenly he felt a gust of icy air circling around him starting from his feet and crawling upwards, leaving him unable to move. He began to pray and as he blessed himself there was an almighty crash in the return room and the door swung open. The wind whistled then raged through the house and even lifting the carpet on the stairs. As he prayed the wind died down and everything seemed to return to normal.
When he investigated the return room he found that a mirror that they had received as a wedding gift had fallen and smashed into smithereens.
‘I was weak with fright,’ he confessed later, ‘and to tell you the truth, I went up to my sister’s house and stayed there. I made the excuse that I’d forgotten my key.’
The next day when his wife came home he casually mentioned that the mirror had fallen off the wall. Not wanting to worry her he didn’t say what had taken place beforehand, but when he saw her expression he realised that she knew something more sinister had happened. In the end, she coaxed the truth from him. Although in one way she was glad that she hadn’t imagined those weird happenings, the reality was that something evil hovered around their home.
They resolved to have the house blessed and arranged for one of the local priests to come, but that night they had another visitation.
‘I thought that whatever it was, it was warning us not to interfere. It happened around midnight, the same time as the previous night. Although the room was already dark we both saw a white, almost transparent shape hovering motionless at the foot of our bed. The room was so cold that we were shivering, even though we had plenty of blankets on the bed. The air just became colder and colder and I wanted to get up and confront whatever it was. I wasn’t feeling brave or anything but my wife held onto me and begged me not to move. After what could have been an hour but was really just a few minutes it faded and the room became warmer.’
Neither of them could settle that night and that was the last night they ever slept in that house. They stayed with her mother in the town and shortly afterwards they moved to Belfast.
There was a succession of tenants but eventually the house lay empty until it was vested by the local council and demolished. Locals at that time believed that the presence had not entirely disappeared. At different times there have been sightings of a woman in white on the pathway along the River Foyle, which is popular with walkers and joggers. Some of these sightings have been known to be hoaxes but when one encounters the real ghost one is left in no doubt.
Redevelopment has changed the Foyle Road dramatically in the last years, and, although Mitchelburne Terrace is gone, some doubt that the ghost that dwelt in one of those houses would have ceased its haunting. In place of the old street is a new housing estate running from the end of the lower deck of Craigavon Bridge to the bottom of Southway, originally called the Old Coach Road. The Foyle Road has always had a reputation for being haunted and many still believe that it is.
In recent years nothing has been seen where the house once stood, so perhaps the spirit has found peace at last.