For many years now stories have circulated these parts of the eerie and often frightening experiences of those who have encountered someone or something as they travel through Barnesmore Gap on the road between Donegal Town and Ballybofey here in south Donegal.
The first stories can be traced back to the 1950’s and have continued on a regular basis right up to the present day. Indeed, the most recent report only happened in the last few weeks. It is something to be mindful of the next time you are travelling alone at night through this dark mountain pass.
There are many stories but here is one told to me recently by a well respected and intelligent man from near Donegal Town. He doesn’t tell the story often as to this day, 20 years later, it still disturbs him. As he recounted it to me I could hear the tremble of his voice and indeed the room we were in turned very cold as he spoke…
Late one night in the winter of 1983 a local man from Donegal Town was travelling back home from a disco in Jackson’s Hotel, Ballybofey. It was a Tuesday night at around 2.30 am when he began his drive home after stopping of for chips in a local takeaway.
The weather that night was awful with bitterly cold, gusting winds and heavy sleety showers. Most of the minibuses and cars had left the now nearly deserted Main Street in Ballybofey as he began his drive home alone. Gusts of wind would occasionally swayed his car as he made his way towards Barnesmore Gap and he found himself having to use the windscreen wipers at full speed several times in order to see the road ahead.
He turned up the heat in his Ford Escort and tuned the radio to 2FM to take his mind off the hazardous drive ahead. As he approached the top of McGroarty’s Brae he remembers thinking how few cars there were on the road that night. In fact he had not met a single vehicle coming towards him since he had left Ballybofey. Normally he would meet a few late night trucks or some late night drivers coming from Donegal Town but tonight nothing, not one single set of headlights had he seen since his journey began.
Just then he saw a light flash far in the distance. At first he thought it was a fleeting glimpse of an oncoming car as it rounded the bends or was it a car taking the road to Castlederg over the old bridge. It only lasted a second but it was definitely a flash of some kind. He remembers thinking it was kind of a strange colour, more a blue white than normal headlight colour but thought no more about it.
Just then a heavy static buzz came over the radio drowning out the music completely and then it just went silent. The radio was still on but no sound… nothing. Must be the weather and the mountains affecting the signal, he thought. Funny it had never happened before on his many trips on that road. Turning the dial ever so slightly he found another radio station. Funny he didn’t know what station it was and the music was from the 1940’s big band era but at least it was music to take his mind off the ever worsening weather outside as the sleet was now turning more to snow as road approached the highest point of Barnesmore Gap at Lough Mourne.
Expecting to meet the oncoming car any time he was puzzled why he did not meet it as he approached the Castlederg turn off with its old bridge sulking in the darkness. He saw something at the junction but it wasn’t a car… it was a young woman.
She was standing by the roadside, arm outstretched as if thumbing but it was more of a wave than a thumbing motion. After a moment’s hesitation he braked and stopped in order to reverse back and give the woman a lift. He was startled when, before he had a chance to reverse, the rear door opened and the woman got it. How had she moved so fast? He had pulled up nearly one hundred yards from where she had been standing. Maybe the heavy sleet and wind had confused him and he had stopped faster than he thought.
He thought she whispered “Thank you” as she closed the door but maybe it was the howling wind. he wasn’t sure. Starting the car again he asked her to say when she wanted dropped off and she answered with “Yes”. He swears that the word ‘yes’ sounded more like the hiss of a snake and he started to feel and unexplained feeling of a mixture of fear and sorrow. A feeling he has never felt from that day in 1983 to today.
Unlike today, the road narrowed as they drew closer to Biddy’s pub and having to concentrate on keeping the car on the road he could only grab quick glimpses in the rear view mirror and his silent passenger in the back seat. She sat in silence staring out the window into the darkness. Her face was extremely pale, white, almost blue from the cold. A blueness that reminded him of the flash he had seen earlier. With her face so close to the window he remembers thinking it was strange that her breathe wasn’t steaming up the window from which she stared. Was she breathing?
It had suddenly gotten very cold in the car and he reached down to turn up the heat. The heat was up full. First the radio and now the heater. He must take the car to a mechanic in the morning to have the electrics checked.
Passing Biddy’s she never glanced at it, her eyes instead transfixed on the mountain side to her left. Not a word did she say. About a mile after Biddy’s she spoke her first words in a whisper “Stop here” and the next words she spoke chilled the man to the bone and he gulped and paused as he told me his story. “Stop here… this is where I died.”
Ignoring the icy conditions the man slammed on his brakes but she was gone. The rear seat was empty. The door unopened.
Far off in the distance he saw the blue white flash once more just as his radio announced the 3.00am news on RTE Radio 2…..