|Tom McAssey's portrait of the Black Cat of Killakee House|
But, when a large feline appeared mysteriously before them and then suddenly vanished, the builders became decidedly uneasy and the legend of the black cat of Killakee was born.
Mrs O’Brien thought the stories nonsense to begin with, but then she too saw the creature and, as she put it, "began to understand the fear."
The first time she crossed its path; it was squatting on the flagstones of the hallway just glaring at her. Every door in the house was locked both before and after its sudden appearance and subsequent disappearance.
But it was the painter, Tom McAssey who had the most famous confrontation with the mysterious creature. In March 1968 he and two other men were working in a room of the house, when the temperature began to drop alarmingly. Suddenly the door swung wide open and a hazy figure appeared in the darkness. Thinking it was someone playing a joke he called out "come in, I can see you." But all three men froze in terror when the reply was a low, angry growl. Moments later they fled the room slamming the door behind them. But, when Tom McAssey looked back, the door was wide open again, and a hideous black cat with blazing red eyes was snarling at him from the shadows of the room. "I thought my legs wouldn’t take me away from the place," he later recalled, "I was really in a bad state."
Following this chilling encounter Margaret O’Brien had the building exorcised and things quietened down for a time.
But then, in October 1969, a group of actors staying at the arts centre decided to hold a séance for a joke and the disturbances began again. Furthermore they seemed to have raised the spirits of two nuns, who would appear before startled witnesses in the gallery of the centre.
|The Killakee House|
Richard Parsons had founded an Irish branch of this club in 1735 and they are said to have held their sinister assemblies, in a hunting lodge, the ruins of which can still be seen on Montpelier Hill behind the centre.
Local legend tells how Richard "Burnchapel" Whaley, a member of one of the areas richest families, had joined the society and had revelled in the debauched rituals.
These are said to have included the burning alive of a black cat on at least one occasion; the worshipping of cats in place of Satan himself; the setting on fire of an unfortunate woman stuffed inside a barrel; and the ritual beating and murder of a poor deformed boy.
At a meeting of the club in 1740, a servant is said to have spilt a drink on Thomas Whaley, who was so enraged by the accident that he had the servant doused in brandy and set ablaze.
The subsequent fire burnt down the building and killed several members of the club.
In July 1970, a dwarfish skeleton was discovered buried beneath the kitchen floor of the building and in the grave with it was the brass statuette of a monstrous demon, which gave credence to at least one of the legends. A priest was called in to give the body a proper burial and thereafter the manifestations ceased.
Today, a pleasant restaurant occupies the old house, and hellish felines seem to be very much a thing of the past. But reminders still exist of its more sinister bygone days.
Chief amongst these is Tom McAssey’s portrait of "The Black Cat of Killakee" that gazes hauntingly down from one of the walls, its eerie red eyes and almost human features enough to send cold shivers racing down the spine.