Monday, October 25, 2010
He was of the sea, but died a mysterious death: Admiral Burton MacNamara and the Death Coach
A very curious story surrounds the death of Admiral Burton MacNamara. In Westropp’s Folklore Survey of County Clare, 1913, the following is recorded:
"On the night of December 11th, 1876, a servant of the MacNamaras was going his rounds at Ennistymon [the family home], a beautiful spot in a wooded glen, with a broad stream falling in a series of cascades. In the dark he heard the rumbling of wheels on the back avenue, and, knowing from the hour and place that no ‘mortal vehicle’ could be coming, concluded that it was the death coach and ran on, opening the gates before it. He had just time to open the third gate and throw himself on his face beside it, at the bank, before he ‘heard a coach go clanking past.’ It did not stop at the house, but passed on, and the sound died away. On the following day Admiral Sir Burton MacNamara suddenly died in London."
In Irish folklore the 'death coach', or in Irish 'cóiste bodhar', is an omen of imminent death. It is variously described as a coach drawn by a team of horses without a driver on board, or driven by a 'headless' coachman. This ghostly vehicle, a night-time phenomenon, was typically observed rumbling at high speed toward the residence of a person who was about to die.
Did a 'death coach' serve as a harbinger of Admiral MacNamara's demise or was this simply a coincidence?
All Photographs ©Copyright J.Geraghty-Gorman