This Eerie Abandoned Farmhouse Is Frozen In Time – With Reports On The Titanic Spread Over The Desk

Image: Facebook/Abandoned N.I.

It’s October 2017, and photographer Rebecca gingerly pushes ajar the door of an abandoned farmhouse in the remote countryside of Northern Ireland. She’s not quite sure what to expect, but what she finds completely bowls her over. It’s nothing less than a fully preserved home chronicling life long ago in this part of the U.K., with ghostly artifacts and documents dating as far back as 1811.

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Speaking to the News Letter, a Northern Irish website, in July 2018 Rebecca recalled her thoughts as she made her first exploratory visit to the house. “Even though it was messy,” she said, “we could see on shelves and in cupboards that the history in this country cottage was something to get very excited about!” And as she made her way through the cottage, she came across fascinating historical treasures in every room.

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“Once I took a walk through each room and had a proper look, I was blown away by the historical items that were left here,” Rebecca told the Belfast Telegraph in August 2019. “This literally was the diamond in the rough.” The owner of the house, a neighbor who inherited it after the last man to live there died, asked Rebecca to document a building that was seemingly frozen in time. That final resident was a dairy farmer referred to only as Dessie.

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Even though the photographs Rebecca took have an undeniably eerie quality, she felt quite comfortable during her visits to the old abandoned home. “Some buildings have very different atmospheres,” she explained. “But I felt welcome in Dessie’s house, which was surprisingly quite warm, even though there hadn’t been any heating in it for a long time.”

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The house is located in rural Northern Ireland, not far from the County Tyrone town of Cookstown. Look at a map and you’ll see that it’s more or less in the middle of Northern Ireland. This constituent nation of the U.K. is in the northern part of the island of Ireland and was created in 1920. To the south lies the much larger territory of the Republic of Ireland, independent from Britain since 1921.

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Rebecca has been running her Abandoned NI website since 2017. On it, she publishes the stories and images of abandoned buildings all over Northern Ireland and the Republic. She’s also worked in Belgium, where she documented a derelict hospital. Rebecca gives lectures as well and in 2018 mounted an exhibition about Dessie’s house.

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Rebecca has photographed many fascinating locations around Ireland. These have included the neglected Kilwaughter Castle in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, which dates back to the 1620s. It’s been much altered and added to during the ensuing centuries. In the early 1900s a wealthy American woman, Elizabeth “Bessie” Bringhurst Smith, lived in some style at the castle. When Rebecca visited in 2018, though, roofs, windows and doors were all gone and the interior was filled with rubbish.

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In a 2017 entry on the Abandoned NI site, Rebecca wrote, “People always ask, ‘Have you ever had any paranormal experiences while [urban exploring]?’ The answer is yes, I’ve had a few things that I cannot explain. Every building that I document has a different vibe, some good and some not so good.”

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So, what paranormal phenomenon has Rebecca been a witness to? She writes of a visit to a “glorious mansion” dating from the late 19th century. This was in fact the very property that first sparked her interest in photographing abandoned buildings. On her website she describes visiting the site with a friend: “We had walked the entire house from top to bottom and had been there maybe 30 or 40 minutes, to the best of my knowledge there was no one else in the house.”

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The two explorers were just at the doorway to the house’s grand ballroom when “there was a massive crash behind us… I shouted out ‘hello’ as I was thinking there had to be someone here.” There was no answer, but then, “Through the silence I hear could hear footsteps coming over the rubble towards us along with the swishing of someone’s arm on their clothing.”

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Rebecca related the reaction of her and her friend: “At this point it’s fight or flight, my only option was flight! We ran down the hallway and out the front door.” And the photographer has experienced other strange happenings. One such incident came at an abandoned tuberculosis hospital in Northern Ireland. When she toured this spooky building, she heard voices – but there was nobody there.

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Then there was the property that Rebecca bills as “Northern Ireland’s most notorious ghost house.” Rebecca describes hearing tales about the Coneen Ghost House years before: “When I was young I remember my grandmother talking about a local haunting, one where the family was tormented by a poltergeist throwing plates, knocking walls and even shaking the children out of their beds.”

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A widow called Bridget Murphy was living in the house with her kids when the haunting occurred in 1913. She called in a priest to try to bring an end to the disturbing events. But although he exorcized the property not once but twice, it was to no avail. Terrified by the events in their home, the Murphys upped sticks and relocated to the U.S. Nonetheless, when Rebecca visited in 2017 all was peaceful.

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We’ll get back to Rebecca’s photos and the story of Dessie shortly, but first let’s find out something of the history of County Tyrone, where the old farmhouse is located. The Anglicized name of the county comes from the Gaelic Tir Eoghain. That translates as “territory of Eoghan.”

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This Eoghan was the son of Niall, a figure who’s come down through history and legend in tales from some 15 centuries ago. Niall was apparently a fearsome warrior and chieftain who fought everyone from the Romans to the English, not to mention the Scots and the French. And it seems that Niall wasn’t just very active on the battlefield. There was also the bedchamber.

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Professor Don Bradley of Dublin’s Trinity College led a research team studying the genetic heritage of Niall, and its findings were published in June 2020. The study concluded that a startling one in 12 of all Irish males may share DNA with the ancient warlord. Moreover, in the north-west of Ireland this proportion rises to an astonishing 20 percent. Niall gave the commonplace Irish surname O’Neill to posterity.

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Bradley described the research conclusions during a June 2020 interview with the IrishCentral website. “In many countries, powerful men historically have more children, and it’s not that hard to believe that it happened in Ireland, too,” he explained. “We estimate there are maybe two to three million descendants in the modern age, with a concentration in Ireland, obviously.”

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In addition, according to Bradley, some one in 50 New Yorkers with surnames of Irish origin such as O’Reilly, O’Connor or O’Neill are distant descendants of the ancient Niall. Niall is also famous in Irish history for taking “Nine Hostages.” They were the unfortunates seized by the warlord during his many conflicts with the peoples of other nations and Irish kingdoms. One of the captives is said to have been Saint Patrick, Ireland’s modern-day patron saint.

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So, County Tyrone can trace its history back to the days when Ireland was riven by conflicts between rival warlords. In more recent times, the Earl of Tyrone, Hugh O’Neill, was forced to flee his lands by English invaders in 1607. His territories were forfeited, and Tyrone became a colony of the English state. The die was cast for centuries of bitter conflict, not only in County Tyrone but across the whole island of Ireland.

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Cookstown, the nearest place of any size to Dessie’s farmhouse, was the scene of a rebellion by Irish natives against the Planters in 1641. The Planters were those who came from England and appropriated the seized lands of County Tyrone. The settlers, backed by English forces, extracted a brutal revenge, burning the settlement to ashes.

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For nearly 100 years after that devastation, the town languished. Eventually, prosperity returned in the late 18th century and an almost completely new settlement was built. Cookstown now took on the role of a market town serving the rural population with trade in cloth and farming necessities. In the 19th century, the industrial revolution arrived in Cookstown in the shape of linen mills and the advent of the railroad.

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In fact, if you visit Cookstown today, you’ll see very many of the same buildings and streets that a 19th-century farmer would have walked past. History came calling again at Cookstown during the Irish War of Independence. In 1920 the Irish Republican Army attacked a police barracks in the town. During the fighting, IRA volunteer Patrick Loughran died, the first Republican casualty in that period of Irish conflict.

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It’s now time that we returned to the story of Dessie’s house. Dessie was the home’s last occupant, living there on his own for a time after the two brothers he’d shared it with had died. By 2015 Dessie was in his 80s and could no longer to support himself alone at the farmhouse so he relocated to a care home, where he died in 2017, the very year that Rebecca first came across the house. The new owner of the property asked Dessie to document the incredible contents of the old site.

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“The plan was to knock down the house and build a new one, but all concerned wanted me to record Dessie’s place before it was demolished,” Rebecca told the Belfast Telegraph in August 2019. “The house was a nondescript story-and-a-half cottage, so I wasn’t really expecting much when I went there one early winter Sunday morning with the snow on the ground.”

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The photographer recalled her first visit. “Once I got inside, I could see the house was full of clutter and a lot of rubbish,” Rebecca said. “Each room was stacked high, floor to ceiling with Reader’s Digest boxes, unopened. There were up to 200 magazines, but they weren’t in great condition because of the damp.”

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And there was a poignant tale behinds those stacks of Reader’s Digest publications. “The neighbor explained that Dessie subscribed to the magazine through loneliness as he didn’t have many visitors and he was the last surviving member of the family,” Rebecca recalled. “He apparently didn’t cancel the magazine because he felt that someone was sending him letters, which is quite sad.”

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Before she could take the photographs she wanted, though, Rebecca first had to get the house into some sort of order. She spent a number of days clearing out some of the junk until, she said, “Eventually I had the place back to the way it would have been and I was excited to photograph and document the lives of Dessie and the rest of the people who had lived there previously.”

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“On that first visit we found WWI binoculars, a newspaper dating from 1912 with the headline reading about the Titanic sinking,” Rebecca told the News Letter website. “I also found Victorian-era clothing in the wardrobe, war journals and bags of old coins dating from the 1800s along with ration books and newspapers from the latter end of 1890.”

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Another old newspaper, a copy of The Mid-Ulster Mail dated January 27, 1917, made fascinating reading. Its front page included an advert for a shipping company, the Allan Line, and offered passages to Canada from Glasgow and Liverpool, and from Glasgow to Boston. Elsewhere, a store called Tubman’s offered tobacco, cigarettes, cigars and pipes.

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Perhaps it was at Tubman’s that Dessie, or one of the other farmhouse residents, bought the well-used pipes that Rebecca found in the house. The pipes are accompanied by a collection of old buttons, a wristwatch and various publications. One of those is the intriguingly titled Second Best Bride, presumably a romance. It came from the pen of a Canadian author, Louis Arthur Cunningham, and is illustrated with a picture of an anxious-looking young woman. Let’s hope she did better than second best.

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Several of the most striking images are of the kitchen, which would likely have been the center of the home. There’s an old-fashioned cast-iron stove where Dessie is said to have baked traditional Irish bread. Three steel kettles sit atop the range, perhaps ready to make the strong tea that many of the Irish are so partial to.

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Another of Rebecca’s images shows an empty jar labeled “Irish honey,” set in front of a metal teapot. A second kitchen photograph displays a battered transistor radio and an antique set of scales. Rebecca wrote that the radio was in frequent use to keep up with the news. Although a television was in the property, apparently Dessie had no time for that piece of modernity.

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An old tin that once contained Oxo beef stock cubes is one of many similar containers Rebecca found in the house. “Oxo Gravy – As Good As it Tastes” claims the legend on the box. Inside it is another smaller Oxo container as well as two pocket watches. Many of the numerous such tins in Dessie’s house also had small collections of nick-knacks within them.

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There’s also a photo of a diploma for an inspector of weights and measures, dated 1894. Another image, this time one of a photographic portrait of a man in police uniform, has a fascinating story to tell. This police officer was the same person who earned the diploma. Although the name on the document is obscured here, we know that it’s Edwin Robert McQueen.

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It was some time after she’d taken the photos at Dessie’s house that Rebecca finally worked out what part McQueen played in this tale. He was in fact married to Dessie’s mother, although he wasn’t Dessie’s dad. The couple wed following the death of her first husband, Dessie’s father. It was a short union, however, since McQueen himself passed away just a couple of years after they tied the knot. We don’t know for sure, but this photo may well show the marital double bed.

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A second room with a single bed includes a wardrobe with a broken glass panel. A pair of ancient battered shoes lies beside the bed along with what appears to be a chamber pot. A stylish, tartan-lined raincoat hangs from the distressed wardrobe, but the bedclothes have been reduced to rags over the years.

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The living room of Dessie’s home features in another fascinating photo. We see the open fireplace with an old-fashioned rush broom propped against it. Perished leather furnishings are set off by an old oil lamp, and a mirrored wardrobe fills one corner.

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The next image, also taken in the living room, zooms in on the mantelpiece above the fireplace. A fine clock, stuck for ever at 12:15, is the centerpiece. Around it are what look like souvenir plates plus some seashells and a couple of ceramic ornaments. These are perhaps keepsakes from vacations taken long ago.

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This photograph shows a fine collection of old medicines and remedies plus an assortment of other bric-a-brac laid out on a small wooden desk. A vial of Elliman’s Universal Embrocation rubs shoulders with other bottles, one containing liquid paraffin, another wild honey balsam. There’s also a sack marked Spratt’s Patent London Limited. This was a British dog food developed by an American, James Spratt, which he patented in the early 1860s.

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Our final image is a moving one indeed. It shows an unidentified man, a couple of watches, another pipe and some hand-written letters. Throughout the house, Rebecca found troves of love letters secreted in various cabinets. She told the Belfast Telegraph, “The letters were between Dessie’s brother and his girlfriend. They were supposed to get married but they never did. I was mesmerized.”

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