Ghost Watch in Ireland: The Helena Blunden Story

Belfast, Northern Ireland

Ghost watch in Ireland is all about the tragic and untimely accidental death of Helena Blunden, a young Belfast linen mill employee. Helena was the eldest daughter of a Tyrone woman and a Kilkenny man, who had been born in Ireland in 1896 but was raised in England. In 1911, the family returned to Ireland, hoping to settle in Dublin, but relatives had already made arrangements for their employment in Belfast. The Blundens lived in a small house on Raphael Street which was only a stone's throw from the linen mill where they were employed.

At the age of sixteen, Helena started her job in the spinning room of the linen mill in the old markets area of Belfast. Helena was a hard worker and was very popular with the other employees. She was a cheerful young woman and spent much time romanticizing about Yeats' poetry, Shaw's plays and the songs from the London music halls. One of her great uncles had been a Irish dancing master in Kilkenny. Helena inherited his talent for dancing but she was much more interested in singing. As a youngster she had sung in the school choir in England. Her father encouraged her ambition to appear on the stage but her mother was dead set against it. Helena had lived amongst the immigrant Irish in London but she concocted a peculiar English accent which seemed to impress her friends at work. She would speak to them of her desires to be a songstress and, with her accent and remembrances of London, she captivated her listeners, whose attention she greatly appreciated.

Work in the spinning room was difficult and repetitious at best. In summer the heat was unbearable and many children and women frequently fainted. The air was stale and damp, resulting in condensation settling on the walls and floors. Margaret Maxwell was a rowdy woman who, in her youth, had scrapped with both men and women in the streets. She was no longer in physical condition to fight or work as hard as the younger women, so Margaret was employed in the afternoons to mop and clean the condensation from the stairs. She resented the work because she had been reduced from her former toughness due to age, but necessity to support herself made her stay. She frightened the youngsters with her loud and fierce scolding if they dared to walk on the stairs while she was mopping. The adults didn't pay much attention to her threats. She often clashed with Helena because she disliked her constant cheery hopefulness.

Helena's work schedule was sixty hours per week. On Saturdays, the work day was supposed to end at noon but the workers often stayed late if an important order needed to be completed. The linen company's very first order had been to make double damask linen tablecloths which were laid on the tables in the first class dining room of the ill-fated Titanic.

The newly established linen mill sometimes brought the workers in on Sundays to make sure certain orders were ready on time. On Sunday, April 14, 1912, the workers, including the part-timers, came in to finish an order being prepared for shipment to Argentina. Helena's mind was pre-occupied by a concert she was planning to attend in the Grand Opera House that evening. She sang the day away through the morning and into the afternoon. At 2:00 P.M. she realized that she would not complete her work by 6:00 and that she would hardly have any time between finishing in the mill and going to the concert.

Margaret was not in any condition to work that day because of fatigue. She could barely pick up the mop to half-heartedly dabble it along the top flight of stairs. She stopped and chastised a young part-timer who had not yet been warned about Margaret's stairs, leaving her discarded mop on the stairs.

At 7:00 P.M., Helena was finished with her work. Already exhausted by excitement of the concert, the sweltering heat and hunger, Helena started down the first flight of stairs. She tripped on the discarded mop, then fell over the banister all the way down to the ground floor. Margaret heard Helena shrieking and looked up to watch Helena fall past her. Margaret released her grip on the young boy and staggered down to the ground floor to find that Helena was already dead. Helena had wanted to leave the linen mill forever and establish herself as a singer. She may never have succeeded and may have ended up working at the mill for years. Her death at age sixteen dashed those hopes and dreams. It is said that she still occupies the mill, which is now a printing company. People of sound mind have heard her footsteps on the stairs and have heard her singing Pei Jesu.

I came upon this web site years ago when searching for Irish topics. Ireland's Eye Ghost Watch has a permanent web camera set up, which sweeps the mill every thirty seconds. You can read more about Helena Blunden, listen to the footsteps, hear a recording of her song and look for her spirit. Maybe you will be lucky enough to have a sighting. Boo!

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