Dublin Gothic

The Christmas Ghost Story

The Victorians invented many of our modern Christmas traditions: decorating trees, singing carols, and sharing food with family. These practices have their roots in the pagan celebrations of Yuletide. One tradition that has, unfortunately, disappeared over time is the practice of sharing ghost stories not only at Samhain, or Halloween, but closer to the winter solstice, when the days are short and the nights are cold. 

The Christmas ghost story was commercialised by Victorian periodicals that dedicated seasonal issues to the form. Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s ‘Green Tea’ (1869) was published in Charles Dickens’ Christmas issue of All the Year Round, and ‘The Judge’s House’ (1891) by Bram Stoker featured in the Holly Leaves annual.

RadioMoLI revives this forgotten tradition by publishing a Christmas ghost story every year in December. We invite you to listen with friends and family or, if you’re brave enough, on your own, as you walk through the cold deserted streets of your city.

Hertford O'Donnell's Warning

MoLI presents the third annual MoLI Christmas Ghost Story: ‘Hertford O’Donnell’s Warning’ (1867) by Charlotte Riddell, performed by Kathy Rose O’Brien, in an edited and abridged form.

Surgeon Hertford O’Donnell is a rising star at Guy’s Hospital, London, known for his steady hand and unshakeable bravery. In his personal life, however, the eccentric and lonely Irishman has a less than sterling reputation. 

All alone on Christmas Eve, he receives an unexpected visit from Ireland. Estranged from his family for over twelve years, the O’Donnell banshee visits him in his Soho townhouse, bringing tidings of death and retribution for the past. 

Will Hertford O’Donnell survive the night, or does the banshee cry for him? 

Producers   Dr Katie Mishler, Ian Dunphy, Benedict Schlepper-Connolly
Sound   Ian Dunphy
Script   Dr Katie Mishler 
Sound Design Ian Dunphy & Benedict Schlepper-Connolly
Music   Benedict Schlepper-Connolly

This recording has been kindly supported by the European Research Council Victeur project, with thanks to Professor Gerardine Meaney, UCD School of English, Drama and Film and the INSIGHT Centre for Data Analytics. Research for this recording is provided by Dr Katie Mishler, National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow, Keough-Naughton Institute for Irish Studies, University of Notre Dame and Dr Maria Mulvaney, Lecturer, UCD Centre for Cultural Analytics. Visit ghostlyirishfictions.com for more about Dr Maria Mulvaney’s work on the Irish ghost story.

The Demon Lover

The 2021 Christmas Ghost Story was Elizabeth Bowen’s ‘The Demon Lover’ (1945), performed in its entirety by Derbhle Crotty.


Mrs Kathleen Drover returns to her dusty, abandoned Kensington home to gather some of her family’s forgotten belongings. Set in London during World War II, the city is eerily vacant, as families like her own have been evacuated to the countryside to escape the bombings of the Blitz. Nevertheless, Kathleen experiences the distinct and unsettling feeling of being watched. When she discovers a mysterious letter from her former lover, a soldier killed in World War I, memories of their brief courtship and his cold, controlling manner overwhelm her.

Is the letter a cruel joke? Could it be a fabrication of Kathleen’s imagination? Or more frighteningly, are the ghosts of her past reckoning upon the present? In this chilling and uncanny tale, Bowen demonstrates her mastery of the ghost story form.

Reproduced with permission of Curtis Brown Ltd, London, on behalf of the Literary Executors of the Estate of Elizabeth Bowen. Copyright © Elizabeth Bowen. Produced by Dr Katie Mishler, Ian Dunphy, and Benedict Schlepper-Connolly for RadioMoLI; music by Benedict Schlepper-Connolly; sound by Ian Dunphy.

The Familiar

In 2020, MoLI presented this recording of Sheridan Le Fanu’s story ‘The Familiar’ in the old tradition of telling ghost stories at Christmas. Originally published in 1847 as ‘The Watcher’, the story is performed here by Michael James Ford in an edited and abridged version.

Recently returned to Ireland after retiring from the navy in 1794, Captain Barton intends to settle into a quiet life of solitude. His plans, however, are interrupted, when one evening he is followed by an unseen villain through the lonely, unbuilt streets of eighteenth-century Dublin. As the ghostly footsteps escalate into something more sinister, it becomes apparent that there is something uncannily familiar about this pursuer. 

Will Barton escape from his stalker, or are his past misdeeds finally coming to haunt him? Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu was an Anglo-Irish Victorian master of mystery and the supernatural, and this tale of suspense – performed by Michael James Ford – projects psychological terror onto the backdrop of Dublin’s city streets.

Edited and abridged by Dr Katie Mishler, Irish Research Council Enterprise Partnership Postdoctoral Fellow, UCD School of English, Drama & Film. Additional research by Professor Gerardine Meaney, Director Centre for Cultural Analytics, UCD School of English, Drama & Film. Produced by Benedict Schlepper-Connolly for RadioMoLI with additional recording by Patrik Åberg. Research for this programme was generously funded by the Irish Research Council Enterprise Partnership Postdoctoral Scheme.