The True Story of the Green Lady
By Roisin Kelly
Having grown up in Armagh, like most local children I had heard the resident ghost story of the terrible Green Lady. The old house on Vicar's Hill that housed her spirit in a green bottle, bricked up and hidden in one of the windows, always gave me chills. The story itself was somewhat vague, however. As with all Irish stories from the past, so much had been added and so much forgotten that two matching versions of the tale were a rare find.
Beginning with my most interesting and least reliable sources - namely, the people of Armagh - I find that rumors of an exorcism, a blinded priest, a serial child killer and a hanging conviction all provide various discrepancies in the tale. The younger generation seems to talk about a painting whose eyes follow people around the room, while the older generation remembers stories about a priest who, on looking through the keyhole into the house, lost the sight in his eye.
The bare bones of the story seem to be that the Green Lady was a child killer whose soul was captured in a (usually green) bottle and hidden in a bricked up window in her old house on Vicar's Hill. So much of the story seems subjective - vague recollections of gruesome details and confused memories about childhood nightmares. The fear the Green Lady instills, however, seems to have been a powerful force in local childhoods for decades. Children relished the opportunity to frighten one another with the ghost story despite the uncertainty surrounding the Green Lady's ghost, making her consistent absence of identity all the more conspicuous.
||Two pictures, taken with different cameras, of the previously bricked up window on Vicar's Hill
In reality, the Green Lady bore no resemblance to a hag-like figure. She was in fact a twenty-one-year-old girl described as being "very funny" and "full of mischief" in local papers at the time [all subsequent quoted material comes from The Armagh Guardian ]. She lived on Vicar's Hill and in 1888 was accused of drowning a four-year-old girl from Callan Street while the girl was in her care. The story of the young woman, Bellina Prior, her trial, and ultimate fate are filled much more with tragedy than with horror, and peeling away the fiction reveals an equally disturbing and fascinating truth.
The death of Bellina's father several years previously had left her somewhat altered. She is reported to have been prone to "fainting fits" and had a tendency to appear "paralyzed" when shocked. A strained relationship with her mother who "wanted her to go on the stage" had resulted in problems at home and led Bellina to make arrangements to move out. Other than that, Miss Prior had seemed "a girl of a kindly nature," often spending "all of her pocket money on the children of the poor."
On the 27th March, 1888, a young child named Annie Slavin was found drowned in the boiler, having been left alone with Bellina. The confusion that followed seems to have been the source of the case's mystery. Bellina presumably left the child in the boiler, where she drowned in 12 inches of cool water. Suffering from shock, Bellina had once again been "paralyzed" and was unable to help the child. She then went to her sister in the parlor for help, claiming in the same minute, "Run down! I did not do it!" and the next, "I did do it!"
Bellina's reaction to the accident, her lack of sense and "abnormal eyes, in the direction of an insane mind," led doctors Gray and Palmer to the conclusion that she was suffering from hysteria. Her distress in prison led Bellina to attempt cutting her own throat, which resulted in her initial confinement in the local lunatic asylum, during which time she appeared coherent and intelligent, musing over the oddity that she should be sane, yet committed as a lunatic. During her trial in July the jury took just five minutes to find a verdict of guilt due to insanity, despite Bellina's dry clothes, testimonies to her character, and both doctors' assertions that the child appeared to have died in accidental circumstances.
It seems, however, that years in such confinement eventually took their toll. Miss Prior emerged in Dublin at the age of forty as an antisocial woman of odd behavior. Living with her mother, isolated from local society and dressing "almost invariably" in pink, earned her the title of the "Pink Lady." Bellina met her tragic end in November 1909, when she and her mother were discovered locked in a bedroom and poisoned, having remained there for days before being found.
Apparently, Mrs. Prior had been "much effected by her eldest daughter's troubles," had "made up her mind to kill her daughter, and afterwards took her own life."
It appears, therefore, that the Green Lady was nothing more than a quiet and unfortunate girl, unable to cope with trauma, subjected to the prejudices of Victorian medical treatment. Eventually she was murdered by her mother whose own life appears to have been plagued by loss and abandonment. As to the details of the ghost story, the notion of a person's soul being trapped in a bottle was a common superstition for many years. The window had indeed been bricked up, although probably for the purposes of keeping prying eyes at bay, as Mrs. Prior is said to have suffered much from the morbid curiosity of her neighbors before moving to Dublin.
Knowing the true story of the Green Lady, one can only hope that she never returned to the house on Vicar's Hill to revisit the scene of such trauma, that no bottle exists, and that somewhere, at last, her soul is at peace.
Story by Rosin Kelly
Video by Sarah Turner
Photography by Charlotte Levins
Web Design by Cate Oliver