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"There’s a bogle by the bour-tree at the lang loan heid,
I canna thole the thocht o him, he fills ma hert wi dreid;
He skirls like a hoolet, an he rattles aa his banes,
An gies himsel an unco fash to fricht wee weans."
'The Bogle' by W D Cocker
The Bogle— A spiritual being or goblin, the subject of many a Scottish or English folktale, but not altogether absent from Northern Irish folklore. Whilst these bothersome little creatures have a goal of vexing their victims and being a general nuisance, there is, apparently, no real malice intended in their deeds.
The word "Bogle" is, in fact, derived from the Middle English word "Bugge," meaning "Bogy" or "Hobgoblin," a troublesome but largely benevolent fairy, resembling a small, hairy man.
Bogles are said to reside mostly indoors (although they can at times be found outdoors, as in Cockers' poem) and are thus deemed as household fairies of a sort—and like all fairies, trouble ensues if their abode is in any way ruined or altered.
So what of Bogles in Northern Ireland? Whilst we don't have a plethora of stories about these mythical ‘wee’ people, there is one incident of note from 'Norn Iron' history which certainly deserves discussion.
The year was 1866, and the place was the Ballygowan townland in Ballynure civil parish, County Antrim. Two families living alongside one another reported a series of disturbances - stones and other objects being thrown at their homes constantly, with no obvious assailants seen by either the families or the scores of neighbours who visited to attempt to offer assistance. One neighbour, who witnessed the bombardment of debris and turf against a window, fired his musket in the direction from which the objects appeared to have been thrown, in an attempt to scare off those responsible. This, however, made things worse. The invisible attackers responded with not only haughty laughter, but increased their efforts to terrorise the families.
One evening, it is reported, some members of one of the families noticed some movement under a stack of potatoes which were stored in the corner of the room they were sitting in. Before any of them could take a closer look, potatoes had been lobbed across the room at them. Once again, no assailant was seen. Distraught, they searched for answers, and what they eventually found, to them, made perfect sense...
Both families had recently made repairs to their homes using stones and bricks from an abandoned mansion, which stood on the same land as their houses—shortly after this, the unusual occurrences began. It was found that the mansion from which they had removed the stone was, in fact, a meeting point for local fairies, some of whom also resided in the ruins. When their beloved home was ravaged in such a way, they resorted to exacting revenge on the perpetrators...and so began the reign of terror on those responsible.
Hard to believe? Perhaps not so much so at the time. The explanation of Bogles being to blame was so widely and firmly believed, it was even recounted in a reputable local newspaper. ‘The Larne Reporter’, on the front page of their March 31st edition of that year, featured the story of the disturbances: “Bogles in Ballygowan.”
But what of the families and their plight? Not much is known about why or when exactly these occurrences ceased, but we know that they did, "some several months later." Perhaps the Bogles got bored. Perhaps they found another dwelling to inhabit. Or perhaps, true to their impish and naughty nature, they found another cause for mischief...