The Coach-a-bower

The Coach-a-bower - Part 2

I only heard the coach-a-bower one other time, about three or four years after the experience at the turf-stack. This was when my sister Annie was taken very ill with the pneumonia and had to be kept in her bed. I must have been in my sixteenth year at the time. This happened on a cold winter's evening, when my mother had gone down to see her sister who was married and lived in Pomeroy. My father was still out at work and I was in the house on my own, looking after Annie and waiting for my mother's return. While I was waiting, a neighbour of ours, Maggie Donnelly, called to see how Annie was and I encouraged her to stay for a while. I knew that my mother was in very low spirits about Annie and that she would enjoy Maggie's crack when she returned. Maggie readily agreed and I made some tea for the both of us and, in truth, the stories which she told greatly lifted my own spirits.

As we sat talking by the fire, I heard a sound far away on the Pomeroy road, like a horse and trap, approaching our house very quickly. It was a sound like the 'clop-clop' of horses' hooves on the frosty road, hurrying onward through the gathering dark to get home. It drew closer and closer then, all of a sudden, it seemed to slow down. I thought that it might be one of my uncles giving Mother a lift home from her sister's place or some neighbour coming to see how Annie was.

'There's Mother now', says I, getting up to go to the door. And sure enough, the sound stopped when it drew level with our house. I went to the window to look out before I opened the door for I wanted to see who had left her home. There was nothing at all to be seen on the road outside. Then I thought back to the night by the turf-stack and the coshta-bower that had pushed past me those three or four years before. Suddenly, I heard three low but very clear raps. I don't know if they came from the window or the door but I can vouch that I heard them distinctly. They were like the noise of a stick hitting the bottom of an empty wooden bucket - sort of hollow-sounding and echoing and shivery. It wasn't a good sound to hear at all.

I know that Maggie heard them too for she jumped up with a start and looked around her, as if trying to see where they had come from. Then, without warning, the coach wheels started on the road outside again, heading away up into the mountains. The sound grew fainter and fainter until it died away altogether and I heard it no more. Maggie became very pale and crossed herself.

'Come away from the window, Mary!' says she, very sternly. 'That was the coach-a-bower come for your sister's soul. Don't look out for you don't know what you might see! Annie is not long for this world at all!' Soon after, my mother came home and we told her what had happened. I don't know whether she believed us or not for she was a very level-headed woman. There were always old stories in the countryside about three knocks on the window preceding a death, but she had never paid them any heed. She went in to look at Annie, who was sleeping soundly. We thought that she seemed to be improving a little bit. After Maggie had left and my father had come home, we all went to our beds and I tried to put the strange experience to the back of my mind.

Later that night, however, Annie's fever got worse and she took a turn. A doctor was sent for but it was morning before he could get to our house and my sister was already dead. The death coach had come for her soul all right! I heard afterwards that a number of other people in our locality had heard the coach-a-bower that same night. It had passed by their houses but all of them were afraid to look out.

Many had guessed that it was coming to our house. Sometime after, I was speaking to people in our neighbourhood and they said that they had heard it on another occasion as well. When an old man called Barnett died some years ago, away across the mountains, everybody in the district heard the death coach going past their doors as it went for his soul.

They say that it is the devil himself who drives it and that the horses that pull it are all headless but that no mortal eye can see it as it goes past. Three raps on the window are a sure sign that death is in a house but if the coach only stops at a door then it is a signal that there will be a lasting sickness in that place. That was what I heard anyway.

There are those, too, who will tell you nowadays that these are only old stories told by superstitious people and that any sound that you might hear on the road is only the smugglers running their poteen down to Pomeroy from stills away up in the mountains. They say that it is the smugglers themselves that put these stories about to keep people from seeing them as they pass. But I'm an old woman now and I've no cause to lie. I know what I heard all those years ago and I know the way that it was."

< < < Return to the first part in this story

From Beasts, Banshees and Brides from the Sea by Bob Curran