Ghost-Watching in Howth


The poet William Butler Yeats lived in Howth for a couple of years, when he was a teenager, at a time when he was likely to have been impressionable.

The family moved to a cliffside cottage in 1881, when Yeats was 15. The village at the time was a small and windswept fishing community and it was also, if the burgeoning poet’s impressions are to be credited, teeming with ghosts.

In an essay called ‘Village Ghosts’, published in The Celtic Twilight in 1893, Yeats gave a meticulous account of the Howth ghosts, immortalising their spirits as it were. There was the harmless Mrs Stewart, the baleful Captain Burney, the white-capped woman by the cemetery, the headless individual on the quay, and, worst of all, the Devil himself, said to appear in the shape of a white cat at Hospital Lane.

Doubtless Yeats investigated many of the apparitions himself. His home was quite close to Hospital Lane, for instance, otherwise known as Cowbooter Lane, and he certainly had no fear of going about it alone in the dark.

In his memoir, ‘Reveries over Childhood and Youth’, published in 1916, he described sleeping at night “among the rhododendrons and rocks in the wilder parts of the grounds of Howth Castle”.

During his eccentric patrols he must have wandered often up and down Howth’s Main Street, passing the clustered Victorian houses and perhaps comparing opinions on the paranormal with the occupants.

Main Street was not anything like as densely populated in those days, but among the houses that stood in Yeats’ time was Number 30, towards the upper end of Main Street where it turns into Balglass Road.

Ostensibly it’s a fairly modest street-fronting house but it’s very handily situated for the successive generations who’ve lived in it.

From here it’s half a kilometre to Howth harbour, about a kilometre from the Dart station, and about 20 minutes’ walk from Howth Castle, should you get in a mood to sleep among the rhododendrons.

Number 30 was last sold in 2012 when it fetched €285,000, according to the Property Price Register – a relatively meagre sum compared to its current price of €515,000.

Since then it’s been fairly turned upside-down, though. Every inch of it has been made over, stylishly but sympathetically, so that while it looks classy inside, it doesn’t look at all pretentious.

There are pleasant features such as cast-iron fireplaces (also in the bedrooms), sash windows and wooden floors. And then there are useful modern upgrades. For instance, those sash windows have been upgraded with modern double-glazed hardwood, and there’s a new roof and insulation.

The house has an overall floor area of 1,130 sq ft and there’s not much hope of building on any more as there’s just a small patio garden out the back.

Within that 1,130 sq ft, though, you get three bedrooms, two reception rooms, a kitchen/ dining room and a bathroom.The first of the reception rooms is a living room measuring just over 14ft by 12ft. There’s an original cast-iron fireplace, as well as a vintage radiator, so even though the walls are white and the floor is tiled, the room doesn’t feel chilly.

The second reception is a study, slightly smaller at roughly 10ft by 12ft. There’s another fireplace in this room, also cast-iron but more ornate, with a timber mantelpiece and tiled surround. The floor, meanwhile, is in maple.

The kitchen and dining room also has a tiled floor and there are pale cabinets with marble countertops. The appliances are integrated, and there’s a Belfast sink, a vintage vertical radiator, and a glass door to the garden.

The stairs are in the kitchen, taking you up to the three bedrooms and bathroom on the first floor. The main bedroom measures roughly 13ft by 15ft and has an original cast-iron fireplace and a polished wood floor. There’s yet another cast-iron fireplace in another bedroom, where there’s also a shiny dark wood floor, and the third bedroom has a built-in wardrobe.

From the kitchen, you can step out into the back garden, which is surrounded by white-painted walls and laid with decorative gravel. The garden faces west and has enough space to sit out in the evenings. It’s possibly not big enough to keep a dog in, but you could certainly keep a cat there. To amuse the neighbours, you could get a white cat and call him Beelzebub.

The agent for the sale of 30 Main Street is Gallagher Quigley (01) 818 3000. The same agent made the headlines a few years ago when selling 20 Main Street, just 70 metres down the road, by advertising it in the style of Roy Brooks, the so-called “honest estate agent” of 1960s London.

“Untouched by the 21st century as far as conveniences for even the basic human decencies are concerned,” went the description. “Although, it is still habitable judging by the bed of rags, fag ends and bottles that used to adorn one corner.”

Number 20 still managed to fetch €215,000 in 2013. Number 30, even asking €300,000 more, is likely to be an easier sell.