It was a stormy winter’s night and I was alone with Richard III. The wall clock was showing 9 pm and I still had lots to do. In those days the RTE Television Drama Department was based not within the campus at Montrose but on the other side of the Stillorgan Road in a large period house called Airfield. My tiny office was on the hall floor, near the foot of the main staircase.
Immersed in sorting production requirements for the Shakespearean play, I was dimly aware of the noise of an approaching vacuum cleaner in the otherwise silent house. Soon my door was pushed slightly open and the kind face of the middle-aged cleaning lady peered around it.
“Oh dear! Are you here all on your own at this time?” she asked.
“Have to be”, I smiled, “I have stuff to finish”.
She stared at me strangely.
“Aren’t you a very brave girl. Are you not afraid?”.
“Not at all, no, I’m grand. Anyway I won’t be too much longer”.
“Rather you than me, pet!” she said, shaking her head as she cleared the waste basket. “I’m off home now. Take care!”
Time passed and I was clacking away on the manual typewriter when I heard the sound of the front door opening. A man’s footsteps came up the hall past my slightly-open door and I expected him to look in and greet me, which would have been usual for colleagues coming in and out of the house outside normal office hours. To my surprise he continued straight on and up the stairs. That puzzled me, because my first thought had been that it was probably scriptwriter Wesley Burrowes or someone else from the Production Office of the weekly programme “The Riordans”, which was on the other side of the hall just past the foot of the stairs. Any of that team would have looked in for a brief chat. Upstairs there were only the Engineering Department’s offices whose occupants left at 5.30 pm and would not usually have had any reason to return.
After a while I heard him come back down the stairs, pass my office again and leave. “How rude!” I thought. “Imagine not even looking in to say Hello when he can hear the typewriter clacking away and my door is ajar!”
Some time later when I had almost completed my work, I heard the front door open again and the same footsteps coming up the hallway. “Who’s that?” I called out as the footsteps marched past my room. There was no answer. He continued on his way up the stairs.
Angry now, I jumped up to give whoever it was a piece of my mind for not having the courtesy to identify himself to me at that late hour, and I headed for the stairs. The footsteps had already gone around the curve, reached the top landing and – I thought – entered the first office on the upper floor. As I rounded the curve in my turn I saw the door of that office – fully closed. In a split-second I realised that I had not heard it either open or close, but as I reached the top of the stairs I found there was no-one in the long first-floor corridor. At the same time I had stepped into a space at the top of the stairs that felt bone-chillingly cold. Though realisation was dawning rapidly, so as to be left in no doubt whatsoever I called out at the closed door: “Who is in there!” Still no answer.
A shower of icy shivers ran down my back as I realised that this was an other-worldly experience. I shot down the stairs, grabbed my coat and bag and left the building as fast as my shaking legs would carry me.
Next day I took my mid-morning break in the small tea-room across the hall from my office, where colleagues from the Drama Department and Educational Programmes were all gathered around the one big table.
“Something very strange happened here last night”, I announced as I sat down.
Chatter ceased immediately and all eyes turned to me.
“What happened?”, someone asked.
They listened intently as I told my story.
And then someone said: “Did you not know?”
“Know? Know what?”
“Did you not know that the house is haunted, and several people have had that experience!”
In the chat that followed it emerged that while that some people had heard the other-worldly visitor while working late, others never had. It does seem that some of us are more sensitive to sights, sounds and scents of a paranormal nature than others, and I already knew from countless previous experiences that I was one of those people.
Many years later I was back in Airfield House working on the televised version of a modern play. Colleague Laura McAuley and I were working closely together on different aspects of the production. She asked if I knew about the ghost, and when I told her of my encounter with him she suggested we make a pact that when working late in the Production Office neither of us would leave before the other.
Late one evening we were engrossed in our work. It was just past 11 p.m.; we had been out on location since 7.30 a.m. and had returned to the office to sort material for the following day’s shoot. Silence reigned as we worked separately, fighting tiredness to concentrate deeply on our tasks. Soon, however, our focus was broken by the sound of the front door opening and heavy footsteps coming up the hall.
Laura looked across at me, terrified, her blue eyes huge. We waited, speechless and rigid with tension, to hear if the footsteps would go up the main staircase. We were in a back office past the foot of the stairs. To reach us there were a few steps up to our doorway and in the wall between the office and corridor there was a small window at head-height just above those steps.
To our horror, the footsteps did not go up the main staircase but were heading decisively towards our room.
Paralysed with fear, my heartbeat was thundering in my ears. Laura was clearly in the same state. As we heard the footsteps coming up the steps to our doorway I felt my scalp surge with cold prickles of terror. A man’s face appeared in the corridor window. We screamed our heads off, going quite hysterical as fear and shock gave way seconds later to massive relief when our eyes passed the message to our brains that the head was wearing a navy-blue peaked cap, and it was the security guard from the Television Centre across the road on his rounds!!
When we had all gotten over the shock and the guard had gone on his way Laura and I agreed that our nerves were shot to hell, that unfinished paperwork would have to be shoved into briefcases and car-boots and taken home, and that if we put the foot down we would just cover the half-mile to Madigans in Donnybrook before closing time.
As we shut the front doors behind us and turned to descend the front steps I cheekily called out “Goodnight!” to the ghost. I think I simply missed the top step in the darkness, but as I fell down the steps onto the ground below Laura joked “I think he just gave you a kick in the arse!” We jumped into our cars, blazed up Donnybrook Road, raced into Madigans and – to the amusement of a few other colleagues already well ensconced near the bar – collapsed on the counter gasping “Hot whiskies please, quick as you can!!!”
Though on that occasion we were unnecessarily spooked, the number of times the phenomenon I had experienced in the early Seventies continued to repeat itself ensured that still in the late Eighties few people would have been happy to work alone in the old house at night, and on my next assignment to a televised play I was relieved that my closest colleague on the production was equally keen to make that “Promise you won’t leave me alone here!” pact. One thing that complicated life further was that the only photo-copier in the building was on the upper floor at the far end of that long corridor, so the second part of the pact was to accompany each other up there when we needed to use it at night!
Soon afterwards I met someone who professed to know the story of the ghost of Airfield House. She said there had been a tragedy – something to do with unrequited love – and a young man had hanged himself at the top of the staircase… at the very spot where I had walked into that ice-cold space where the footsteps stopped, although there was no-one physically there….