A Judicial Levee in a Haunted House, 1901

From the Belfast Newsletter, 15 April 1901:

“Tomorrow the Easter sittings in the High Court begin, and according to old time ceremonial, Easter marks the beginning of the legal as it does the Christian year. So the Lord Chancellor Lord Ashbourne holds a levee at his residence, 12 Merrion Square in his gorgeous robes of black and gold and all the majesty of a full-bottomed wig, receiving members of the Bar of Ireland and the principal officials of the courts… The exodus from the mansion forms into a stream of carriages and cabs thence to the Four Courts. In the great hall, the full company are marshalled into procession, walking with stately head, to the Benchers’ Chamber.”

Lord Ashbourne

According to the Dundee Evening Telegraph, 16 December 1896, the Ashbourne residence at 12 Merrion Square

“was once tenanted by a husband and wife, the former of whom, being mortally ill, discovered that the latter had laid in a stock of widow’s weeds… annoyed at what he considered misplaced foresight and thrift, he angrily told her to take her chloral and go to bed, but she took an overdose and died.”

Subsequently both Lord and Lady Ashbourne experienced visitations from this ghost, ‘sometimes in a white dress and sometimes in a black.’

The real story may be somewhat more prosaic. An article in the Chemist and Druggist details an inquest in the Dublin Morgue on the remains of a girl named Mary Canning, a lady’s maid to Mrs Jackson, the previous occupier of the house. Mary had been found dead in her bed in 12 Merrion Square on a Saturday night. The explanation given for her death was that, suffering from toothache, she had secured a bottle of chloroform, which she had saturated in a piece of wadding and applied to her cheek, dying from the effects of the overdose.

Servants’ gossip as the explanation for the ghost? Unless two different women had separately died from chloral in the house, which would of course raise the question of a 12 Merrion Square curse!

Lord Ashbourne is best known for being the father of Violet Gibson, who later attempted to assassinate Mussolini. Perhaps her childhood in a haunted house had something to do with it?

Photo Credits: (top photo) (middle photo) (bottom photo)

Author: Ruth Cannon BL

Irish barrister sharing the history of the Four Courts, Dublin, Ireland, and other Irish courts.

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