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Family Folklore


       In 1872, a 13 yr old Irish girl , Jane Mullaney, immigrated to New York City from Mohill, County Leitrim, Ireland, with her recently widowed mother, Mary.

      As was common at the time, they settled in a predominantly Irish section of Manhattan known as "Hell's Kitchen".  It was a working class neighborhood, and as such, the men would dress accordingly as they left for work in the morning.

     When she would return home from school in the afternoon, my grandmother would often run into the "rich man" who lived down the hall from their apartment, as he was taking his small white dog for a walk.

     Unlike most of the men of the area, he was always dressed in a tuxedo and was home when others were at their jobs. He was of a refined manner, and always tipped his hat and smiled as he passed her in the hall.

     One day, when her mother was speaking with some of the other tenants, she asked about the nice man with the little dog.  Their faces blanched, and the shocked tenants asked her to describe the man in greater detail. The man, as it turns out, was a waiter who worked the night shift in an exclusive restaurant (hence the tuxedo). He would walk his dog every afternoon before going to work and was a quiet and cordial neighbor.

     One night, a year earlier, he had quietly committed suicide in his bedroom.

     I think that , maybe, many decades later, he might have stopped by to pay a visit to the pretty  little Irish girl who had lived down the hall.

     This  photo was taken about 60 years ago in Staten Island, New York.  It  shows my grandmother on the front porch of her home. If you look past her, at the window, you will see what appears to be the face of an older man with a thick mustache. (some people have stated that they see a second face as well) My grandmother passed away many years before I was born and I've never been in the house where the photo was taken.

-Greg McGrail

One Last Errand for Mama

   My mother,Margaret Ruaine, was the youngest of eight children.  When she was about sixteen, her mother Catherine became very ill.  After trying everything, it became evident that the end was near.

    Michael, my grandfather, sent my mother to town to buy the burial gown, or shroud, while her mother lay dying at home.  My mother hitched up the horse to the  trap and started off to Swinford, the local town.  As one can imagine, she was extremely distraught.
   As she proceeded down the road from the farm, she turned around to peer into the back of the carriage.  There, sitting in the trap with her was her mother, Catherine ! 
Her mother never said a word, but accompanied her the whole way to town. 

  When she reached the village stable, she turned and found that her mother was now gone.My mother bought the burial gown, and returned home to find that Catherine was still clinging to life.   My mother always felt that her mother joined her on that sad errand, to comfort her in that time of sorrow.

    Later that evening, as the family gathered at her bedside, her mother said   "It's time. The angels are knocking!  Turn up the lamp in the window".  She died that night !

My mother has told this story for years and swears it is true.

-Hugh McGrail  (Medway, Ma)

"A Spot of Tea Before Leaving"

     One summer evening in 1929,  in New York's notorious Irish enclave "Hell's Kitchen", my father Edward McGrail was getting  ready  for a night on the town..  He was 22 yrs old, and  and was standing in the kitchen of  his apartment on West 54th St.,having a cup of tea with his mother, before leaving.

     This particular street was the location of the City's trolley garage, or, as it was commonly known, "The Car Barn".  West 54th St. was also known for another colorful part of New York life; it was home to one of the most violent street gangs in the city's history, the Car Barn Gang.

     This gang had long before  become notorious for it's declaration that their street was to be free of police, and that any Officer who entered the block, would be summarially killed.  Signs were hung on both ends of the block that stated this declaration , and as a result, the Police regarded it as a war zone.  They   would only respond to emergencies in force of tens and twenties.  No matter what the reason for their appearance, they were always greeted by cat-calls, obscenities,  and showered by garbage cans and bricks thrown from the rooftops.

       Not everyone who lived on this violent street in Hell's Kitichen was a criminal; nor were they there by choice.  On the eve of the Depression, people, especially immigrant Irish, were lucky to find housing anywhere; and the decent and respectable were forced to reside with the worst elements of society.

     While his mother was seated at the table, and as he stood near the hallway door taking a sip from his tea cup, there was a series of muffled "pops" on the street below, followed by screams, then more "pops".  The window at  which his mother sat shattered near her head, while at the same instant  the cup exploded in Eddie's hand and face as he took a sip of tea.

     A gunfight had broken out on the street below between rival gang factions of  New York's underworld, and one errant bullet had missed his mother, and then Eddie's head by  inches.  His kid brother, Jackie, later carved the .45 cal bullet out of the doorframe, and gave it to him as a keepsake.

     My father  gave that bullet to me 45 years later, on the day I graduated the Police Academy.   I also intend to pass it on to one of my sons one day to remind them just how fragile life is; and to re-enforce the knowledge that had that bullet been slightly more to the right, I, they, and the rest of our line would have terminated at that very moment, so many decades ago.

-Greg McGrail (NYC)

The Immortal
South Boston Town Greeter

Memorial Monument  erected at
Carson Beach, in South Boston
honoring  Robert "Whitey" McGrail
"South Boston Town Greeter"









"Here Kitty, Kitty...Nice Kitty...."

      One night in early winter,( many,many years ago) my grandfather's great uncle Finbar
McGrail was walking briskly  through the mountains near  the village of  Drumkeerin, hoping  to be home before nightfall.   The sun was rapidly setting, and the shadows in the mountain forest grew longer as he trudged through the light coating of snow that now had blanketed the wooded path.

      At one point in his journey, he happened upon two sets of small animal tracks and what
appeared to be streaks of blood mixed with pieces of dark fur, leading up the path to a slight rise before him. Clutching his blackthorn stick tightly, and with all his senses alerted to the possibility of a wounded animal blocking his way, he cautiously mounted the small crest of the hill.

     As his eyes strained against the encroaching darkness, he could make out the forms of
two large cats dragging the dead, tattered, and bloodied body of a third. Raising his arm, and
with a shout, he lashed out with the knobbed end of his blackthorn in an attempt to chase the
ferral felines away.

     The two cats dropped their burden, turned to face him, and glaring, defiantly stood their ground,

     One of the pair opened it's jaws wide and said.."They'll be none of that, Finbar McGrail!
For we fear ye not!" Finbar's blood ran cold from the sight of this singular horror (which , indeed, would have killed a frailer man).

     The second cat now walked a few steps toward him and said, in a tinny, hissing voice...
"Ye'll be giving good Prince Owen this tell him that Cormack has been killed, and that the kingdom is his once again" "Now let us pass in peace"

     "I've never in all me days met the man, nor have I heard tell of him!" Finbar stammered.

     The two large cats ignored his protestation, and returned to the torn and ravaged carcass.
They didn't look back , nor did they utter another word as they silently dragged their loathsome charge off the path and into the now darkened woods.

     Running, falling, swaring, praying, Finbar tore blindly through the mountains and down into
the valley where his farm lay.  His screams as he approached the house alerted his wife and children, who, in a panic approaching his own, ran out  to meet him.

     Near collapse from exhaustion, and with his racing mind a maelstrom of  horrific images,
he was helped by his small family up the path to the front porch, where he limply dropped to the steps.

     As his wife comforted him, the children ran to the parlor and returned with a large tin cup of "poteen" (moonshine), to settle his nerves.

     Gradually he regained a degree of composure, and, struggling to control himself, blurted
out to them the details of the nightmare he had just experienced. When he related the
message of the second cat..........

     "ye tell him that Cormack has been killed, and that the kingdom is his once again",

a unearthly screech came from inside the house. The family's aged housecat then bounded
out of the cottage, down the steps, and into the winter's night, never to be seen again.


     ....that's part of our family folklore, boys and girls; make of it what you will....(and Happy

-Greg McGrail

A Fond Farewell to Drumkeerin Town...

Stephen McGrail

There was a law in the town, I assume Lisfultighan, near where our family
lived, that you couldn't bring a donkey into town without being shod.  My
family was too poor to keep the donkey in shoes. According to my Uncle
Mike, and my father, they didn't even have shoes for the kids when they were
young, never mind the donkey.  Any time my family went to town they were
harassed by the two constables Dignan, and McCoy.  This particular time my
Uncle Steven, who my Uncle Mike said "turned his back to no man," was
given a citation by one of the constables, for having no shoes on the ass.

That afternoon my Uncle Steven told his father that he was taking the ass
to town.  Off he went!  When he reached one end of the town he was confronted
by Constable Dignan.  Steven wrested the billy club away from Constable
Dignan, and proceeded to beat the stuffing's out of him !!  Steven then proceeded
to the other end of town, and laid out Constable McCoy !!!

The next morning there was a knock on the McGrail's door.  It was the law!

             Steven's father answered the door.

              "What can I do for you?"
              "We are here to arrest Steven?"
             "We have a summons for his arrest, for assaulting the two constables."
             "Well" said Steven's father "Sorry !  But you will have to take it back again."
               The officer said "why is that?"
             "Because, you see Steven left this morning.  By now he is half way to America!!"

Uncle Mike after telling the story to his son, finished it by saying "Steven
was very good natured though"

Steven came to America and became one of Boston's Finest !

  Hugh McGrail - Medway, Ma.

Ghost Story

This is a very old American ghost story that dates back to about 1800. There are many versions of
this story, this is a short version but has it has most the traditional elements.

Adam Livingston lived in what is now Jefferson Co. W. Va. One night he was approached by a stranger who needed lodging for the night. During the night the stranger became very ill and asked for a priest. Mrs Livingston was a fervent Protestant and would not have a priest enter her house.

The stranger died that night without receiving the last scaraments, and was buried nearby.

Afterwards, the Livingstons experienced many stange and horrifying things; among which was the sound the clipping shears. Blankets clothing and household linens were found to be clipped into shreds. Even the clothing of visitors were cut up, including the silk cap of an old lady who had wrapped her cap in a piece of cloth and put it in her pocket, hence Wizard Clip or Wizard Clipper.
Finally Adam Livingston contacted Richard McSherry, a Catholic neighbor, who in turn contacted Father Dennis Cahill.  Father Cahill blessed the house and said Mass there and the hauntings stopped.

-Mary Kelly Mills

A Needless Sacrifice for the
Sake of "History"

     The first man listed in the WW1 Killed in Action page (from PA) is Frank McGrail.
He was  my grandfather's  brother.  There is an interesting story there.....

     The first world war was  actually over on November 1st or 2nd of  1918.  To make the date historical, the government  decided to end the war on the 11 hour of the 11th day of the 11th  month, and the fighting went on for  another 9 days.  Young Frank McGrail was killed on the 8th day (1 day before the officical "Armistice") so he should have come  home.  He was never married.

-Christine McGrail

The Lake Monster

A strange creature of the Irish lakes in Connaught is the Dobhar-Chu .
Also called the dobarcu or dhuragoo, this "water hound" has been reported to
attack both  people and animals. It is described as  looking somewhat similar to
an otter,(except much  larger ) white in
colour with black ear tips and black across the back. It is said by some to look
like "half wolfdog / half fish".  It has also been reported  to be the "King of all the
Lakes", and "Father of all the Otters" and  "as big as five or six otters".

The Kinlough Stone , a grave marker depicting the dobhar-chú.

In Roderick O’Flaherty’s book, A Description of West Connaught
written in  1684, he recalls a startling incident of the dobhar-chu.......

"There is one rarity more, which we may term the Irish
crocodile, whereof one, as yet living, about ten years ago had
sad experience.

The man was passing the shore just by the waterside, and
spyed far off the head of a beast swimming, which he took to be
an otter, and took no more notice of it; but the beast it seems
lifted up his head, to discern whereabouts the man was; then
diving swam under the water till he struck ground: whereupon he
run out of the water suddenly and took the man by the elbow
whereby the man stooped down, and the beast fastened his
teeth in his pate, and dragged him into the water; where the
man took hold of a stone by chance in his way, and calling to
mind he had a knife in his jacket, took it out and gave a thrust of
it to the beast, which thereupon got away from him into the

The water about him was all bloody, whether from the beast's
blood, or his own, or from both he knows not. It was the pitch of
an ordinary greyhound, of a black slimey skin, without hair as
he imagines.

Old men acquainted with the lake do tell there is such a beast
in it, and that a stout fellow with a wolf dog along with him met
the like there once; which after a long struggling went away in
of the man and his dog, and was a long time after found
 rotten in a rocky cave of the lake when the waters decreased.
The like they say is seen in other lakes in Ireland, they call it."

Richard Muirhead of Wiltshire, England, has uncovered a poem, possibly dating from around 1920, called The Dobhar-chu of Glenade. The poem tells the story of a woman named Grace Connolly, who was found dead by a lake along with her killer, a dobhar-chú. Her husband, a man named McGloughlan, killed the animal but soon found that he had to deal with the king otter's mate, which he killed near Castlegarden Hill.

The story is corroborated by two gravestones, one found in the Conbnaíl Cemetery in Drummans, Leitrim, and another near Kinlough, Leitrim. The Kinlough Stone is more interesting for the fact that it depicts the dobhar-chú. (see photo above) Patrick Tohall, writing in an article appearing in the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, says that the stone is dated September 24, 1722, a time which fits in well with the account of Connolly's death. He describes the creature as being very doglike, with a head suggesting an otter.

Furthermore, the gravestone is that of Grace Con, who it says was the wife of Ter MacLoghlin. Tohall also states that, although the dobhar-chú seems very otter-like, the word often used for otter is " mada uisge".

1- "A Touch of The Irish" by Sean Desmond.
Unexplained Mysteries of The 20th Century by Janet and Colin Bord.
Unexplained! by Jerome Clark.

2- "A Description of West Connaught" (1684), by Roderick O'Flaherty

3- Shuker, Karl P.N. "Menagerie Of Mystery".
Strange Magazine 10, Fall 1995. pp. 28-33, 48-49.

(If a man speaks in the forest and there is no woman to hear him, is he still wrong?)

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