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Old Albert: An Epilogue by Brian J. Showers

Article by Alan Dunne ©.
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It is undoubtedly the case that a locale can attain a notorious, sinister reputation as a result of macabre deeds enacted on its ground. Indeed, even the swirl of ancient rumour, whose fidelity to fact is long since impossible to ascertain, can serve to cloak a place in a foreboding aspect. Old Albert: An Epilogue by Brian J. Showers provides a chronology of the troubled history of Larkhill, in the Dublin suburb of Rathmines.

Through the cryptic communications of an unnamed friend, Showers pieces together the history of Larkhill House, from its construction by the celebrated ornithologist Ellis Grimwood in 1842 to its present absorption into the grounds of St. Mary’s College. This history is teasingly incomplete, a tapestry of uncertain motives and unexplained actions.

Why does Ellis Grimwood desert Larkhill so suddenly, abandoning his beloved birds to the agony of slow death by starvation? What causes Larkhill’s new owner, the successful wine merchant James Walker to withdraw from society, as Grimwood did before him, and to become violently possessive of his wife, who keeps a lark to comfort her solitude? Why do the tragic and violent events that befall his household resist the neat summation of the resulting inquest?

Larkhill remains host to strange tenants and bizarre events until the story guides us towards its present state as St. Mary’s College. Even this transformation into a successful school fails to vanquish the miasma of weird reputation which drifts about this place. Schoolboy lore and legend tell of ghostly sightings and a figure of terrifying reputation, known at different times through the years as ‘Ol Bertie and Old Albert. St. Mary’s College will also play host to macabre and violent events before the narrative reaches its conclusion.

And does the malign influence of Larkhill upon its inhabitants extend beyond the physical limits of the property and the duration of their residency? An interlude on the island of Ireland’s Eye places Ellis Grimwood in proximity to the brutal murder of a young wife there in 1852, eight years after his departure from Larkhill. Compelling evidence of her husband’s guilt results in his conviction, though possibilities of his innocence persist. Again, the reader is left tantalisingly unsure of what has really occurred, with just enough insinuated to allow the question of whether the quiet, reclusive old bird-lover may not have carried with him some terrible shadow from his former residence.

In this novella, any obvious solution to the troubled history of Larkhill, in its various incarnations, is refreshingly avoided. Where so many ghostly tales offer up a clearly defined tragedy or crime from the past to account for subsequent disturbances, here we will find no consolatory explanation for the successive tragedies befalling many of those who tread its ground.

Before its end, the story of this troubled piece of land in Dublin arrives at our present time, with some final shocks and strangeness to leave the reader pondering long after the final page is turned. Indeed, this novella could perhaps be described with some accuracy as a supernatural mystery story, where motives are only partly understood, where the presented interpretation and explanation of historical acts may be unreliable and deeply flawed, and where history and urban myth have so commingled that no pure solution is any longer possible.

In its ambiguities and incompleteness, Old Albert: An Epilogue is somewhat reminiscent of that most under-rated of tales by M.R. James, Two Doctors, and in common with that work it rewards rereading and a careful sifting of the text for clues. With this novella Brian J. Showers has further uncovered for us an area of South Dublin as benighted and uncanny as H.P. Lovecraft’s macabre and morbid New England settings and M.R. James’ haunted Suffolk coastline. Perhaps to gaze too long into the abyss of Larkhill is to invite the dreadful consequences of obsession, but any lover of supernatural literature will thoroughly enjoy this descent into a darker part of the pleasant, leafy suburb of Rathmines, where perhaps unquiet wings still beat restlessly.

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