The fear of being buried alive is an ancient
one. It has a long literary history dating back to Boccaccio,
Shakespeare and of course, Edgar Allen Poe. There have
been many macabre tales of narrow escapes owing to grave
robbers and incompetent gravediggers and of exhumed
coffins containing contorted, petrified corpses of those
buried prematurely and waking up to realise their horrific
fate. For one woman from Lurgan though, the fear of
being buried alive became a dreadful truth…
The story of Margorie McCall
is just one of many to be found in a series of
programme investigated and tried to unravel
the history of a community, using local headstones
as the starting point.
Grave robbing and body snatching are dastardly deeds
usually associated with the subject matter of old horror
films starring Vincent Price or Boris Karloff. However
these acts of desecration are rooted in shadowy fact.
At the beginning of the eighteenth century Edinburgh
had become an important centre for the study of anatomy.
Students were assigned one cadaver – usually an
executed criminal – on which to practice their
studies. However this was not a sufficient amount and
gradually students and surgeons began to seek other
ways in which to obtain corpses to dissect.
One such method was to exhume the bodies of the recently
buried. This act of “grave robbing” was
apparently practiced quite widely, especially here in
Ireland. Body snatching was carried out by “resurrectionists”
who were able to forge a career out of this ghastly
Sometimes though the bodies of the recently deceased
were dug up – not to be used for research –
but so the grave robbers could remove any valuables
such as jewellery from the body.
One such case that recalls the dark era of body snatching
is that of a young woman who lived in Lurgan around
1705, named Margorie McCall. This case is a little different
from most though…
It is believed Margorie was married to John McCall
– who is thought to have been a surgeon –
although it was common in those days for people to have
more than one ‘trade’ – and she lived
with her family in Church Place.
Margorie McCall's grave as it is today in
the Shankill graveyard in Lurgan
Margorie is thought to have fallen
ill and - as her family thought – died.
There was quite a lot of commotion at the wake
concerning a valuable ring that Margorie was wearing.
Many of the mourners tried in vain to prise the
ring from her fingers – perhaps because
they anticipated the possibility that grave robbers
would desecrate Margorie’s resting place
in order to steal the ring.
After the wake – which was traditionally
an attempt to avoid premature burial as the family
of the deceased would sit and watch over the body
for a few days to see if the person awakened -
Margorie was duly interred in Shankill Graveyard.
That very same night her body was exhumed by grave
robbers. The robbers also tried in vain to remove
the ring from her finger, but could not. Eventually
a blade was produced – perhaps with the
intention of severing her finger to remove the
ring. As soon as blood was drawn from Margorie
she came to – revived from the coma-like
state - or ‘swoon’ - she had fallen
into. This obviously gave the robbers the fright
of their lives and they fled the cemetery never
looking back. She climbed out of the coffin and
began to make her way home.
Meanwhile her family were gathered around the fire
at home when they heard a knock at the door. Margorie’s
husband John – still wrecked with grief –
exclaimed – “if your mother were still alive,
I’d swear that was her knock.” And sure
enough, upon opening the door John was confronted by
his “late” wife – dressed in her burial
clothes, very much alive. He fainted immediately.
It is said that
Margorie McCall lived for some years after this
grotesque event and when she did die she was
returned to Shankill Graveyard and to this day
her grave stone still stands.
It bears the inscription –
“Lived Once, Buried Twice.”