Templemichael Church is a charming ‘Board of First Fruits’ Protestant church built in 1823 on the site of an earlier ruined church. It stands in the shadow of the remains of a 12th century castle and also a stone’s throw from Molana Abbey. The church is situated on a picturesque little promontory jutting into the confluence of the Glendine River and the Blackwater. The church was in use until the mid 20th century but has fallen into an acute state of disrepair with the graveyard actually bursting through the surrounding wall. Unusually enough for such a relatively new structure, Templemichael Church has been the scene of a large number of reported paranormal sightings and folktales. The story goes that during the famine a young peasant woman brought her sick child to the house at Ballynatray to seek help but was turned away. As she was turned away she stepped backwards down the thirteen steps at the entrance of the house and cursed a generation of the Holroyd-Smyth family with each step. If you spot any of the Holroyd-Smyth tombstones you will notice that a lot of the family died on the 13th of the month, the last Halroyd-Smyth to own Ballynatray House died in a hunting accident on September 13th, 1969. There have also been reported sightings of ghost monks, strange large black dogs, and even ropes that appeared across the main road at Templemichael, causing drivers/cyclists to panic but then disappearing. Other local lore says that horses used to stop at the entrance to Balynatray House, unwilling initially to go any further, but then suddenly bolting away from the gate at dangerous speeds.
Templemichael church does certainly have a haunting quality, even though I was unaware of these stories when I visited. I’d fully recommend walking the little grass path past the church down to a stunning clearing right beside the confluence of the two rivers, a lovely place to stop for a rest.
Taken from ‘Psychic Phenomena in Ireland’ (1972) by Sheila St. Clair, renowned student of Ulster folklore and also paranormal phenomenon,
‘These were the sensations I experienced at Templemichael castle, County Cork in the summer of 1965. My husband and I were taking a few days off and we had stopped the night in Youghal. After an early tea, we decided to go for a short run in the car. Our meanderings led us to a disused graveyard, and a small desolate and deserted church. Beyond this derelict building lay the river, with two arms of its reaches meeting at this point.
I decided to photograph the castle from the river’s edge, and as my husband stood a few yards away, appraising the fishing prospects, I turned my back on the river and raised my camera. But I never took that photograph, and this is one of the things I shall regret all my life. Coming into my line of vision through the low postern gate through which we ourselves had come, there now stood a man.
His head and the upper portions of his body were clothes in a brown cloak or habit, that reached to just below the knees; below that he melted into an indeterminate mist. But it was the look on his face that froze my finger on the camera trigger. He was pale and thin, with deep-set eyes, his face wore the most consummate look of evil that I have ever seen. Habit and training forgotten, I stood rooted to the spot, with a cold trickle of fear chilling my spine. I could not utter one coherent syllable. I had often wondered what a confrontation between a stoat and a rabbit felt like, now I knew. Then my husband called out to me, and at the moment the man vanished.
Without speaking we strolled back over the grass together, and I was miserably conscious that, no matter how I hated it, the only way back to the car was through that postern gate. Every step I took towards it filled me with loathing, however hard I tried to rationalise. Then, just as we were a few steps from it, my husband broke the silence. ‘Well, what do you know?’ he began, ‘I’ve the weirdest feeling that….’ All of a sudden it seemed very important to me that he didn’t put the thoughts into words. ‘Don’t, please don’t say anything, just…just hurry up!’. And before he could protest I broke into an undignified trot, and fled through that crumbling gate, down the narrow passage, and out onto the little path through the churchyard. My heart was thumping in a most peculiar fashion, and hands were cold and clammy, it seemed to me that a thousand malevolent eyes were watching.
Back at the car, I sank down on the grassy bank, and my husband flung himself down beside me. He eyed me curiously. ‘You’re scared! What on earth has got into you? All I was going to say back there was, for a second I wouldn’t have been at all surprised to see someone standing in that creepy little gate. I felt I was being watched’.
Sheila St.Clair visited again in May 1970 and wrote the following,
‘I was uneasy in the church, and went outside to look at the old gravestones. As I came around the corner of the church I suddenly stopped dead in my tracks. My husband, who had been strolling behind me, promptly cannoned into me. ‘Now what are you up to?’ He demanded, ‘Shh!And listen’ I said. Coming from the church was the quiet but sweetly clear sound of a small organ being played. It was a voluntary I knew well, ‘Jesus Joy of man’s Desiring’, and it was being played quietly but determinedly by the unseen organist. ‘The organ – can you hear an organ?’ I asked. My husband paused for a moment, ‘I thought I heard something just as I came around the corner, but I couldn’t tell you what it was.’ The organ stopped, and we both went back into the church. There was no organ or organ pipes we could see. The we heard the sound of voices, and saw three other people coming into the churchyard. I went back to the car, but my husband had a few words conversation with one of the men. Then he came over to the car. ‘Describe the sound of that organ again.’ He said. ‘Small and sweet,’ I repeated, ‘Not like a church organ: quieter somehow.’ He smiled, ‘Well we were wrong, there is an organ in that church, but we missed it standing in the corner. It’s been there for years, and it has a table top, so that you wouldn’t notice it. That man I was speaking to showed me and the notes are still playable and it’s got a small, sweet tone. Very pleasant but not a big noise’.
GPS: 51.99277, -7.88351