Ghost story special Part 1 - The tale of Half Hanged McNaghten

Prehen House pictured in the early 20th Century.
Prehen House pictured in the early 20th Century.

A lone pitiful figure is said by some to haunt a wooded area close to the old Knox

family home, Prehen House, on the out-skirts of the city.

They believe it is the ghost of ‘Half-hanged’ John McNaghten pining for the sweetheart he unwittingly shot dead on a cold November morning in 1761.

She was Mary Anne Knox the young daughter of Andrew Knox, an esteemed member for Donegal in the Irish Parliament. Their heart-rending story became one of the great romances of eighteenth-century Ireland.

The tragic tale has been poignantly cap-tured in the words of a song written by two local musicians, Malcolm Wray and Alan Tees.


One night I walked a lonely road with storm clouds overhead,

There I spied a strange young man and this to me he said:

“My name it was McNaghten, I was just twenty-three,

When I fell in love with a rich young girl who couldn’t marry me.

Her father was a cruel man, Knox it was his name,

He forbade us two young lovers to ever meet again.

We planned to elope one night, to Scotland we would go,

But her cruel father he found out, our plan he got to know.

He drew round the carriage and his daughter in it placed,

Then they drove out the Prehen road with the greatest of haste.

A mile along the roadside, I hid among the grass,

There I saw my own true love in the carriage driving past.

Realising what was wrong, I drew a flintlock gun,

I meant to shoot her father but I shot my own loved one.

My case was heard in Lifford Court, and guilty I was found,

I was sentenced to be hanged in the square in Lifford town.

On Tuesday morn in Lifford square, on a scaffold made of wood,

With a gallows rope around my neck, blindfolded there I stood.

Well twice they tried to hang me, but the trapdoor shut did stay,

Once more they tried to hang me, but the rope it did give way.

Then as was the custom, my life they offered me,

But I declined, saying: In this world no pleasure would there be,

For my only love I’ve murdered, one thing worse I fear,

Half-hanged McNaghten to be called, and this I could not bear.

I stepped back on the scaffold, my fear it being past,

I placed the rope around my neck and there I breathed my last.”

And when his story ended, this brave young man was gone,

Leaving but a coil of rope remaining with the dawn.

Bare branches rattle in the gale on nights of winter chill,

McNaghten roams the woodland vale, his soul in torment still.

‘McNaghten! McNaghten!’ cries the winter breeze,

That blows around the old ‘Black Gates’ and rattles through the trees.

Printed with kind permission from Guildhall Press who published the story in their Parade of Phantoms book.