The dead are rising from their graves in West Belfast…


It’s all in a day’s work.  Every day is different in community pharmacy and the stories we hear could not be made up.  Terry Maguire relates an unfortunate, frightening and bizarre night one of his patients had.

Wet clay patches dappled his oversized anorak, his reddened face was muddied and his greying, thinning hair; wet and woolly.  He was smiling manically and exuded a strong stench of stale urine and strong alcohol.   Had it been closing-time I might have dismissed him as a workman heading home from an aggressive afternoon in the pub.  Being well before pub opening time I was mildly alarmed as he handed me, in a civil enough way, a prescription for painkillers and we fell into friendly conversation.   What a night he had he told me in an accent that suggested some years lived in England and he continued with a frightening story that started the previous evening across the road in the men’s hostel.

John had indeed just returned from England where he worked many years on building sites.  He had been unable to get other suitable accommodation so social workers set him up in the hostel about a week ago.  Staff members, he told me, were generally friendly and supportive until he arrived back last evening with a large carry-out consisting of two dozen cans of high strength beer, a bottle of fortified wine and a large bottle of vodka.  He planned drinking all these brain-numbing units with his girlfriend who was coming to meet him.  He was especially trying to impress as it was 27 years since they last met, and he was hopeful she might be agreeable to getting a room in a local hotel.

He was told by the hostel duty staff, in a tone that he identified as unnecessarily strict, of the hostel’s no alcohol policy and, when he suggested he would drink outside, he was informed, coldly, of the city council bye-laws restricting the drinking of alcohol on public streets.   When he expressed his deep frustration, which included a number of non-local expletives, he was told the staff didn’t care what he drunk so long as they didn’t see it but if he was intoxicated when he returned they might not let him in.  He found this inconsistent with what he expected from caring professionals.

So, as the sun dimmed in the March sky, John crossed the Falls Road and arrived at the gates of Belfast City Cemetery.  He walked up past the manicured lawns and flower beds blooming with daffodils and tulips and made his way to an avenue of tall Victorian sandstone and marble headstones browned with age and greened with moss.  When he felt appropriately alone he snapped the ring on a can of Special Brew, raised it to his mouth and drank deep.  Another few slugs and he felt better and sought a suitable place to relax.  He choose the slightly beveled bed-shaped lawn where, according to the headstone, lay the remains of Charles Abernethy, who left this life 19th September 1933.

He cosied up against the headstone, pulling his carry-out up beside him and taking a long slug finished off his first can.   After he opened his second he searched for his mobile phone which he found stuck in a side pocket of his anorak and pulling it out he struck his right elbow painfully and forcefully against the headstone and he cursed.  He felt the ground move and lunged forward but before he could get clear, the headstone fell forward pressing him, face down, into the top of the grave and crushing his carry-out which mercifully blocked the head-stone’s further decent.  He was unable to move, and didn’t try to, frightened the headstone would crush him further into the soft mossy grave surface. He was unable to see or shout out his mouth gagged by soft moss.  He ignored the cold carry-out liquid as it seeped into his clothing and he lay motionless for perhaps fifteen minutes when his mobile phone, still in his hand, rang.

He gently moved his fingers across the familiar dialing keys and finding the receive button pushed it.  He could hear his girlfriend asking where they should meet but he was unable to reply other than exude a deep groan.  He heard alarm in her voice as she asked; where he was, was he ill, could he not speak.  He groaned again.  He heard her pleading that he speak to her and after five minutes, as the battery ran out the phone went dead and there was silence.

He knew, from the dim glimmer of light that was visible, his head was near the top of the fallen gravestone. An hour or perhaps more passed and the light faded.  Finally he heard a panting sound followed by a vigorous sniffing and realised it was a dog.  He moaned as loudly as he could and the dog barked back and started scrapping at the earth.  The dog’s owner approached calling the dog off.  As he arrived John moaned as loudly as he could but he only heard a rapid sprint away in the direction of the gates.

It was around 4.00 a.m. when the emergency services, having linked a bizarre story on social media of a ghost in a graveyard with the frantic pleas of a woman claiming he boyfriend had been abducted in that vicinity, and following much consultation about John’s mental and physical health, that a requisitioned heavy crane lifted the tombstone releasing him from his premature burial and took him off to A&E.   It was there that he was assessed, found to be generally in good health and discharged with a letter for his GP.  This was merely for some painkillers and when I had dispensed them he was going across to the hostel and to bed he told me.