THE GHOST OF MARY GALLAGHER – An OCPRS Perspective

Posted on January 27, 2011

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By: Demetrius (Co-Founder of the OCPRS Toronto Canada)

There are many reports of ghosts and haunted homes in the city of Montreal. Some reports are simply local urban legends, while others are much more than stories. However, in an area of Montreal once known as Griffintown, there is such a legend that is not well known to most people today, but is believed by many people to be true. This is the legend of the headless ghost of Mary Gallagher.

The first part of the story begins on a Friday afternoon, June 26 1879. Two women – Susan Kennedy and Mary Gallagher – were drinking whiskey at a local bar. Both women were prostitutes and were known to the local authorities of Griffintown. Later that evening, a young man named Michael Flanagan joined the women for drinks, and paid most of his attentions to Mary Gallagher. Despite this, all three left the bar and went to the upstairs apartment of Susan Kennedy – located at 242 Rue William. There in the apartment, the three continued drinking. Michael Flanagan passed out and slept into the early hours of the next day. Susan Kennedy grew jealous and angry over Mary Gallagher’s luck with attracting customers, and the two argued violently – possibly over money. In a drunken rage, Susan Kennedy picked up an axe and swung it at Mary Gallagher, killing her. Susan Kennedy continued to chop at the body and decapitated Mary. A tenant living downstairs alerted authorities of the disturbance she heard upstairs. When the police arrived they discovered the gruesome scene and arrested Susan Kennedy and Michael Flanagan on the charge of murder. At their trial, Michael Flanagan was acquitted, but Susan Kennedy was sentenced to hang on Dec. 5 1879. The death sentence was later commuted and Susan Kennedy served sixteen years in prison. Strangely, Michael Flanagan was found dead on December 5th in the Lachine canal, presumably drowned. The accounts of this crime are all true. As for the rest of the story, this is where the legend of Mary Gallagher begins.

Seven years following the murder of Mary Gallagher, on the 27th of June, reports were made by some locals of Griffintown about a headless woman at the corner of Rue Murray and William. Many believed that the apparition was the ghost of Mary Gallagher. It wasn’t until another seven years had passed that reports circulated once again. Every seven years the headless ghost of Mary Gallagher appeared at the scene of her ghastly murder. The last reported sighting was in 1928. The legend, however, continued.

Each and every seventh year, 27th of June, came to be known as Mary Gallagher Day. On June 27, 2005, a Roman Catholic priest – Rev. Thomas McEntee – held a mass for Mary Gallagher in the hopes of putting her soul to rest. Local residents and ghost enthusiasts attending the mass for Mary Gallagher also set out to the corner of Rue Murray and William – where the apparition is thought to make an appearance. There were no reports of a headless woman that night.

The history leading up to the reports of a headless ghost are not doubted since they are a matter historical record. The ghost sightings made up until 1928, however, seem rather strange, although fascinating in themselves. Why did an apparition of a headless woman only occur every seven years? This is in itself a strange occurrence, but is not entirely uncommon in paranormal phenomena whereby certain dates and times can become a factor in such manifestations. Another matter of interest concerns why the apparition ceased to make an appearance after 1928? Perhaps this may be one question that will have to be answered with further investigation and research.

More importantly, if there were no reports of a headless ghost after 1928, why would Rev. Thomas McEntee hold a mass for the repose of Mary Gallagher in 2005? After all, he was a respected Roman Catholic priest of his community. It is understood that the mass itself was not entirely dedicated to Mary Gallagher, but included other departed souls as well. Having extended the benefit of the doubt to Rev. Thomas McEntee, there was perhaps a more practical purpose in mind for the mass. At first glance, what may have been the more likely reason behind the mass held for Mary Gallagher was that Rev. Thomas McEntee was not necessarily laying her unsettled spirit to rest. Instead, the belief in ghosts may have been what he was trying to put to rest. This may have been done in the best interest of the community of Griffintown. The problem, however, is that the 2005 mass held for Mary Gallagher was not the first one of its kind. As it turned out, it was Rev. Thomas McEntee who brought greater attention to the ghost of Mary Gallagher by organizing a similar mass beginning in 1991. The reasons behind the mass become more obvious in newspaper accounts exploring Mary Gallagher Day. According to the Montreal Gazette, June 27 1998, in an article by Alan Hustak, Rev. Thomas McEntee was quoted as stating, “I was brought up with the legend of the headless woman, so what’s wrong with keeping it alive? […] It’s an opportunity for everyone who ever lived in Griffintown to get together for a reunion.” Here, it becomes obvious that Rev. Thomas McEntee was not laying the unsettled spirit of Mary Gallagher to rest, but used the legend of her ghost as an event to unite the residents of Griffintown, past and present. Elsewhere in another article by Molly Hennessy Fiske, from The Boston Globe, June 26 2005, Rev. Thomas McEntee was described as explaining how “the vanishing neighbourhood is preserved by ghost watchers, who spawned documentaries and books.” Like many other reports of haunted locations, the purpose behind the mass held each Mary Gallagher Day was for commercial reasons. Of course Rev. McEntee was also concerned with tradition and heritage. This is the more likely scenario surrounding Rev. Thomas McEntee’s involvement in promoting a local urban legend. If so, the interest of investigating the ghost of Mary Gallagher, by the OCPRS Toronto Canada, may be necessary to expose the story as another misguided urban legend. Although his intentions were seemingly good, Rev. Thomas McEntee was promoting a belief in a ghost which has not been seen since 1928. Besides the fact that such a symbol – the ghost of a prostitute – is a poor choice for a Roman Catholic priest to promote for his community, the urban legend itself has continued to attract people to the dangers of paranormal beliefs and practices. The only person who can provide an answer to this problem is Rev. Thomas McEntee himself. Unfortunately, he passed away in 2008 due to cancer, and any answers to these concerns may only be a matter of speculation. Despite what is presented here, many people continue to believe that there may be an appearance of a ghost on the next Mary Gallagher Day – June 27 2012. The OCPRS Toronto Canada, hopes to be there in order to answer some of these questions and concerns surrounding this urban legend.

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